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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Building Process Pics

In French Quarter on Tuesday, March 27th

Pictures of pairs making gifts

March 28, 2012-What does service mean?

March 28, 2012

                Today we did more of the same; working on mudding, priming, and drilling the houses to which we have grown so accustomed. They’re coming along great; we have made so much progress since we first started! After work we traveled back to the Saint Bernard Project’s headquarters and met with the young Americorps representatives. They talked to us about their journeys and about all that they had learned over the course of their experience in New Orleans and abroad. They each have their own story and we were surprised by the diversity that existed in just one organization. They reminded all of us that community service does not end when the trip does and that there are opportunities to do good all around us, and all around the world.

                Upon returning to the hostel, we all took much needed and well deserved showers before we gathered together for a special surprise in the courtyard. We were divided into pairs and were given instructions to come up with a creative “gift” that we felt would express our appreciation for the rest of our group and for the experience here. We will present our “gifts” to our NOLA 2012 family tomorrow after dinner in a closing ceremony.

                Tonight, after dinner, we came together to discuss our feelings about the experience that we have had thus far and to answer some difficult and thought provoking questions. Rachel, one of our three chaperones, asked us if it is more meaningful to send money to the Saint Bernard Project, or to send yourself to do hands on work. We did not all agree on the answer to this question; however, we did all agree that the conversation was an important one to have.

                It is conversations such as these that make us think about all that we have at home and about all of the people who are not as fortunate. We are looking forward to our last day on the job and to spending another wonderful and worthwhile afternoon in the French Quarter and to experiencing all that the city of New Orleans has to offer.

                Thank you for reading!


                                                Lauren Gluck, Sarah Levine, and Ben Aronovitz

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Conspiracy Theories 12/27/2011

March 27, 2012
                We started early again today, waking up at 5:50 am so we could eat breakfast, brush our teeth, pack our lunches, and be out of the Marquette House by 6:30.  We returned to our two separate sites and continue to sand and skim the walls, which aimed to make the walls as flat and smooth as possible.  Both groups met the owners of the homes that we have been working on, and they were extremely appreciative of our hard and dedicated work. 
One of the owners spoke to the whole group after our day of work.  Her name was Theresa, and she is an African American woman who has lived in New Orleans for her entire life.  Her house had only one floor before the hurricane, and we could see just how high the water had been by looking at the marks on the neighboring church.  Theresa and her two kids left New Orleans before the hurricane with her two children (one is a high school senior), expecting to be back home after a couple days.  After Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home and all of her belongings, she stayed with friends who lived nearby.  She hired a contractor, who committed fraud and stole all of her money.  Following this catastrophe, the electric wiring was stolen from her home twice, forcing Theresa to actually move into a trailer on her property to protect her home from future theft.  Theresa explained that she was so blessed to receive the amazing help from us and the St. Bernard Project.
                Our group then had the opportunity to ask Theresa some questions about her experience.  We were very surprised to hear that Theresa believed that the levies did not just collapse due to the pressure from the Mississippi River, but that the levies were purposely “blown up” by the people who were in charge of them, as they are every 40 years.  Our group had a difficult time comprehending her theory, which she devoutly believed.  We also asked her about her faith.   She explained that her faith in “the good Lord” remains strong, but that her faith in mankind has deteriorated.  She preferred not to answer further questions about her relationship with God and religion.
                After this captivating interaction with Theresa, we all returned to the hostel and showered.  Then we made our way to the French Quarter, where we split up into groups and explored the famous Bourbon Street and the neighboring area.  After some shopping and exploring, we met up and made our way to Kosher Cajun, a New York style deli, where we had a festive dinner.  After the meal, we returned to the French Quarter to go to CafĂ© Du Monde, where we enjoyed its famous beignets.  Two of the three vans then returned to the hostel where we made our sandwiches for the next day and got ready for bed.
                We are looking forward to another 2 great days of working in New Orleans!  Meeting the women who are going to live in the homes we are building only gives us more motivation to push through the hot climate and work our hardest.
-Rachel Wolfman, Wyatt Mufson, & Jeremy Jick

Monday, March 26, 2012

march 26, 2012

March 26th, 2012
                    Today was our first day getting out there and doing some manual labor. We got up bright and early (5:45 AM) and drove to a group orientation. We joined about 5 other groups and learned about how the St. Bernard project got started from curly-haired Simon. He told us a story about a man named Frank who, after the storm, sat on his roof for a long time, with a white flag, waiting to be saved. When he was finally saved, he was taken higher ground (a bank’s roof, the highest point in the area), where waited six days for rescue. He was finally saved by a Canadian Mounties, and he was disappointed that his country had not looked out for him. This story inspired the founding of the St. Bernard project. Simon told us that the St. Bernard project has seen great success, rebuilding 437 houses in the past 5 years, but that the work they do is never enough. Until recently, they had a 135-person waiting list that they had to shut down because they did not want to promise houses to people for whom they couldn’t build. Even 7 years later, there are still many people in New Orleans who need our help more than ever.

                We then split up and drove to our specific work-sites. Most of us did the tedious work of sanding drywall and skimming--applying a thin coat of drywall mud.. Although this was really tough and not so fun, we had to keep in mind that we were still helping people out, and even the toughest jobs need to get done somehow. On one site, we met the owner of the home, named Theresa, which was a very meaningful experience. The house on the other site was the only house on the street that was left to be rebuilt, as every other house had been completed, so we were motivated to get it done. After lots of satisfying work, we broke for lunch, and wiped seemingly tons of dirt and drywall off of our clothes and heads.

After working, we paid a visit to the Annunciation Church, which served as a recovery center during the storm, which is run by two individuals who not only lived through, but prospered through the storm. Jean and James were both able to view the positive side of the situation. Jean talked about how she needed to take a step down to take many steps up, and James said that the days he spent sheltered in the Convention Center (where racial, economic, and governmental distinctions were irrelevant) were “the best 5 days of [his] life.” Nevertheless, the two spoke emotionally about their experiences in the storm, and were extremely grateful to see us down in New Orleans.  Jean said that our service was an integral part of her mental recovery process. They emphasized that the damage was great, but that our reactions to the storm is what is more important. It’s hard to sum up how moving it is to hear such a “survivor” speak about his or her life-changing experience.

Tomorrow, we will return to our job sites ready to work, and continue our experience in NOLA.

-Haley Cashman, Carl Haber, Jacob Slater

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Today began around 7:30 AM when our lovely chaperones did wake-up rounds. After dressing, eating breakfast, and packing our brownbag lunches, we piled into our signature tourist vans and set off on the hour-long drive to Zam’s Swamp Tours, a wonderful place in rural Southern Louisiana-Thibodeax. We began the tour at Zam’s by witnessing a gigantic caravan of bikers making their way to the gift shop of the site. The woman who first showed us around, Diana, brought out three different snakes: a baby one, a middle-sized one, and a huge-beyond-huge yellow snake that wrapped its body around us all. While some in the group were a bit nervous to interact with the reptiles at first, by the end we were all handling them like pros.
  The next section of our tour consisted of getting onto a barge-like wooden and metal boat and taking a tour of the Bayou, led by a 15-year-old giant named Zee. Never in my entire life have I seen a boy so big. He had long blond hair tucked into his camouflage hat and rolled-up jean shorts with a super tight red t-shirt. He sported rubber boots that came up to his knees. Along with his two tour guide companions, Zee gave us a brief history of the Bayou, a history which we strained to understand, as Zee had a thick Cajun accent. If you have ever seen the show Swamp People, then you can imagine what Zee was like. It had been barely five minutes in the water when, all of a sudden, Barry (Laila’s husband) spotted something moving in the water. “A gator,” he exclaimed. Our boat drove slowly over to the alligator as we all ran to the back of the boat to see the reptile. Zee casually opened the rear of the boat and lay down on his stomach. “He’s stuck to the branch,” Zee explained to us. Zee reached into the water with his bare hands and wrestled the four-foot-long alligator onto the boat. He swiftly brought it up on the boat and it was clear that a trap line had wrapped around the belly of the gator.  Bob, the older gentleman leading the tour, used his large pocket knife to cut the line.  Zee then brought the gator to the front of the boat and began to wrap a washcloth and rope around the gator’s mouth so it would not bite anyone. He tied it up to the front of the boat and it sat there for the next hour and a half. Zee’s plan was to bring the alligator back to Zam’s to nurse it back to health; the  fishing line had cut into the flesh and it injured its nose on a branch.
      I must be honest for a second: seeing the alligator writhing at the front of the boat while we leisurely continued our Bayou tour was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. While we recognized that Zee and his crew were trying to help the alligator, it was blatantly obvious that the alligator would have preferred to be back in the water.
      After saving the alligator, we continued on through the swamps and saw a Confederate flag and more alligators, this time babies. Zee took another stroll into the water and picked up a baby, about eight inches long. He brought it onto the boat and we took turns holding it. Its bites were like little nibbles on our fingers. Zee was going to keep the alligator to measure its health, his organization has a permit for this otherwise illegal activity.
      When we finished our boat tour, we took a second tour, this time of  Zam’s farm. We passed by adorable baby goats and bunnies, which we all held and bottle-fed, as well as caged raccoons and chickens. We saw a 13-foot alligator that weighed about 800 pounds. It hissed and snapped at us, trying to defend its personal territory. It was true nature at its best. We then met an 110-120 year old gigantic snapping turtle. We learned that while snapping turtles don’t have teeth, the pressure their jaws exert when they snap closed is enough to cleanly slice off someone’s arm. Yikes.
       Next we ate lunch at the picnic tables and enjoyed listening to some fine Cajun accents. Finally, we bid farewell to our new friends at Zam’s and drove away with our next tour guide, Gary, to a sugarcane plantation that was in use in the mid-1800s. The houses belonging to the slaves were still intact. It was surreal to see buildings that had housed slaves only 150 years ago. Gary then took us to the campus of Nicholls College (at which he is a marine biology professor). He gave us a quick lesson about the geography of Louisiana, as well as the geography of Massachusetts (sadly, not one of us drew our home state correctly). During our lesson, we learned that the water at the edge of Southern Louisiana is moving inland at a rate of one acre per 45 minutes, if you can imagine that speed. We also learned that the Mississippi River changes courses every few thousand years.
       Our last stop of the day was to a swampy area of the plantation. We drove in the bed of Gary’s white pickup, literally sitting on barrels of hay. We arrived at the swamp and took a walk in which we found many meaty spiders and tiny little ants. We saw bald eagles flying overhead and heard frogs singing from the swamp. Gary took us to a small shack on the edge of the swamp in which an owl lived. Gary, Barry, and Josh collected the owl’s pellets (NOT POOP, DON’T WORRY) and the skulls of dead mice. We looked at both outside. Finally, we drove to our vans and continued back to the now-familiar Marquette House in what now seems like bustling New Orleans.
      I think that the two biggest takeaways from today were learned at Zam’s. For the first time, I really appreciated the education to which we have access in Boston. While the people with whom we talked weren’t uneducated, they certainly lived a life filled with a different type of education (namely, how to catch an alligator). They were very knowledgeable in their fields, and while I admired this knowledge, I felt very fortunate to be learning my eight subjects at Gann. The second thing I took away from today was that there really are people who live their lives doing the things that they love and that make them genuinely satisfied. So often we go through life trying to fulfill some impossible or trivial goal instead of fighting for the things that make us happy. Zee, our 15-year-old tour guide, moved out of his parents’ house at age 12 to live on his own boathouse (a house that floats in the middle of the water). While his parents weren’t thrilled with this decision, he left home to pursue his love of alligators and the Bayous. This type of courage and pursuit of happiness is a kind that we can only hope to achieve in our own lives.
       I cannot wait to see what the rest of NOLA 2012 has to offer us.

-Ellie Deresiewicz, Aaron Benjamin, and Alana Windmueller

Shabbat March 23, 24th

Welcome to Nola Blog 2012: 

Let's begin with visual evidence of how hard we are working: (at eating ice cream Motzi Shabbos)

Actually from the beginning:

Gann Academy’s Rebuilding New Orleans trip left at an ungodly hour on Friday morning from Logan Airport.  The trip began with great group spirit.  We all played Hacky Sack and bonded in the airport while we waited for Laila and Barry (Laila’s husband), who were the last two to arrive.  The plane rides were very enjoyable. We made a really convenient stop in Houston (don’t mess with Texas), but we eventually made it to the beautiful city of New Orleans.  We were all shvitzing in the 80 degree weather. 

First stop we made was at Walmart, where we both stocked up with food and necessities for a whole week and brought up Walmart’s quarter profits by 20%.  After collaboratively dividing the groceries among our three minivans, we headed toward the Marquette House, where we will be staying for the entire week.  After dropping our milk off in the fridge, we went on a long driving tour of New Orleans, paying special attention to the damaged homes and the newly high levies that surrounded the lower 9th ward, the section of New Orleans that was hit worst by Hurricane Katrina.  I would say that Laila, Barry, and Rachel knew where we were going perfectly and that we never got lost, but I was told these blog posts were supposed to be honest.

                After our tour, we returned to the house, where we settled into our rooms and prepared for Shabbat. With the beautiful weather and surroundings, there was an enormous amount of Shabbat spirit.  We sang as we walked over to the neighboring synagogue, where we davened kabalat Shabbat.  The synagogue was not quite the most lively or well-attended, but the Rabbi (who might as well have had his bar mitzvah last weekend) was very welcoming and we brought a lot of spirit to the Sephardic sanctuary.  After services, we ate dinner at the synagogue, and then we had some free time before we said our laila tovs and went to sleep. 

The next morning, we woke up, had our delicious breakfasts, and went back to the synagogue for morning services.  Then after lunch, we went back to the house for some free time where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful weather.  Many of us talked outside and played hacky sack, while others worked on their tans for Prom.  Toward the end of the free time, a few of us went on a run around downtown New Orleans, which was a great way to explore the city. Next, the whole group went on a walk through an interesting neighborhood which had beautiful homes and gardens, and also contained a unique cemetery. 

                We returned to the synagogue for Minchah services, and then we walked over to the Rabbi’s home where we enjoyed a delicious se’udat Shlishit with joyful zmirot.  After a spirited havdalah (Debbie Friedman style), we walked back to the house, changed into our post-shabbat clothing, and went out for ice cream and desserts.  Overall, we had a great, relaxing Shabbat in New Orleans and a great start to our trip.

-Jeremy Jick