Yesterday the team worked until 12 Noon and then returned home for lunch, nap and some sightseeing. Our group consisted of Sean, Beth (in a crabby mood), Mel, Karen, Steve, Andy, Jamaica and Allison. We drove over to the 9th Ward to look around. This was the area most damaged by flooding. We first went to the Mississippi River side. Driving thru the quiet neighborhoods, we came upon a church that was such a sad sight - a mere skeleton of what it had been. We did stop and take a look around but didn't stay long. The smell of mold was so strong it was hard to stay inside. Ironically, this church was located on Flood Street. We drove closer to the water and came upon 2 incredible houses. They were three stories high and octagonal with the most incredible wrought iron fences around them that I had ever seen. Between the posts on the porches were wood garlands that looked like strings of pearls. Hard for all of you to imagine but we do have pictures. We found out that these were historic Steamboat houses. Some of the group walked a bit down the waterfront and discovered some of the Brad Pitt houses. These houses are very contemporary and 'green'. The architecture is pretty amazing. They pretty much stick out like sore thumbs when you look at the rest of the homes, well those that are still standing. We then got back in the car and went to the canal side of the 9th Ward where another street of Brad Pitt homes were being built. We came upon one street where more state of the art homes were being built and came upon a memorial in front of two pretty nasty looking FEMA trailers. The memorial was too a 3 year girl and her grandmother who had lost their lives in the flooding. There was a dual gravestone, wreath, newspaper articles and a pair of the 3 year old's tattered shoes. The homeowner, Robert Green, Jr., was outside and we were able to spend some time talking with him. What we learned was shocking.
Robert said he was very angry for a long time and for many months, his memorial displayed his anger. He said he was most angry at George Bush because he said he didn't do anything. Evidently the Ingram Company blamed the Army Corp of Engineers for not moving the barge. The corp blamed another company, whose name I don't remember. He said the blame was passed around and around with no resolution and the reality of the situation was that those companies and the Corp cared more about saving what was on the barge than saving people's lives. Since then, legislation has been passed stating that any vessels in the canal prior to a storm will be sunk.
Robert praised the volunteer workers and said that if it wasn't for the volunteers, houses would not be rebuilt. He said the government is not helping to rebuild the area and that it is all on the backs of the volunteers. He thanked Allison for giving up her Spring Break to come and volunteer. It was like watching the sun rise on her face when he was talking to her. Robert then told us how blessed his life is and how thankful he is to have a home to pass on to his children and grandchildren. I asked him if he liked the style of his house. He told us that he had a choice of 16 style and was so thankful that the home was being built with green and earth friendly products. After we finished the conversation Allison asked him if she could have her picture with him. We will be sure to have that one posted!
We then drove around the area a bit more. After talking with Robert, we understood the signs "9...Make it Right" that are posted throughout the neighborhood. We ended up at Mulate's for dinner. Mulate's is famous for their cajun cooking. I ordered crab cakes and subsequently asked the waiter for some that weren't burnt - I now know what "blackened" means. Allision was the brave one and ordered alligator. Her verdict? It tastes just like chicken! Be sure and ask Andy about his BBQ ribs...
Streetcar adventures with the Ushmans, Norm, and Kathy led to some different experiences. We rode to the end of Canal St to see the above ground cemetaries (6 ft down and you hit water here). There are many, many of them and we took time to check out a small one by the streetcar. Some very old, some more recent, some damaged, and some amazing in style. Roxanne learned that the most famous one is not too far from where we are staying (of course, it was not mentioned in the brochures).
An interesting stop on the streetcar was at Thurgood Marshall Magnet Middle School where students were being dismissed. The streetcar quickly filled with girls in uniforms including plaid skirts and white shirts. The boys, also in uniform (not skirts), were waiting on the sidewalk. I finally asked one of the girls why the boys didn't get on too. She said they couldn't and they had to wait for the next streetcar. We learned from Missy, the amazing lady who stays here for a month each year to help the volunteer teams, that education is very important to so many parents and they work very hard to send their children to private school because the public schools are so bad.
We appreciated the assistance of a man on how to pay for transfers (right away or they wouldn't give them to you) and learned about his experience during and after Katrina. He was living a project, which was undamaged, but had to evacuate. His mom's house had mold damage inside because of all the moisture inside when they sealed the house to leave. He said they were sent to Arkansas. He didn't like it at all and was glad to get back home, where he's lived all of his life.
We got off the streetcar downtown and wandered a bit in the French Quarter till we came to a great Oyster House. We had a delicious dinner and I even tried charbroiled oysters. (They're ok in my book). Everyone had a great time!
Next we took the St. Charles streetcar through part of the business district, through the Garden District where there are many beautiful plantation style homes, and past Tulane and Loyola Universities. Very different feel and areas as compared to where we are staying and working. Missy was very gracious and came to meet us at the streetcar when we got back (it's a good 6-8 blocks between St. Charles St and where we are staying on Simon Bolivar) so 'ole hop-along (Kathy) didn't have to wear out her foot. We were most appreciative!
No one slept well last night as there was a huge thunder and lightening storm. Norm said he could here the thunder without his hearing aids!
We are learning lots, are more appreciative of what we have, including the opportunity to be here and help others. Over and over we hear thank you from people we meet for being here to help. We've met many other teams from different parts of the country, especially lots of college students, and a man from St. Paul, OR, who was smartly sporting an OSU Beavers hat. He and his wife are in New Orleans for a True Value Hardware convention and everyone had been out working on houses during the day (he showed us the paint colors they had been using that had dried on his pants).