Monday, March 03, 2008

In that number

'Sup party people?! I'm back from New Orleans. Actually, I've been back for a few days now. But tying up loose ends hasn't left me much time to blog. As it usually is the case with my hiatuses, there's lots to eventually catch up on. But in the meantime, I'd like to share a little bit of what went down in the Big Easy during the week.

As a reminder, I joined a group of UM-Flint staff, faculty, and students in Louisiana for the school's annual Alternative Spring Break. Though the university typically changes venues each year, our terrific experience last year was enough to motivate us to go back again this year. Besides as I mentioned before, for this city to even become a sample of what it once was, rebuilding projects will be needed for years to come.

For starters, we stayed at the India House; a hostel close to downtown New Orleans. Having never been to a hostel, I didn't know what to expect. In fact, I was admittedly a little anxious about the idea of staying there; mostly because of the bad rap hostels receive from the horror flick. But the location was nothing like the movie (thankfully). Instead, it had a sort of frat house feel to it. We essentially rented a bed while having access to all of the common areas; the bathrooms, a kitchen, a television room; a sitting lounge, and the outdoor facilities. This common sharing gave us a strong sense of community; especially in interacting with other visitors literally from around the world. In addition to the rich and unique experiences the other residents brought to the table, the hostel staff (all NOLA residents) were incredible to us. Between sharing their pre/post Katrina lives and offering tips on the cities hotspots, they did everything possible to make our stay as comfortable and memorable as possible.

Our work was with the Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association of the lower 9th ward (NENA); a grassroots organization committed to providing consulation and aid to displaced victims of New Orleans. Made up entirely of residents (both current and former) of the 9th ward, the NENA staff have committed their time, skill, and energy to reviving their homes while avoiding red-taped bureacracy that comes in aiding others; much more than what the city, state, and federal governments have been able to do at this point. The work they've done up to this point is nothing short of amazing. Particularly, our group was assigned to do debris removal and clean up in vacant lots. What we initally thought would be a relatively easy job (especially compared to last year's work) wound up being just as arduous. However, I have to admit that -- in a sombering way -- this work wasn't as rewarding as were our previous efforts. In the Musician's Village, we were able to see the fruits of our labor. We were were able to see the houses we helped build, the fences we helped to erect, and the residents who labored with us. In the case of our work with NENA, we were clearing out a vacant yard from a homeowner who had no intention of returning, and which is likely to be cleared away once city contractors came around. Still, just knowing that we've saving the city some expenses with our work left us with a sense of reward. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of our work came in the shape of the beautification projects we took on for homeowners still in the area. For some of NENA's clients we cleaned yards, hauled debris, and planted flowers. In areas that were completely leveled by the storms, such beautification were most welcomed.

Our free time was mostly spent in the French Quarter and the surrounding area. As expected, this section of the city is fully restored and doesn't appear to be at all affected by the storm and its aftermath. Multi-colored beads still fly through the air at unsuspecting street walkers. Local musicians still play sets on the corner while trying to get "discovered." Bourbon Street is still...well...Bourbon-ish. As I've cited before, I've always been disturbed at how this section of the city was relatively unscathed while the rest of the city has been left to ruin. However for our kids (and I suspect for most tourists), a restored downtown was a much needed escape from being around destruction all day. I suppose that it also represents the vitality and life that can be found in an otherwise dead city. However, I'm confident that with years of dedication from individuals like NENA, the same life and energy that can be found in the Quarter can one day be shared by the entire city.

To date, this is my fourth visit to New Orleans; the third since Katrina. Each time I visit, I've try to take something new away from it. While some things have been pretty consistent (namely, the opportunity to meet new people and hear new stories), I did at least acquire a new-found love for cajun-prepared alligator (this stuff is OFF THE HOOK!). Yet one thing that has gone unchanged is my anger and sheer frustration with our government. While it continues to commit billions of dollars a month in Iraq, the government's response to the suffering of the average person in America remains laissez-faire. This is especially evident in New Orleans, but it isn't -- by any means -- exclusive to this city. What makes New Orleans so noteworthy to me is that (1) it's considered one of the greatest cities in the country; yet still largely ignored, (2) most of the diaster is the product of man made failures, and (3) that the tourist sections of the city are fine while residential areas remain in dire need. Still; as with before; I'm forever encouraged by the strength and fighting spirit of the residents. Even when their government has failed them, their President has ignored them, their insurance companies have robbed them, the media has lied on them, and their countrymen have criticized them, they remain committed to rising from this. I believe it can be done. But it will take time, resources, and most of all -- us.

If you can, I strongly encourage you to get involved in some aspect. Indirectly, you can always donate money, supplies, or food. But directly, I'd encourage you visit the area for yourself. Make your mark. You can find relatively inexpensive lodging; especially at places like hostels or volunteer camps. And trust me when I say that you won't have a hard time at all finding a place to voluteer. Organizations are in desperate need of volunteers to do just about everything. The harvest is plentiful. Laborers are needed. Get those hands dirty!

- ACL

10 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

Saved Sinner said...

Andre,

Thanks for another great account of the chaos that was allowed to live on. We should never get too used to seeing the damage that took place.

nettie said...

Hi Andre! I told you I'd come to your site!

Thanks SO MUCH to you and your group for coming to our city. We appreciate all of your hard work and for your support! We had a great time with you all and we hope to see you again. You'll be blessed for this!

I love this blog too. When I have time, I'll be sure to read some of your other writings. God bless you all!

Joanne said...

Andre, I think you've done more than you and your group realize. You've kept the horrific stories of NOLA alive when the rest of the world has seemingly forgotten about it. In some parts of my city, people REALLY think that all of NOLA is back to where it once was. The lack of knowledge about the real conditions is heart-breaking.

I'm glad you had a chance to go again.

GA girl said...

I'm amazed that our current administration can authorize billions and billions of dollars to destroy lives, but not offer a few billion to help rebuild lives. And they call themselves "compassionate conservatives."

Tony said...

I just spent the last hour or so reading some of your previous posts, especially the ones about your trips to LA. Great stuff!

Like you, I also went to NOLA (and Mississippi) and like you I was also amazed at the sheer destruction of the storm. Words can't describe what's down there. Everybody has to see if for themselves. Those places look like third world countries; an amazing sight for one of the so-called world leaders.

A contractor I was talking to in NOLA told me that rebuilding projects will take decades of work. Decades! Worse yet if (or WHEN) another major storm strikes, the local, state, and federal governments have done very little to brace themselves. We may see another Katrina in the near future.

In the meantime, you hit on the head. They need our help. As much as possible!

Anyway, terrific posts and a terrific blog. Keep up the great work!

Tony (from the UK)

Andre said...

@ Rob: "We should never get too used to seeing the damage that took place."

I agree. For some of the residents, it's like this all went down yesterday. Even though NOLA was met with this disaster over two years ago, people are still feeling its impact today.

@ Nettie: HEY! I'm glad you found your way here!

Thanks for taking us in and for your love and support while we were there. You all have hearts of gold. With God's grace, you'll rise from this!

I hope to see more of you.

@ Joanne: "In some parts of my city, people REALLY think that all of NOLA is back to where it once was. The lack of knowledge about the real conditions is heart-breaking."

I know what you mean. I told one of my friends about going to NOLA and he didn't even know they were still rebuilding there. It's a part of history that has been removed/forgotten WAAAAAY to prematurely.

@ GA: You already know how I feel about this administration. Hopefully the next one will get it right; whomever that may be.

@ Tony: I'm glad you found my blog. Sweet!

To your points: one of the city officials I met said precisely the same thing. Housing and land restoration will take at least 15 more years; and that's assuming that no other catastrophic things go down before then.

I'm glad you have a chance to visit the Gulf and to make your mark.

Out of curiousity: Are you from the UK originally?

Cynthia said...

Dre,

I agree with everybody else. My hat goes off to you and your group for your work. Dealing with non-profits all the time, I can't begin to tell you how valuable volunteers in getting things done. The U.S. government owes you all a great deal of gratitude!

Keep working for the cause. :)

Kenya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenya said...

Hi Andre,

I'm new to your blog. But I stopped in a read a few of your posts. Your site is amazing! This post in particular almost had me crying. It made me recall the first time I went to New Orleans and Alabama after Katrina. My heart hasn't stopped hurting from it yet.

May God smile on our brothers and sisters in the Gulf.

heiresschild said...

thanks for sharing once again Andre. i'm thankful for the people who take time out of their busy schedules to help out those in need. that's what love and community is all about.

i don't know about eating alligator though, even if you do say it was off the hook.