Saturday I flew in to LAX, an hour late, though I wish I could have come in 2 days late; I wasn’t ready to leave.
I spent this break in New Orleans, particularly in the Lower Ninth Ward, where I helped restore a house that had been destroyed by Katrina.
Let me preface. Yes, Katrina was almost 6 years ago. The average time to build a house is 4 months. So why then did I walk through neighborhoods and see 1/3 of the houses still unoccupied. A variety of reasons. Many people lost everything, including their job. They don’t have the money, haven’t been able to make up for the income to buy/rebuild a house. Another main reason is that to re-occupy the house or restore the house, the deed must be present. Some of these houses have been passed down from generation to generation, some are hundreds of years old, and through this transgenerational transmission the deeds were lost and there is no proof that a said individual owns their house. And finally, some people never came home.
It is for this reason, that parts of New Orleans look like Katrina hit 6 months ago, rather than 6 years ago.
It was through the Lowernine that I had the privilege of going down to New Orleans to work. My best friend spent last break working there and talked to me about coming with her again this time. It was by far one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did I get to spend a day seeing the city, walking down Decatur and Bourbon,
but I got to spend 5 days in the real city, the real New Orleans- The Lower Ninth Ward. This is New Orleans. You go to the French, and it’s all tourists, well and a few bartenders and prostitutes. But to see the people, it was here.
The pictures certainly cannot attest to the degree of beauty I saw there. Neither can they show the devastation that still plagues this ward, and many others. I stood on the levee that broke. I stared at the the concrete wall, build back up, with exactly the same engineering as previously employed.
We walked 4 miles every day to work. Then around to see other neighborhoods. As I said, no matter where you go there are still many houses boarded up, uninhibited, with a giant spray painted X depicting when the house was inspected, by whom, and the number of bodies found.
I still cannot believe this happened 6 years ago.
That said, I had some of the most ridiculously fun times here with my best friend.
We got to work on the house that she had framed a year ago, but this time we were putting up sheathing underneath. Quite an adventure. I do say after 40 hours with someone under a house, where there really isn’t much to do but sheath, you really get to know someone.
I’m honestly surprised our team leader Justin didn’t murder us after day 2. I must say, Tawna brings out the most interesting side of me.
Although the $100 that went to room and board was really only supposed to cover sandwiches and assorted donated food from local vendors, we got pretty lucky. One of the permanent workers brought over a bag of craw fish.
I love Louisiana.
While I do a lot of volunteer work, I particularly enjoyed this week. This was for a few reasons.
1. It was the most hands-on I have ever gotten to be on a volunteer project. I legitimately spent almost 40 hours cutting, screwing and taping.
2. I met the people in the neighborhood. I met Deborah, who’s house we were restoring. I got to see their gratitude for what we were doing. LowerNine is truly making a difference down in the 9th ward.
3. It was really laid back. It makes life less stressful (:
4. I got to spend time giving back with my best friend ever. And meet some pretty cool new friend as well (:
Oh the craw fish.
But on a serious note…
I really encourage you to donate the The Lower Nine if you have the ability. Just $35 can sponsor a volunteer for a day. And I will personally guarantee that your money is going to supplies and good for the people as well as food, electricity, water and gas for the house that they volunteers stay in while they work. The head of the community center down in the lower 9th told me that 75% of the restoration from Katrina has been done purely by volunteers. Please, help out (: