So, we just went on a 5 day long mission trip to New Orleans. Yes, it was great. Yes, some parts are still very sad. Yes, everyone there thinks BP sucks.
I feel a really deep tie to this city. MawMaw and PawPaw are from there, so I have been raised on the food and culture of New Orleans. And believe me, there is a very specific and interesting culture that comes along with being from New Orleans. I don't mind saying that everyone who is from there is a little crazy. And by crazy, I mean a little off-kilter from the rest of the country. People from New Orleans have this really strong pride about being from New Orleans...it's sort of hard to explain. I'm not even actually from there, and I feel a really strong pride that my family is from there. My favorite story to tell is about the E ring I wear--MawMaw gave it to me when I got confirmed, and it was made by my great grandfather in his jewelry shop on Decatur. I don't really "prize" a lot of my possessions, but the E ring is one of the things I own that is most dear to my heart, and part of that dearness results directly from the fact that it was made in New Orleans 60 years ago.
Anyway, I could probably talk about how hot it is there, how hanging sheet rock is really hard work, and how we were delirious by the time we finished each day. Well, it WAS really hot, and stinky, and hanging sheet rock would not be my first job choice, but it was incredible to see the finished product. On Monday, Catherine Warrick didn't have walls in her house; on Friday, she did. I hope she likes it!
On the roof:
hard at work:
we LOVE sheetrock!
What I'd really like to do is share some facts about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina that I didn't know before our wonderful construction leaders/tour guides/new friends Alex and Lisa shared with us. They contain a wealth of knowledge and love for this place, and we felt so grateful that they shared it with our group.
1. The Lower Ninth Ward got hit the hardest by flooding, and most people think it's because it's the lowest part of the city. Well, that's not exactly true. It's one of the highest parts of the city, it's just called "lower" because it lies just south of the river. It flooded so much because during the hurricane, someone abandoned their barge, which crashed through a levee, creating a giant hole for a tidal wave of devastation for this neighborhood.
2. The Brad Pitt houses (Make It Right) are being built in the 9th Ward for people who lived there before. They all have solar panels on them, which makes each house's energy bill about $7/month. They also have easy access to the roof and a little box to climb out of if water is filling up the house. It's kindof like an escape hatch. Thanks, Brad.
3. About 1800 people were reported dead after Katrina. About 1000 of those people lived in the 9th Ward. 600 people still remain undiscovered, which really means 2400 people died.
4. The destructive part of Katrina only lasted about 8 hours on a Sunday night. People went to bed to heavy rain, thinking the worst part had passed, and then their houses were gone.
5. After Katrina, Donald Trump had plans to raze the 9th Ward and make the area into casinos, hotels, clubs, etc. for tourists (1/3 of New Orleans' income is from tourism), but went bankrupt shortly after making these plans, therefore thwarting the 9th Ward's destruction and other plans to build a Trump Tower in the middle of the French Quarter, making it New Orleans' tallest building. It's safe to say that Donald Trump sucks big time.
6. A good number of the people whose houses are being rebuilt by volunteer organizations have been victims of contractor fraud. This is when homeowners gave their Road Home money to contractors who disappeared with the money or did a really crappy job and then left with the money. So now, these homeowners have no money and a half-completed house, which is when volunteer organizations like Project Homecoming step in and finish the job REALLY WELL.
7. New Orleans is losing a football field of land every 15 minutes. A combination of water and oil pipes are overtaking the wetland ecosystem of cypress trees and bayou. This causes New Orleans to be closer to the Gulf, therefore putting it more in the path of every storm. This is bad (obviously) because the wetlands sort of serve as a buffer for the intensity of a hurricane. If a hurricane starts out as a category 5, by the time it hits the city, the wetlands sort of protect the city so that by the time it gets to land, it's been knocked down to a category 3. It's sort of like how the bluffs in Memphis help to keep us out of major path of destruction of a storm. Soooo that's sort of bad.
Cypress Ghosts/Bienvenue Bayou
8. This the last fact about the 9th Ward I promise: It's no lie that the 9th Ward isn't the wealthiest neighborhood. So, after Katrina, the local government thought it would be a good idea to charge still-living homeowners $1000/month if their yard was overgrown. Obviously, most people in the 9th Ward can't afford $1000/month for that. Especially when they have been gone from their home for 2 years, and their bill is $24,000. And here's the catch: if you don't come back, that money you owe magically disappears. So, people pay people to mow their lots so they don't have to pay $1000/month. Even if they don't have money to rebuild their house, they'll pay to keep their lawn mowed, no matter how ridiculous this thing is. That's the space where their home was, and usually only their front porch remains, because water ate their house. Now, the New Orleans government wants to eat their home. Not very nice. The extent of New Orleans' problems reaches wayyyy beyond natural disasters.
That's a lot of sad stuff, sorry about that. But these are the things that the people of New Orleans live with and the reality of what continues to be a struggle. It's ignorant to think that this city has overcome the effects of Katrina. Although it's true that some people are thriving, doing well, and loving life in New Orleans, there's still a LOT to be done. When we drove along Lake Pontchartrain, we saw people swimming, biking, walking their dogs around the calm, lovely body of water that destroyed so much, and then we drove a block and were reminded of that.
Yesterday a friend emailed me asking what I did to the photos of the sky that I took. I had to break the news to her that I didn't do anything...the sky always looks like that. We sort of joked that if all this crap has to happen on the land, at least when New Orleans people look up, they have a very nice view. Who's down with G-O-D?
But, the show must go on. If New Orleans goes away, we will have to restructure the entire economy of the United States. It is the launching point of so many essential industries and systems in this country, and leadership keeps making poor decisions regarding the city's welfare. People love this place, and it's easy to see why. It's such a special city, with so much history and character, that you always want to go back. What a great place to have in our backyard. Let's take care of it and do everything we can to help it grow!
This place is still rockin', and has some BEAUTIFUL sights to see: architecturally and naturally.
A BIG THANK YOU to Project Homecoming,
the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, Lisa, Alex, Tim, Pete, Sue in New Orleans. Heather, Dave, Andrew, Charles, Liz, Sally, Elizabeth M, Elizabeth F, Sarah Lane, Grace, Sarah J, Bailey, and John-- You all did a great job and accomplished some really meaningful work. I can't wait to see the end product of the houses we worked on.