Friday, April 13, 2007

BREAK WEEK: Day Nine

April 7: Day Nine, Break Week

Today we returned to California, meaning that our top priority in New Orleans this morning was to pack and load the vans so that we could make our way back to Houston in time for our flight back home. Still, we knew that there were a couple more jobs that we could finish in just a few short hours, so ten of us agreed to get up at 5:30 a.m. and head back to Rosie’s one more time.

On our way from Uptown to the Ninth Ward, we noticed thick black smoke billowing in the air in front of us. As we approached one intersection on South Claiborne Street in the Central City neighborhood, we saw huge flames shooting into the air and a bunch of emergency vehicles all over the streets. A huge old house and an adjacent brick building were being engulfed. It was a highly unusual experience to watch a half block of New Orleans dissolve into fiery embers when we were approaching our 1500th hour of reconstruction labor in just this one week. We drove by slowly, marveled over the weirdness of it all, and then just focused on the jobs at hand.

Once at Rosie’s we scrubbed the floors and grouted the last tiles that we set yesterday, we painted trim, we hung blinds, we cleaned up scattered tools, and we worked on a job or two for Sarah around the corner. Rosie made us coffee and stayed close by, talking about her excitement about the future of the house. Like us, she was still gushing about Janice’s achievement yesterday in walking the new ramp out back. We all took note of what a huge change that ramp would bring to Janice’s life. The folks who went to Sarah’s house learned that she had stayed up late on Friday night to make us homemade pralines, which, as usual, were the best we’ve ever tasted.

The people who hadn’t gone back to the Ninth took responsibility for cleaning and packing up our temporary NOLA home. They doled out our leftover food to other groups staying at our same house and gathered up our dishes, boots, toiletry items, and media equipment so that everything was ready to go.

The folks at Rosie’s and Sarah’s realized that it was time to go, no matter how many more little jobs we could find to do. Because Tommy and Shane were flying out of New Orleans directly (having made separate arrangements from the larger group) we decided to take them back to the houses on our way out of town so that they could finish even more jobs. In that way we got to postpone our goodbyes just a little bit longer.

We collected back at the house where we stayed, made everything fit into the two vans somehow, and headed back to drop Tommy and Shane off for the last time. Rosie had already agreed to drive them to the airport, so all of our loose ends were tying up very nicely. We hugged and hollered and took one last look down the streets of “our” neighborhood: the Upper Ninth Ward. And then we started driving west. And sleeping.

Somewhere along the way we realized why we were so tired: we had completed over 1500 hours of manual labor in this one week alone. Altogether, counting all four of the SMC trips to New Orleans, we have exceeded 10,000 total hours of direct hurricane relief. The numbers work like this on a trip by trip basis:

Jan 2006: 4160 total hours
Break 2006: 720 total hours
Jan 2007: 3700 total hours
Break 2007: 1542 total hours

Grand Total: 10,122!!!

Of course, we could easily count project work as hurricane relief of sorts, but even without counting that work, we hit 10,000 hours! We are exhausted and very proud.

We are also reminded that the work is not over. We know that we made an impact in our 10,000 hours, but we also know that we barely made a dent in the overall crisis still haunting the Gulf Coast. Many homes remain untouched still, almost 20 months after the storms. And people are still waiting. Rosie is waiting for the money promised to her by the state. Sarah is waiting for a reliable plumber to set up her kitchen and bathrooms. Natasha is waiting for the go-ahead from Habitat for Humanity so that she can take possession of her new home. Lisa is waiting for the time when her extended family is no longer is a state of acute crisis, so that she can resume a normal pace sometime in the near future. And thousands of families we haven’t yet met are hoping that a group like ours comes to help them turn the next corner on their road to recovery. Please help them in any way you can.

Thanks for listening, once again . . .




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We ate this morning at one of the all-time fanciest McDonald's that we have ever seen.





There was a lot of tricky tilework to be done in the back of the house, as the rooms are not square. Here's the bathroom floor as it slants around the new shower enclosure.




The kitchen, back entry, and bathroom all share this tilework.




Here's a peek at the new floors and newly-installed blinds in Rosie's bedroom.




Once all the paper is removed, Rosie's living room and bedrooms will have these beautiful laminate floors, perfectly painted walls and trim, and lovely ceiling fans. What a wonderful place!



The long drive to Houston included catching up on some web-posting.

Friday, April 6, 2007

BREAK WEEK: Day Eight

April 6: Day Eight, Break Week

Habitat for Humanity took the day off today for Easter weekend, so we put all of our efforts into the homes of our friends in the Ninth Ward. Mostly, we concentrated on Rosie’s house to finish the jobs that we started there during the week. Our main jobs continued to be the flooring and the entry ramp, but there were tons of other jobs in motion as well. We also took on a big new job in earnest: installing the baseboards throughout the rooms of Rosie’s house.

We were all pretty tired and sore, but those factors had no influence on our levels of energy. We decided to get up even earlier than usual to be sure that we finished the jobs that we had started. No one balked at our 6:30 wakeup time, especially because we had a solid agreement to eat a fast food breakfast rather than our usual bagels and granola.

Once at Rosie’s, a few people immediately hit the floors, literally starting an entire day of crawling around on their knees. They finished tiling the bathroom and back entryway and grouted the tiles that they had set yesterday. At the same time, a whole crew was going through and installing baseboards, which is no easy task in a house whose walls are a bit askew. Others were disassembling a no-longer-necessary fence in the backyard to free up more space around the new access ramp. Suddenly the house that we had entered back in January 2006 looked totally different, as it had new exterior siding, new interior walls, ceilings, and floors, a fresh coat of paint throughout, and a liberating new ramp to access the house from the rear.

It is important to note that all of this was accomplished under somewhat primitive conditions, as we had many fewer tools than we normally have when the Verrips brothers drive a truck and trailer across the country to support our efforts. Thus, where we usually have a chop saw, a table saw, a circular saw and a reciprocating saw, we just had one Skil Saw that we adapted for all of our uses. We also had to innovate over power usage, as Rosie’s electricity is still not hooked up.

While all of this was happening at Rosie’s, Tim was leading the charge at Sarah’s to finish work on the security doors and bars on which she depends. Different people helped him throughout the day, but Tim was the one who dedicated himself entirely to her needs. Sarah stayed right by Tim’s side all day and talked about how blessed she feels that we are helping to take care of her house. By the end of the day, several of us gathered at her back door to attach her security door. It was quite an ordeal, but – as usual – our crew made it happen. Sarah immediately burst into tears.

We all were fighting back tears back at Rosie’s house, as just before the ramp was finished, our friend Lisa Trigo brought Rosie and her disabled roommate Janice out to check out the ramp and the interior work. As we have mentioned before, we built the ramp specifically with Janice in mind, as she currently uses a walker to get around. We just learned, however, that even with the walker, she has never been very mobile. In fact, Lisa told us that until the storm drove Janice out of the house on N. Clairborne, she had not left the house AT ALL for a full SEVEN YEARS!

When Lisa invited her to come see the ramp, Janice was very reluctant to go, thinking that she might not be able to make it up the ramp at all. She somehow got up the courage to try (Rosie’s encouragement sure helped!) and she got her first glimpse back into the almost-restored house. We all stood along the ramp and watched her go, trying to hold back tears. She was excited to see the interior of the house and she was ecstatically proud of her achievement in making it up the ramp. So were we. Rosie said that Janice kept glowing with pride for the rest of the evening.

As we think about it, that ramp might symbolize the biggest single change we have made in any person’s life in our NOLA work so far. Janice could not have maneuvered into or out of the house without that ramp, so we have given her freedom, sunshine, fresh air, and a new sense of pride in her accomplishment. Wow.

We stayed into the darkness finishing touchup painting and other tasks. We made a gumbo run that also included some fried shrimp and boiled crawfish. We held another candelight picnic in Rosie’s front room, joined by Sarah, Rosie, and the Trigos. A few of us made a run to get special souvenirs of our time(s) in New Orleans. We won’t tell you which people are involved, but we will tell you that their souvenirs came from a tattoo parlor. Oh dear.

We didn’t quite finish every job, as we needed to let some things dry before we could continue. So now about half of us are getting up at 5:30 a.m. to return to Rosie’s house and finish what we can before we leave on our long drive to Houston to catch our flight back to California.

We’ll check in one more time and let you know how things went. . .
______________________________________

Shane continued his mastery of the wet saw today as he cut many tricky notches and cut-outs to accommodate the intricacies of the bathroom and the entryway.




Justin gave a quick tutorial on grout application at the beginning of the day so that we could finish the kitchen floor at Rosie's.




Linzy was one of the lead installers of baseboards at Rosie's.




We communicate quite a bit through the open windows at Rosie's as some of us work inside and some outside.




Janeva and Lindsay work on installing the baseboards at Rosie's.




Brianna turned out to be quite a master at the art of grouting.




Sarah surprised us by cooking a lunch of spaghetti, corn, and bread for us today.




Sarah joined us for lunch on Rosie's other porch.




Tim took this great aerial shot of the ramp in progress from Red's steps behind Rosie's house.




Jack and Bryan sign their names on a slab of concrete that we poured by the ramp.




Here's a look at the floor after it was grouted.




A whole crew of us worked to install Sarah's security door so that she can finally lock her house entirely.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

BREAK WEEK: Day Seven

April 5: Day Seven, Break Week

What a day of work we had today! We started early, as Shawny has a new trick to get us out of bed: if we don’t get up when she awakens us, she sits by our beds and tells us stories about her childhood. Some of us heard about the tornado in her hometown when she was a kid, others about the tobacco farms where she grew up, and others got the scoop on the old moped that one of her friends used to have.

We hustled on out to New Orleans East to finish as many jobs for Alisha as we possibly could. We knew she was counting on us, so we went back and finished re-setting windows at one house and touching up paint and building a fence at another. We were again fixing errors left by other groups.

Among other things, we learned that the amount and quality of work that a group completes really establishes the reputation of the organization that they represent. For example, a couple of college groups were obvious letdowns for the Habitat staffers, leaving them still commenting about the shoddy work (or work ethic) of those groups. We are quite pleased to know that we are in a whole different stratosphere in terms of our reputation. The worst thing that we have heard about our group is: “You work TOO hard!” People are always impressed with our stamina and productivity.

Once we left New Orleans East, we headed back to Rosie’s to go full steam ahead on some of the jobs we still hope to finish. The two huge jobs of the day were 1) continuation of the ramp/deck that Jack began yesterday and 2) tiling the floors in the kitchen, back entry, and bathroom. There were tons of other catch-up jobs too, including finishing the paint jobs that we’ve been working on all week for Sarah and for Rose, moving Sarah’s massive concrete front steps into position, weed-whacking Rosie’s yard, and prepping Rosie’s baseboards for installation.

People fanned out in all directions to make all of these things happen today. There was a frenzy of power-saws and drills, as everyone was moving more quickly than ever in pursuit of the completion of these undertakings. A certain set of people crawled and climbed around the kitchen on all fours, applying mortar to backing board and installing tiles.

Our usual homemade lunch was rejected in favor of a big pile of cheeseburgers from a nearby Burger King. We made several runs to pick up more and more material for the jobs that we were on. We were like an anthill.

We kept going and going until darkness began to fall, at which point we located some light sources (Rosie’s electricity is still not hooked up) to make it so that we could go and go some more. We got hungry as the evening dragged on, and Elijah volunteered to make a run for one of our everlasting favorites: Popeye’s Chicken.

We hadn’t run a light to the front of Rosie’s house, so we improvised for our dinner and ate by candlelight. It was unbelievably sweet to sit in that crowded room with its flickering glow and toss biscuits from one side of the room to the other.

By 9:00 p.m., we realized that we had to stop our saws from squealing into the night. We gathered up everything, packed it all away, and pledged to ourselves that we will return super early tomorrow to keep the momentum going.

Rosie is thinking of a new name for her house: “Saint Mary’s Cottage.” We like it. . .



__________________________________________

Bryan and Matt were part of a fence crew that laid out property lines, dug postholes, and set fenceposts for a fence at Natasha's house.




Elijah and Bryan pour cement to stabilize Natasha's new fence around her house in New Orleans East.




Bryan and Matt have spent the week shooting footage for a break documentary. Today they interviewed Kate on Sarah's porch.




Bryan, Lindsay, and Bree work to clear the rest of Rosie's yard where the shed used to be.




Shane tends to the wet saw as he prepares to cut ceramic tiles to be installed on the kitchen and bathroom floors at Rosie's. It turns out that Shane is a bit of an expert at this particular job.




It took a big chunk of our crew to move Sarah's concrete steps back into place in the front of her house.




Here is a perspective on the ramp that Jack and Justin designed as the back entry to Rosie's house.




Linzy, Justin, and Shawny join into the Popeye's picnic by candlelight in Rosie's front room at the end of the day.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

BREAK WEEK: Day Six

April 4: Day Six, Break 2007

We broke into two groups this morning; one went back to finish the roof on the Law St. house and one went back to New Orleans East to help Alisha finish the houses over there. Soon after the roofers began their task, rain started to fall and the Habitat staffer at that site pulled everyone off of the roof. When they learned that they would not be able to get back on the roof all day, they decided to join the other part of the group out in New Orleans East.

There they found their teammates spread around the neighborhood doing a range of jobs. Some were digging post holes for chain link fencing that will be installed around Natasha’s purple house. Others were touching up paint at two different houses. A few were installing the porch ceiling at a house around the corner while others were doing some work on the edge of the roof at that same house. No matter what anyone was doing, we were all actually thrilled to see the rest of our team arrive.

We have learned over the course of our four trips that we love it best when we are all together or at least within walking distance of each other. Maybe that’s why we love to work with the families of our favorite blocks of the Ninth Ward so much: they live close together, meaning that we, too, can be close together.

We all congregated briefly and talked about how best to use the day. Once we realized that we had a solid chance to work on Rosie’s floors without having everyone in our group passing through the rooms, six of us split off and headed to the Ninth to install laminate flooring.

We were determined to finish those floors today no matter what. The easy way to do it would have been to put thresholds between all the rooms and just fill the floors in from wall to wall. However, we realized that Rosie’s roommate Janice already depends on a walker to get around; thus, we needed to make the floors as smooth as possible, meaning that we needed to run the floorboards all the way across the door frames and into the next room.

Even though we were installing “quick” clip flooring, the notches, edges, irregularities, and overall quirks that we had to address were quite challenging. Fortunately, Chris, Shane, and Aaron were up to the challenge and figured out just what needed to be done over the last couple of days. After arriving at 10:00 a.m. to finish the floors, the floor crew took until 8:00 p.m. to reach their goal. When that last board clicked into place in the corner by the front door, a big cheer went up into the backyard.

We also began a big new project at Rosie’s, this one designed by Jack and Justin. In order to help Janice get in and out of the house more comfortably, they came up with the plan to build a ramp out the back door and into the carport. It is a BIG project, but with a crew this large we can make real progress pretty quickly. Many of us learned to mix and pour concrete and dig postholes right there on the spot. Jack kept track of every part of the job and we look forward to finishing this undertaking before we leave.

Happily, the company that donated siding to some of the neediest residents of New Orleans showed up over the last couple of days to replace aluminum siding on Rosie’s house. In other words, as we were fixing and transforming the interior of the house and the backyard, someone else was simultaneously improving the fa├žade.

For those of us who were in the first wave of relief at Rosie’s when we arrived to clear her house in January 2006, the changes that have occurred there over the last few weeks are unbelievable. Her house will be very beautiful even in the next few days; by the end of April, it should be in the best condition it has achieved in the last 80 years.

At the end of the evening today, we gathered in Rosie’s backyard with our other Ninth Ward friends and had a big cookout. Different people brought different contributions and we all sat outside and had a lovely garden party. We celebrated the end of the flooring job, the beginning of the ramp job, and our overall joy at being in New Orleans again.

We still have a lot of work to do before we can leave satisfied. Because we are leaving on Saturday (to give ourselves the time to get to our families for Easter if we so choose), we must work very efficiently. We haven’t even talked about going to the French Quarter or any of the other normal tourist stuff. We will probably squeeze in a run to the Quarter, but it’s not our priority. Work is.

For those who are worried about the fact that we effectively surrendered our break this year, we want to reassure you that even though we are exhausted (and sore) we are rejuvenated. As we have said many times, we are happy to be together, we are happy to feel so productive, and we are happy to know that our community bond remains strong even when some of our beloved friends are not with us. Thanks to all of you New Orleans veterans for contributing to our strength this week . . .



_________________________________

Linzy and Lindsay teamed up to fix the soffit over the porch at a Habitat house in New Orleans East. They mastered the art of popping and locking the sheathing despite the errors in structure that they also had to correct.




Brianna works on a house in East New Orleans that needs quite a bit of damage control. Bree's job was to fix mistakes that had been made in installing the windows.




Jed and Lindsay participate in one of our many bucket brigades to transport the materials delivered from Home Depot today to the backyard at Rosie's.




The group begins to set things up for the evening cookout we had with our NOLA neighbors in the Ninth Ward.




The age-old entries to Rosie's house are not terribly accessible, so Jack and Justin designed a new back entry ramp from the carport. Here Matt and Jed help to establish the basic layout of the plan.




Shawny, Aaron, and Shane joined Chris, Jed, and Tommy to finish the new laminate floors in Rosie's house. Things were a bit out of skew in each of the rooms that they floored, meaning that the job has extended over parts of three days.




Jed, Jack, and Matt each do their part to raise the new access ramp at Rosie's so that her disabled roommate Janice can get in and out of the house on her walker.




Kate, Lindsay, Emily, and Lauren Trigo gather 'round the camera, as we had no campfire and only one lightbulb to light our cookout.




We got to end the day with a lovely cookout in the Ninth Ward planned by our wonderful friends the Trigos: Bruce, Lauren, and Lisa. We can't imagine trying to function in NOLA without these amazing friends.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

BREAK WEEK: Day Five

April 3: Day Five, Break 2007

No video today. We’re all very tired.

Before we go further, we want to address the concerns expressed by some of you back home about the news that several murders have occurred in New Orleans this week. Though we can make no absolute guarantees into the future, we can say with certainty that we have seen nothing alarming anywhere near where we are working. The murders all seem to be drug-related, with the exception of one that involved a teenager killing his mother's boyfriend (who wanted to kick the teenager out of the house in which the mother and he were living). We are keeping a close watch on everything around us and we are staying close together at all times. We primarily work on main streets in the areas where we are, with big crowds of people around us. We are doing everything we can to be safe.

But now back to our activities of the day. We had a long work day, starting at 8:00 a.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m. We spread ourselves out over a range of Habitat for Humanity sites during the early part of the day, then congregated back on our favorite blocks of the Ninth Ward in the afternoon and evening.

One group continued the roofing job that we started yesterday on Law St. As it turns out, we were a big hit at that site yesterday, as the staff person there had not expected an actual experienced roofing crew to show up. We scored the job in the first place just by saying who we were in yesterday’s vast sea of volunteers; the organizer for the day immediately recognized us as a well-known very productive group and offered us any job we wanted. Because our lead roofing expert, Shane, had just arrived, we chose that job.

Today, then, we sent a contingent of eight people to complete the setting of the trusses. They developed a new method for spacing the trusses that might help to correct an ongoing problem at Habitat houses. The normal way of doing things is to mark the tops of the wall framing so that it is clear where to place each truss. Unfortunately, people often mark the wall tops with no clear sense of the importance of their markings and they are therefore not as careful as we might hope they would be.

On the Law Street house, the markings were not symmetrical on the two walls, meaning that the roof would have been crooked if we had actually followed the lines. Instead, our group determined the distance that should separate the trusses and created a spacer board to place them and nail them. Things went so quickly that the site supervisor started taking notes on how to do this job more efficiently.

Many of us headed back to New Orleans East with our favorite staffer Alicia. She is in charge of all of the houses under construction in that neighborhood and the main office wants them all completed as soon as possible. Her supervisor hopes that now that “her crew” is back (that’s us), we will be able to fix the problems that other volunteers have caused.

We just learned today that many of the groups that come to help are not helpful at all. Alicia said that one college group (to remain nameless) spent their entire time dancing with each other and avoiding the tasks they were assigned. We mentioned having seen some of the high school students at our site yesterday sitting in the middle of the floor and hitting flies with their hammers as their way of passing the day. Alicia said that we had no idea how much we stand out or how well-regarded we are, even by the Habitat staffers who have never met us.

Thus, today we spent much of our time in New Orleans East taking things apart and trying to figure out how to put them back together. On one house, we discovered a two-inch tilt to the porch that made it nearly impossible to deal with the soffet over it in any normal way. We moved into problem-solving mode, realizing that we could not un-do all that had gone wrong on that porch and that it was just a matter of making decisions that were the best solutions based on what we faced. By tomorrow, that porch should be in much better shape.

Several of us worked on placing chain link fences, a move that is one of the last phases of any Habitat home’s construction. One of the fences that we laid out will help to guarantee that the home (Natasha’s purple house) will get a retaining wall that will help to prevent erosion on the low slope of her lot. We also put finishing touches on paint and trim jobs throughout the neighborhood, bringing a couple of the houses to completion in just a few short hours.

After a full Habitat work day, we again headed over to Rosie’s house. There we jumped on some of the jobs already in progress, including the placement of laminate flooring in the front room and both bedrooms of the house. We prepped the kitchen, bathroom and back entry for tile flooring that we think will be delivered tomorrow. We also got things ready to begin construction of a massive ramp out the back door and into the carport, so that Rosie’s roommate Janice will be able to get into and out of the house more easily while using her walker.

While we were at Rosie’s today, we were surprised to see more workers arrive. They had brought new siding for the exterior of Rosie’s house and they began to install it as soon as they arrived. Because of their work, Rosie is now the second house in the couple of blocks surrounding the intersection on which we normally work that has finally been liberated from the huge spray-painted “X” marked on the front of it by search and rescue teams back in September of 2005. As readers of our January blog already know, the first house to erase this symbol belongs to Sarah Mercadel, whose home we painted when we returned this January.

As we watched this huge transformation at Rosie’s house unfold right before our very eyes, many of us were quite overwhelmed. We clearly remember the first time that we walked into Rosie’s house on our first weekend in January 2006. We really couldn’t picture back then that the house would ever possibly look as beautiful as it looks now. Even when we were here two months ago, we completed mold abatement procedures on the decaying shell of her house and it seemed impossible to create something really nice from the skeleton that we were seeing back then.

But now things are really close to being better than ever at Rosie’s. We are eager to move as many things forward as we can in the next few days, before we head back to California at the end of our break. We imagine that she will be able to move into the house within the month. We just found out that her neighbor, Don, whose house we worked on in both of our Jan Term trips, will be moving in by April 30. Sarah, too, hopes to move into her house this month. Natasha should gain access to her new home in the month of April also.

We are very pleased to have played some small role in these families’ opportunity to reclaim their homes from the chaos of the storm. We are happy that their lives will soon brighten up. Still, we can see how many houses still look just like Rosie’s looked back in January 2006. We hope that the families whose houses those are can get the assistance that they need from local, state, and federal agencies. And we wonder what group of volunteers will come back again and again to some of those houses to make sure that progress is always being made. We wish it could be us. . .

____________

Justin, Brianna, Matt, Aaron and Soraya set to work raising and nailing trusses of the Habitat for Humanity house on Law Street.




The flock (including Habitat supervisor David in the green hat) descends upon a scrumptious treat...




. . . of crawfish! Down the road from the Law St. Habitat site there was a ribbon cutting ceremony for a construction company and as part of the celebration there was a crawfish boil. The organizers invited all of the Habitat for Humanity volunteers to dive in to a pile of shellfish and spices.




Overlooking the neighborhood around the Law St. site, Justin hammers down a truss.




Aaron intensely examines his work while contemplating his next move.




Combining forces with a group of framers from Maryland, the SMC bunch raises the sheathing for the gable.




Shane prepares to hammer in the sheer wall on the gable as Emily checks measurements to ensure that it is positioned properly.




Sarah takes a turn painting her security doors the same deep blue color that we painted her house trim back in January.




Soraya and Rosie share their love of art, smiling ear to ear.




Tommy drills down a piece of subflooring that will support a new tile floor in Rosie’s kitchen and bathroom.




Jed exhibits the harsh effect a 12-hour work day in the sun will have on one’s skin tone.

Monday, April 2, 2007

BREAK WEEK: Day Four

April 2: Day Four, Break 2007

Yesterday's video never got posted. Here's one for both yesterday and today.





We finally have our entire crew today, as both Shane and Tommy have arrived. We hustled out early to get to Habitat for Humanity’s main headquarters at Musician’s Village in the Ninth Ward. There were hundreds of volunteers there, which was a beautiful sight to see. When our group first arrived in the Ninth Ward in January 2006, no one other than very needy returning evacuees was anywhere in sight. To now see a fully-developed structure for managing thousands of volunteers is a welcome change.

Our main Habitat contact, Alicia, doesn’t work on Mondays, so we went into the huge crowd and tried our luck at getting assigned to the numerous jobs being doled out today. At one point, we heard the announcer say that a roofing job was up for grabs and even though we could see that hundreds of volunteers were available, we knew we wanted that exact job. With a little fast-talking about our zeal and our experience, we got it.

Things moved slowly (for us, at least) as the staff at HH tried to get all of the volunteers steered to where they needed to go. As soon as we could, we kicked in our fabulous system of lifting trusses onto the house, with the assistance of some high school students from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Once we got things going, we lifted 22 trusses onto a roof that was 18 or so feet off the ground in about an hour. The staffer at our site had predicted that this job would take most of the day.

We can’t quite explain why we love to work on roofs so much. Perhaps it’s the feeling that the roof is actually the part of the house that constitutes shelter, meaning that raising the roof makes the structure into an actual house. Perhaps it’s the gutsy set of moves it takes to walk the roofline, straddle the roof beams, and stand on tops of ladders holding and hoisting heavy loads. Whatever the explanation, this is a job that really calls out to our group.

Not all of our group could find such satisfying jobs at the Habitat site, so we split up and sent some of our people back to our favorite intersection in the Ninth Ward (Bartholomew and N. Claiborne). Both Sarah and Rosie have security bars on their homes, so we prepped and painted them today to renew their look.

We also started to lay down a brand new laminate floor in Rosie’s house. Once we got the hang of the job, it turned out that we were pretty good at it. The light started to fade before we could finish, but we are confident that we will finish on Tuesday.

Other jobs today included scrubbing the boxed possessions that we salvaged for Rosie back in January 2006 and prepping an outbuilding behind Red’s house for painting (his house is the one in which Rosie rode out the storm and the following week before being airlifted over the flood waters). Everyone just surveyed the situation and found a job that suited them to complete for the day.

The symbiosis of the group was really impressive. People shifted and changed throughout the day in the ways that the context demanded. Everyone’s spirits stayed high, even when someone was separated from the main group.

Tonight we cooked dinner in our volunteer housing home. We made tacos with all of the fixings, including a huge plate of very complex nachos that tasted even better because of the 11-hour day we put in today. We’ve been great at making everything click on our worksites, but we’ve been feeling a little weird away from work.

More specifically, we’ve had a strange relationship with this housing situation, because we have the happy dilemma of suffering from an abundance of personal space. We are so spread out in here and have so much ability to get away from immediate contact with each other that we are actually, truly, palpably uncomfortable with it. We spend all of our time when at “home” saying “Where is everybody?” and “What are we doing?”

Tonight, though, it was all of us gathered in and around the kitchen, sharing the jobs of cooking, eating, and cleaning up. We sat around for a long time and just told stories about today or other days. We got back into our best mode: “Everyone. All the time.”

We have felt lucky every day to be in New Orleans again, to have the time, energy, and ability to help, and to be able to say “yes” when our friends here ask for assistance. We see the light at the end of the tunnel for Rosie, Sarah, Don, and others we know and love here.

For the city itself, that light is still out of view. We wonder every day what will happen in the end. We believe that this city is worth saving and that no matter what official government agencies do or don’t do, this city will rise again. We have all gained so much here, learned so much here, loved so much here, and grown so much here that we can be certain that there is a special force that underpins the mysterious phenomenon that is the city of New Orleans.

May it rise . . . And soon.

__________________________________________

Lots and lots of volunteers were there when we arrived at Habitat for Humanity today. It's a nice thing to see, but we wonder what will happen when spring breaks are over.




For some reason, we are all getting dirtier than ever on this trip. Maybe it's because we're wearing shorts, maybe we are working harder than ever. No matter what the explanation, we are all helping each other; here, Matt takes action on Lindsay's dirty face.




Josh Verrips joins in with the group who went back to "our" neighborhood in the Ninth Ward.




Linzy focuses in on the job in Sarah's back yard.




Janeva takes the short cut inside the fence of the elementary school on whose steps we ate our lunch today.




Today we worked across the street from a school in the Ninth Ward. The condition of the school says a lot about the progress of the non-commercial parts of New Orleans.




Bitterness toward every government agency is often evident. This graffiti on an abandoned elementary school in the Ninth Ward comments on the Federal Emergency Management Agency.




Debris removal crews deal with the massive pile from Rosie's second property.




Bree and Lisa Trigo work on the porch at Rosie's house to clean the salvaged items from January 2006.




Aaron, Shane, and Soraya survey the situation as they assist in the installation of Rosie's new laminate floors.