Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Day Two: January 2008

Day Two: Wednesday, January 9

Wow. What a group! What a day! We had a rough night of sleep last night, as a huge thunderstorm rocked our bus and flooded our camp (but not our tent, because we have GUTTERS!). It was fascinating to watch the water pour down from the sky and also rise up from the ground because we are – we think – below sea level here. A few people were so zonked out from our redeye flight that they missed the whole thing.

Once the storm was over, we started the day EARLY, as the breakfast group volunteered to wake up at 6:15 to be sure that things would move fast enough to get us to work by 7:45. Everyone else got up at 6:45 and agreed to hurry and scramble to make the day happen fast. As usual, though, we couldn’t move quite as quickly as we imagined, and we didn’t get to work until 8:15. Oops. Our breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes and powdered eggs (both New Orleans delicacies as far as we are concerned) was worth spending some time in camp this morning, but we all see our work as our top priority so we will have to figure out a way to move more efficiently in the morning. (NOLA vets out there: does this sound familiar?)

We went to a Habitat for Humanity build in the West Bank, the area of New Orleans where we live. The West Bank is, strangely, east of almost everywhere else we go in the city, but we won’t try to convince the region to change its usages. Even though we were late, our great new supervisor, Megan, welcomed us and put us on some excellent jobs. Within minutes, some of us were learning the new floor system that Habitat is using, some of us were installing windows, others were building a “truss walk” (a temporary wall that will support us when we raise the roof), and others were actually raising a roof on a different house. It feels like we have already almost done it all, even though it was our very first day of work.

The Habitat crew knocks off work at 2:30 p.m., cleans up and leaves by 3:00. We followed their schedule with them, but when they all went home or wherever, we went to our next job: gutting a house in the Holy Cross area of the Lower Ninth Ward. Many of you might have heard of this neighborhood because it is one of the places where Brad Pitt has focused his energies and lots of media attention. We didn’t see Brad or his project there (yet), but we got plenty of satisfaction out of going into a house that had been partially gutted long ago, but never completed. Complete gutting is necessary to get a house decontaminated and ready for reconstruction. Someone had helped our friend Leroy Palmer get part of the way to that “zero mark” where rebuilding can begin, but we hope to get him all the way there by tomorrow afternoon.

Leroy is the father of Don Palmer, one of the neighbors in the Upper Ninth Ward neighborhood where we have spent the most time over the last three years. Don lives next to our dear friend Rosie and we helped him clear his house in January 2006. Leroy has experienced quite a bit of loss over the last few years: his home was nearly ruined in the storms of 2005, another house he owned was also destroyed, and within a year of the storms, his dear wife Odessa passed away.

We entered his home in Holy Cross at 4:00 or so this afternoon, and in about two hours time got very close to cleaning out his home once and for all after almost two and a half years of waiting. Though most of our crew had never done this kind of work before, they all caught on quickly and developed a great system for pulling down drywall and clearing the space. Everyone was swinging sledgehammers and flat bars like old pros. A couple of outbuildings there seemed to remain untouched since the storm, leaving our group gasping again about the force of the water and the damage it did. We tossed out piles of belongings but also salvaged a few, including a very warped but still recognizable photo album of young Palmer kids (maybe Don and others?) frolicking on fire engines and in parks.

We finally knocked off when darkness overtook us. Of course, that section of the neighborhood had no source of power for us to light our workplace, so daylight was all that we could use. We had completed nine and a half hours of labor when all was said and done. We hope all of our days can be so varied, so satisfying, and so harmonious. We’re glad we’re here. . .

Leo, Emily, and Briana unroll tape while working on the windows. Today we installed and framed windows with Habitat for Humanity on the West Bank.

Tommy and Mark install a window that will soon bring New Orleans sunshine into a home.

Sam and Julie are entranced with their first look at the Lower Ninth.

Erik and Scott give each other a high five as they put on their boots and hard hats to gut a house in the Lower Ninth.

Leo starts the bus to return to camp after dusk. We accomplished our first day of work!

Bienvenidos a Algiers!

In this picture you can see the spray paint from when the house was searched on September 8, 2005 and a sign welcoming neighbors back, a sign of hope.

What we found in Don’s father’s garage which had been untouched since the storm.

It’s all hands on deck, everyone helps getting the Habitat homes weathered.

Many of the students spent the day working to put up windows and trim.

This is just the end of our work site at habitat and everyone is having a great time and enjoying the great weather.

This picture shows us working with Habitat for Humanity. In the location where we are working they have ten different houses under construction, and this is what it typically looks like when you look out while you are working.

This was a burnt car filled to the brim with garbage by our second build of the day in the Lower Ninth Ward. It reminded me of the immense clash problems that New Orleans still faces.

Looking in at Emily and Julie painting siding for a house under a raised house built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

Brad and Obi began the day working on the floor joists at one of the Habitat homes - one of the many critical steps to building these homes.

Chris, Mark, and Alec decorating our new home and installing our gutter!

Tying his shoe, with a determined look on his face, Alec is ready to face any thing Habitat for Humanity can throw at him.

Workers from Ohio’s Kent State working to put trusts up on the newly built homes.

Matt Wheeler rises to the occasion and drives nails from the truss into the framing of the house.

Emily Robbins and Bryan Navarro in the process of gutting a house in the lower ninth ward.