Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Day One, January 2008

Day One: Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Another redeye flight (that was surprisingly less painful than those we’ve taken before) brought us back to our beloved New Orleans today. Fifteen of us are veterans of trips past, having come to work and serve in this great city anywhere from 1-10 times since the storms of August 2005. Those relief workers have completed over 10,000 hours of manual labor so far. Others of us are experiencing the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita for the first time. No matter what our level of experience, we are genuinely thrilled to be here.

Happily, we are also thrilled to be together. Something very beautiful is emerging already as this group solidifies and all of its members operate as one harmonious whole. We were, of course, quite groggy when we landed at Louis Armstrong Airport, but our bus buzzed with anticipation and so did the empty fenced lot that we will call home from today until January 29.

We have to brag -- especially for the benefit of veterans of our prior trips who are not with us here this January – that this is BY FAR the best camp we have ever created for ourselves. Much of the overall layout is the same, with four lovely portapots (from the local company with our favorite name of all – Doodie Calls) standing in one corner, the shower trailer we used last year set up nearby, a dressing tent along the side wall of the showers, our big beautiful rainbow bus expertly parked down the middle, and a three-peak kitchen and dining tent serving as our central gathering space.

The difference this year is some incredible ingenuity. Of course, the trials and errors of groups gone by have brought us to the place we are today. But any of those who have struggled with the quirks of our Bermuda-grass lot would be quite impressed with three things in particular. First, we set each of our dining tents just a few inches apart from the next and found a way to hang a rain-channeling gutter down the gap so that we could not possibly suffer the indoor runoff that last year’s group endured for 15 of its 22 days. Chris, Justin, Alec, and Mark are the primary sources of this very necessary innovation. Elijah, Erik, and Emily led a team that help to wrap the gaps between the poles and keep the wind and rain from finding its way in.

Second, we built a platform by the cooking area that will prevent us from having to stand in inches of rain just to heat some water that might possibly keep us warm. (This platform could also easily be seen – and used – as a stage; we’ll let you know if that happens.) Chris, Tommy, Linzy, and Sergio were the main movers and shakers on this new addition to our NOLA world.

And finally, we actually finally got organized about the way we will manage our gear. Instead of one massive pile of stinking socks and boots, each team will have individual bins in which they can manage their five members’ stinking socks and boots however they choose. (Thanks to Shawny’s sister Sherry for getting us those bins!) Each team also has a bin for its hard hats, gloves, and safety glasses and a separate five-gallon bucket with its assortment of tools. Kate C., Briana, and Julie worked for hours to make this happen. They even have special places inside the bus to store all the media equipment that has never been organized very neatly before. Matt P., Linzy G., Kate C., and others crawled around on the floor of the bus until this job was done. If everything goes as planned, these changes will have a huge impact on our efficiency and our comfort. Yes!

For fun we also found some cheap plastic indoor-outdoor chandeliers to make our tents feel like ballrooms, and we had a huge burst of creativity that led to dialogue sheets inside the portapots, including provocative questions to be answered in moments of quiet contemplation and clear instructions about how to show courtesy to the overall group when using the facilities. We were tired when we arrived, but we still found a way to use our humor and creativity to build a world in which we can all be as happy as possible.

As we settled into our busbunks at night, little flashes of lightning and quiet faraway thunder helped to keep things interesting until we finally drifted into much-needed sleep. Tomorrow we go to a Habitat for Humanity build not too far from our camp, then head over to the Lower Ninth Ward to begin gutting a house that still needs attention more than two full years after the storms. Thanks for joining us on our exciting journey.