do you know what it means to miss new orleans?

um, well, yeah… i returned from new orleans over a week ago, and it was my original plan to post a couple of times from there, but due to technical difficulties during the trip (i.e., a shitty wireless network) and laziness after my return, i’m just now getting around to it. so sue me.

anyway, this was simply the best vacation i’ve ever taken. period. never mind the total lack of privacy, the sketchy toilet/shower facilities, the food that was one step above prison food. going to new orleans and working with habitat for humanity was the best thing i’ve ever done. here is a link to the three locations amy, bianca, and i worked at. (thanks, amy.) the roman street location was ground zero for musician’s village, a project started by harry connick, jr. and branford marsalis in order to help with housing needs for some of the local musicians. this had been planned even before the hurricane, but efforts went into full gear afterwards, as most of these musicians were among the many homeless.

there were problems in working with habitat. working with such large numbers of people, sometimes there was a lack of organization, and sometimes we were given tasks to do that seemed to be nothing more than busy work. and conditions at camp hope (mentioned above), while appreciated for what they provided (a place to sleep and wash off the day’s grime) were less than ideal. still, what we did, and what thousands of people from across the country and even around the world did and continue to do, is person by person make a dent in the rebuilding of a great american city. hopefully the efforts of habitat and other volunteers will help to bring as many native new orleanians back home as possible, and help to make this wonderful city better than it was before.

the fact is that this rebuilding effort is not going to take years; it will be decades before some sense of normalcy can be restored. entire neighborhoods remain uninhabited, with block after block of delapidated shells of what used to be homes. some of the residents were able to return (or stayed), but many of those are living in fema trailers nearly two years later. these trailers are about the size of two of the cubicles where i work. to those fortunate few who have been able to build new or restore their former homes, reminders of katrina’s destruction are no further than looking out a window or stepping out onto a front porch. the destruction and desolation is omnipresent.

for those living in new orleans now, their choices of places to shop for necessities are also quite limited. along with neighborhoods being destroyed, entire shopping districts are also gone (although there is a part of me which thinks this might not be a bad thing). walmart, home depot, big lots, as well as many locally owned shops, stores in strip malls, all this and more is boarded up. we saw a video of the flooding at its height in st. bernard parish, and the water shown in this video went past the roofline of the walmart. can you imagine? (nevermind what you might think about walmart…) so in addition to inflated rents and prices in general, people often have to go miles out of their way to get their needs met. it’s still a toss-up as to whether these businesses will ever reopen.

so, now that you’ve read this, this is what i want you to do: just seriously consider making a trip to new orleans, either as a tourist or as a volunteer with habitat or some other worthwhile organization. money and sweat are the two things that will help restore the city to its former glory. there are still plenty of cool things to do in the french quarter, which was relatively unscathed, and there is all kinds of great music and food to be had. (btw, it is impossible to visit nola and be a vegetarian for your time there, unless you plan to live solely on iceberg lettuce and sliced tomatoes.) after working with habitat most days, amy, bianca, and i (and sometimes kathy) would go out for great food, listen to great music, and just soak up the ambiance of the city. we spent our last full day in nola at jazzfest, which seemed like the perfect ending to the week. the city is trying to pull itself up by its bootstraps, but i think anyone who is able to should help. i, for one, plan to make a return trip sometime this fall. let me know if you’d like to join me. 🙂
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