Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sunday reflection

By Sunday evening we'd had a shabbat at Anshe Sfard, a synagogue next door to our hostel, explored the Garden District and Central City neighborhoods (Colliseum Square, Magazine Street, Fauburg Delassize), listened to a representative of the Jewish Farm School talk about korban (sacrifice) and service, caught cabbages and bead necklaces thrown from St Patrick's Day Channel Parade floats on St. Charles Ave, heard Rabbi Polsky speak at Seudah Shlishit about the history of Anshe Sfard and the local Jewish community, seen a Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute by a talented (and loud) quintet at Tulane, volunteered with a local community gardening project, and wandered around the French Quarter.

After a Kosher Cajun catered dinner, with our hardest work ahead of us, we met for a reflection on what we'd experienced so far. Each member of the group answered the following question:

What images, or what elements of the soundscape, have struck you so far?

Here are some of the responses:

the Superdome next to Highway 10, intact, emblazoned with a luxury car logo

Dave, a friendly, softspoken volunteer at the community garden -- a recovering alcoholic who has struggled to find housing

strangers smiling and offering St Patrick's Day hats to other strangers

children giving out flowers

a chicken wandering among the chairs and tables of an indoor cafe in the Marigny district

passersby in the French Quarter giving high fives to strangers

elaborate Mardi Gras masks on display in French Quarter boutiques

firsthand evidence of the racial and socioeconomic divides that characterize the city

an old woman in the French Quarter who said "Merry Christmas" and gave strangers Mardi Gras beads

our neighbors in Central City sitting out on porches and stoops

a young woman on Bourbon Street singing and twirling a sign for a strip club

public nudity

wrought-iron balconies


After our conversation, we talked about the transition from the first and more relaxed phase of the trip to the four days of work we'd be doing with St Bernard Project, and we read and discussed an article about tourism to the Lower Ninth Ward.

We'll revisit our first impressions of New Orleans once we have two days of spackling, drilling, and sanding behind us.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What we learned and what we are taking away, March 30th

March 30, 2012

Our closing ritual was a perfect ending for the trip. One of our site supervisors, Nicole came with her boyfriend Trevor.  The evening included performances, reflection and gift giving. The performances were Laila doing one magic trick, our 4 Shenanigans singing 2 songs in perfect and beautiful harmonies, and Trevor playing Amazing Grace on the hand whistle. (hard to explain but pretty amazing.) Gifts included several funny poems, cards for everyone in the group, a house of cards with its own house of cards blog and St. Bernard’s t-shirts for everyone.  There was much laughter and appreciation.  For our reflection everyone wrote things they learned and a takeaway from the trip on an index card.  We leave you with those lists:

Things we learned:

How to apologize without continuing to place blame on the other person

The Mississippi River moves

How to dry wall and mud and the importance of each step of construction

That some people believe that the levies were purposely blown up in order to divert water from the French Quarter in the lower 9th ward

How to mud

A lot of interesting stories about people who lived through the hurricane

The amount of devastation from Katrina

How to sand, skim and prime dry wall

Alligator tastes great

How to mud and sand and how important it is

How to draw Massachusetts

About the culture in rural Louisiana

Rookies can learn mudding pretty quickly

How to mud/sand/float/skim

What a house looks like beneath the paint

Some new Taylor Swift songs

People really do wrestle Alligators

What YOLO means

How to build a house

How to put aside past problems with people

Southern culture

History of hurricane Katrina

How to mud with Nicole, it was great and I’m really appreciative

I am a lot more capable with a 6 inch knife than I thought

Southern manners

The importance of showing you care

How to mud

Conspiracy theories about levies

About bayous and alligators

How to love

That Jews have lived in NO for many generations

From Laila that to love someone is to tserve them and to serve someone is to love them

I also learned that acceptance is an important part of love

About Jean and James’ story and past

How much goes in to creating a home…something I will no longer take for granted

How to do things that I never knew I could do

Building a house is harder than it looks.

Things we are taking away from the experience:

That giving my time and doing community service make not only a physical impact, but also a mental impact on the people who are being helped.

Many memories, some good, some bad but overall a great experience.

Hardwork –even if something is deemed annoying or painful, can make normal activities seem sweeter.

To always cherish my house and family

To always share love and acceptance whether appreciated or not

That people’s connections to their homes can run deep and beyond the rational

I hope to always take pride in my physical place ant that of others

Every moment is a YOLO moment

To consider being an Americacorps volunteer

To think about people like Theresa

There is a way to balance doing what is right and what is helpful with what is fun to do

After hearing real stories, I am now convinced that this project is worthwhile.  I needed to meet real victims in order to feel really close to the project.

I will build houses with my dad now because he does that for fun

There are more important things than my own immediate gratification because in the long run, the fact that I am helping someone is most important

Houses are hard to build

People are really grateful for what we did here

The need is great, the flesh is weak, attitude makes the difference

Helping means a lot.  Not just giving money but the fact that we are willing to give up time to come down and help out shows people that other people care about them.

The importance of physical service as opposed to monetory contribution.  They don’t mean to reach the same end. They may be related but actually serve totally different purposes.

Southern culture is awesome and I have a new appreciation for the South

Everyone needs a home

Every little bit of work helps and a lot of help is needed

Everybody deals with tragedy in different ways and that sometimes it is hard for others to understand

We need to help the victims of Katrina and victims of hurricanes no matter how long it takes and no matter who is to blame

How many complex questions, community service raises.

Sometimes the most meaningful things in life are those that we already know a lot about.

Pictures from crew at Pamela's house

Thursday, March 29, 2012

March 29, 2012, last day of work

March 29, 2012

                Sadly, we embarked upon our final work day, packing our lunches and putting on our already mud-stained work clothes for the last time. After a long day of sanding, skimming, priming, and painting, we said a sad farewell to Andy and Nicole, our superb site-supervisors. We then caravanned to the Levy tours, where we heard Elise, one of the Americorps volunteers, give us all the information we were lacking about the events that took place at the Levies.

                After much-needed showers, we traveled to the French Quarter for the last time visiting boutiques and eating our second round of Beignets. When we returned for a hearty meal of spaghetti and meat-balls, we were pleased to welcome Nicole, a site supervisor, and her boyfriend Trevor to our final banquet. The thought-provoking conversations that took place after led into our gift giving ceremony where we continued to reflect on our journey. In pairs, we created meaningful gifts for the group to take home as a reminder of what we have learned over this past week. The gifts ranged from poems and awards to pictures and “thank-you’s.” We felt that most importantly, these gifts reflected the personal connections we have formed with one another.

                Our knowledge of hurricane Katrina has surpassed mere facts. This experience has enabled us to begin to understand the emotional and intangible effects of the hurricane. All the people we have met went through the same disaster, yet somehow have entirely different perspectives. We met one home-owner who fervently argued a conspiracy theory, in which she believed that every 40 years people blew up the Levies as an act of terrorism. Some, on the other hand, strove to focus on the positive impacts after the disaster. Even though this specific experience has been once in a lifetime, we will definitely continue our community outreach and bring what we learned home to our Gann family.

                All our love, from the NOLA12 familia,

Maya Warburg, Itamar Lewin-Arundale, and Hannah Hausman