Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Day Sixteen

The ONEders put Elijah in charge of editing their video offering for today. He kept a camera on our job in a mudhole. . . Click below to get the scoop.

We awoke this morning in a surprisingly orderly fashion, as every person only needed to be awakened once by Shawny! Waking up quickly turned out to be worth it this morning, as we were treated to M&M pancakes by Team Mannschaft. The multi-colored food pleased all of our palates, though there were also plain pancakes available to those who so desired.

Today, we finally met up with Parkway Partners, the organization that last year's Jan Term group worked with to "gut" landscapes so that they can be ready to garden. So that's what we did (with the exception of Tim and Justin who finished some floor work at Don's house)- with rakes, saws, shovels, power tools, and our hands, we were able to clear the lot down to a giant mud puddle by the mid-afternoon. A few events made the morning especially exceptional. We invented and exercised a variety of games to make the somewhat dreary task more upbeat and fun. Our first noted instance of someone getting down and dirty was in the tire-rolling race between Soraya and Megan. The two started at the edge of the area which had we had already cleared of weeds and debris, and had a marked finish line where the lot met the street. At Juan’s gesture, the two were off, each pushing tires that almost matched their heights. Within about fifteen feet of the start, Soraya’s tire seemed to overpower her, as she plummeted into the mud. Seeing that the competition was slim, Shawny flipped over a tire of her own, and had a come-from-behind victory.

The soggy, muddy crew took a much-needed break at lunch, when we unpacked and marveled at the complexity of MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). Our friend Yvette (who already joined her mom in providing fried chicken, red beans, and bread and butter for us on Monday), brought us some MRE’s last night, knowing that they would be better lunches than the ones we were eating. The menus varied from Sloppy Joes to Roast Beef to Spaghetti in Meat Sauce, each having a variety of side dishes and beverages. For those of you fortunate souls who don’t know what MRE’s are, they can most simply be described as several powdered and non-perishable food items in plastic containers and cardboard boxes. The complexity comes in cooking the meals, as the food-containing pouch must be placed in the heating pouch, which is really just a heating pad activated by water. Then, it has to sit for about five minutes, a short time period that most of us, for some reason, had a hard time waiting. Sloppy Joes just don’t taste quite as good when partially uncooked and accompanied with freeze-dried wheat crackers. However, a few meals came with a powder to make milkshakes, a treat which none of have tasted for over two weeks.

As soon as we had finished our boxed lunches, we were eager to jump back into our job, so that the work and the games could continue. Battle Shovels, a game created on last year’s trip, made an appearance again this year, as can be seen in the photo below. There were also several attempts by certain members of the group to shove other particular members of the group face-first into the mud, but the names of the latter will not be mentioned.

Macon and Jean, our Parkway Partners hosts, were very glad to get this lot cleared. This is the first piece of property that will actually be owned by Parkway Partners, rather than being a city property that they tend and manage. The lot was massively overgrown and the bids to clear it were enormous for a non-profit agency to contemplate. When they found out we would be available this January, they put this new property first on their list of jobs for us. Though we left only a mudpatch, we imagine that the future of this patch of dirt will be beautiful for all to see.

When we stopped our muddy work, we wrapped ourselves in plastic and jumped back on the bus to return to the house we’ve been clearing the last couple of afternoons for Catholic Charities. We learned today that the house’s owner is Delores Thomas, who currently lives in Baton Rouge. We hope to call and talk to her so that we can connect our work on the house to an actual person. We continued work that was already in progress, except for one new job started and completed today by Tommy Bell: total demolition of a downstairs tiled bathroom, complete with chicken-wire base. He was a wrecking machine. We also ripped out doorframes that we had left intact in our earlier sessions in the house, as we thought we were instructed to do so. Vanessa turned out to be a master of doorframe disaster, as she used her crowbar to rip the trim off the walls much faster than virtually anyone else.

We came home super dirty but very excited, as The Transformers had come up with a scheme to make pizza on our rusty old barbecue. We ran to the store for a few extra items, and went into pizza prep mode unsure if the plan would really work. Fortunately, it worked. It really worked. We had fantastic pizzas made with Spam, Velveeta, canned chicken and barbecue sauce, and even M&Ms.

We also had a visit from a guy we met here in the neighborhood named John Schwab. John is the Chief Operating Officer for charter schools in Algiers. He has a lot of fascinating things to teach us about the area in general and the importance of education in the future of New Orleans. We will visit a couple of his schools on Friday morning (if our plan holds) and learn more that we can pass along.

Tomorrow we will gut a house that has been almost untouched since the storm. It belongs to Courtney’s cousin Kathy, whose sister Gail’s house we cleared last year. For our newcomers, this will be their first time to enter a house that still holds all of its contents. We’ll let you know how they react. . . .

By the way, we have another injured teammate: Janeva. She was painting yesterday at Habitat for Humanity, got on the bus, and realized that her back really hurt. Once she lay down for awhile, she had trouble getting back up. We took her to the emergency room where she got lots of immediate help for her problem and a prescription to help her continue to manage it. She needed rest today so we sent her back out the unofficial MASH unit we are running at Lisa Trigo’s house. She is much better today and expects to rejoin us tomorrow. We miss her!

Shawny addresses the crew before a day of work clearing brush and vegetation with our friend Macon from Parkway Partners.

Matt Pelascini rips a stump in the foreground as Elijah Galarza, Jed Friedman, and Tommy Bell plan their next move.

By the end of our job, our boots and pant bottoms were a mess from treading through inches of mud.

The lot we cleared today was completely overgrown with shrubs and a row of trees with hanging vines. In this picture Jed and Macon use clippers and a machete to make a path for the rest of us to work off of.

It took several of us to carry out some of the largest branches on the lot. This was a perfect example of our team motto: Everyone All the Time.

Courtney continues her gutting all the way down the stairs into the basement of Ms. Thomas’ house. We thought we were getting close to being done, and then we remembered the basement…

Lindsay and Courtney started to deconstruct the dry wall in the basement when they found these posters. These two along with one other poster were glued to the boards behind the dry wall. We aren’t sure who these people are but we suspect they are a few generations old.

Soraya cheerily carries a bundle of brush to the pile we created on the street. By the end of the afternoon, she was covered in mud from her fall in the “pond” and a little bit of “mud wrestling.

After creating the shovel battle on last year’s trip, Elijah and Chris show the rest of the group how it is done.

Elijah and Matt are overjoyed about the MRE we had for lunch today.

Shane poses with the biggest toad that we have found so far. Today we also encountered skinks, small lizards whose legs are so short they look like snakes.

Vince and Matt pull fencing out from the overgrown Parkway Partner’s property. Along with the wire we also found a tractor, a sewing machine, and a shopping cart.

The Luggable Loo crew gets ready to assemble our portable bathroom. From the looks on their faces, they are so excited.

Matt removes a concrete block from the Parkway Partners site. Others behind him begin detaching mulch.

Dr. Arnold and Juan remove one of the many tires that were abandoned at the future community garden. It was difficult to roll them out of the swampy-like land, but these gentlemen make it look easy.

Aaron shows his master kung fu skills with two machetes. (We’re happy to report that no individuals had any limbs removed).

Here, Soraya and Shane enjoy their MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). Soraya waits for her food to warm up, while Shane pouts because he spilled his cherry drink.