Monday, April 2, 2007


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.