Sunday, January 13, 2008

Day Five: January 2008

Day Five: Saturday, January 12

Today is Justin’s birthday! This is the third birthday he has shared with us in New Orleans and we are honored that he has chosen to spend his day here. Thanks for all you do for us, Justin, and happy, happy day!

As for the rest of the group, we actually almost made it to work on time today. Almost. Five more minutes and we’ll be there. Soon. Soon. The breakfast and lunch crews started cranking things up just before 6 today, with everyone else keeping their heads on the pillows until about 6:05. Elijah headed up the BLOKEs as they served some mean chilaquiles while the Souljas got up a big pot of TVP and couscous for lunch. (TVP is texturized vegetable protein, a soy product that looks a bit like sloppy joes if you drown it in barbecue sauce. They added hunks of tofu to make it a bit more nourishing, along with some pieces of water chestnut just to make it interesting.)

The day was beyond beautiful as we went from a clear 39-degree morning into a sunny and breezy afternoon. We started the day by visiting with the still-healthy puppies from Thursday, who were staying warm in Jerrad’s car and waiting to be fed through a syringe at appropriate intervals. They make sweet little moaning sounds that we imagine to be signs of contentment. We hope we’re right.

We cranked more floors, shingles, and roof trusses today, and we even got out a sledgehammer and removed some huge boulders of leftover concrete that had been set aside as the foundations were poured. One group re-stacked and reorganized lots of wet lumber that was finally drying out. As we were figuring out the system that would better organize the lumber, a neighbor (Miss Varela?) came to one of our houses and told us that people with trucks had come in the night to steal the wood that was there. She and her husband called the police and scared them off. As she was telling the story, we got to introduce her to our new friend Miss Anne, who will soon be Miss Varela’s immediate neighbor. As they met for the first time, they exclaimed like they had been eager to meet for a long, long time and held each other in a warm embrace. It was a beautiful thing to watch and it helped us to recognize that we are not just building houses; we are building communities.

Miss Anne is a full-time missionary who was born in Jamaica and who now lives in New Orleans. Today is the day that she will complete the 350 hours of labor that constitute her “sweat equity” in her new home. Most of those hours have been spent working on houses that are not her own. Though she plans to continue working on her own house (along with those of her soon-to-be neighbors), this day is a huge milestone on her road to home ownership. We are happy to be here to celebrate this day with her.

It was a pretty happy day all around, as just before lunch the target game that is played from the rooftops really took over the site. Whoever had been working on the rooftops in the morning took turns taking shots at the targets with their shingle scraps. Once again, Mark was the champion who pegged the 250-point sign, complete with a bonus for knocking over the water bottle and the sign that were attached to that target. Shane and Julie also combined for a double-whammy on the 250, meaning that they got to leave at lunch with Jerrad and eat McDonald’s for lunch. Most of us thought that eating at McDonald’s didn’t sound too appealing anyway, but we were still proud of our teammates. Along with those two 250’s, Katie also hit the 50-pointer so solidly that her shingle just rested right on the sign marking the spot.

Whether or not they hit the targets, our rooftoppers are all aglow, mostly because they are getting some serious sun exposure. We have some spray-on sunblock that everyone shares, so we are doing what we can to avoid awful burns. We heard that during the week before we arrived, volunteers were working in temperatures in the low 20’s, so we are very grateful to have such clear and beautiful skies, at least for a few days. We even capitalized on the dry weather last night by clearing out the lower level of the bus and vacuuming up the scrunge that had accumulated on the floors. We know that this state of cleanliness won’t last long, but it was nice to see, if only for a moment.

In the afternoon, the floor crew finally found its groove with their house leader,
Zac, aka “Wild Dog.” Their secret weapon today was specialization. They paired up and operated as an assembly line of sorts and they found that their system moved way faster than any method they had tried before. They were very proud at the end of the day.

The shinglers were proud too, as they finished their job with the exception of the ridge cap. Their lines were incredibly straight and their overall work was truly professional. The roofers next door created lovely ratruns and facing all around the eaves of the house. A few others did some beautiful siding work, while another hearty team braved the confusion and complexity of a double hip roof.

Everyone was so drained by the sun that we decided to go straight from Habitat to camp. We got the special privilege of taking the puppies home with us for the evening, as Jerrad needed to go after a crawfish pot for us to use for Justin’s birthday party. Justin decided he wanted to stay “home,” so we had our own crawfish boil with 80 pounds of live crawfish that we soaked, prepped, boiled, peeled and LOVED. Serg made up some great hamburgers and Emily and Lindsay S. put some vegetables on the grill that were a perfect compliment to our feast.

The crawfish lessons were a hoot and our best student seemed to be our beloved busdriver Leo. We can’t get enough of Leo and his stupid jokes and we couldn’t be more impressed with his driving skills. Every time we wonder if we can cut a corner or fit into a space, we all just say, “don’t worry – it’s Leo!” Jed is the chief navigator again and the two of them make an excellent team. So far they have tried (and accomplished) nine u-turns in the crazy streets of New Orleans. All that we do here would be totally impossible without Leo’s presence. Thanks, Leo (and Loretta, his wife, who lets him join us, and Dan, the owner of the bus)!

Our night ended with two birthday cakes: one for Justin and one for Shane, whose birthday is Sunday. We’re planning a full day of work at Rosie’s house on Sunday, but we’ll still find a way to celebrate Shane at the end of the day. Our secret whammy is here now: Chris and Justin’s dad, Jack! He will take our productivity to new levels, along with our overall work hours. Today we worked an 8-hour day, meaning that we have already worked more than 1000 hours in total on this trip (1120 or so). Thus, in four days’ work, we have accomplished as much as an individual worker might do in months’ time. Wow.

Birthday wish come true for Justin as he was able to spend a whole day of floor work with Jed.

It was a really special moment when Anne, the Habitat homeowner, met her new neighbor. We kinda cried a bit.

Wild-Dawg. The Blokes' pack leader.

Tongue and groove frustration moment: 3,487,429; but Wild-Dawg and Obi use the power of two heads to work as a pack.

After working hard on the roof, the group takes a quick break to inspect their work.

Emily and Matt put up some trusses, so that the group can begin decking the house next week.

With the precision of professionals Kate, Bri, and Leo put up siding on the house.

A lot of work was done to complete the flooring of this house for the homeowner who gave a helping hand with the student workers.

After a long day of work everyone was exhausted, especially Mark and Scott who caught a few ZZZzzz on the way home.

Kate working to help create a support beam for the trusses in a Habitat house.

Nicole and Kate enjoying themselves on an “adult jungle gym.”

Some of our crew enjoying lunch on a beautiful day in NOLA.

We work with many other volunteers when working with Habitat. We are getting instructed on our daily tasks.

Some members of the crew raising trusses and putting them into the proper place.

Matt concentrates on getting the correct measurements.

Z and Nicole climb on the trusses to nail them into the framework.

Aaron uses a speed square to line up his cut on a custom piece of decking.

We couldn’t help but laugh and cheer on Em as she held her breath in the crawfish tubs.

Justin fills up the tub holding enormous amounts of live crawfish, read to be boiled and eaten.