Notes from NOLA

12 01 2006

Riding in on I-59, we notice the telltale signs of destruction: trees bent over, some at near ninety degree angles, as if pressed down by a giant foot, others uprooted and scattered across the median and the side of the highway. Signs knocked down and hanging by tatters. We see the sign, “Missippi Gulf Coast”, and we know that something happened here…

This is our fourth day in the Big Easy. It has truly been an adventure. Six of us journeyed from Oberlin to New Orleans. Six more arrived by plane, but for all of us it has been on an intriguing adventure of discovery. We have bonded through difficulty, frustration, through hard work, laughter, and experience.

What made it a bit frustrating at the beginning was that the church that we are now staying at was not expecting us. There is a separate Oberlin group that came before us, and they have a second group that arrives next week. The church knew that there were two groups coming, but confused the second group that is with the other Oberlin work crew with us, not understanding that there were supposed to be two Oberlin groups at the church in the same week. Plus, we are really packed rather tight in an old New Orleans home that is located near the Garden district. There is a third group, made up of a group of middle aged to senior adult Presbyterians from Raleigh, North Carolina that are in the house too. They are great people, but it was bit of a culture shock for them to see male and female college students showering together (albeit, not in the same stalls).

Beyond all of this, the real story here is the community that we have quickly formed with one another, and our experiences being in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. in our first day of work, we were in the 9th Ward. The devastation was far rangng and as far as the eye can see. It was overwhelming. What was eerie was the fact that the area where we are staying seems relatively untouched. For sure you could see ubiquitous blue tarps on the rooftops of several of the houses in this area. Plus, a good number of the traffic lights are still not working. Yet besides this, life seemed pretty normal. What was also surprising is the number of people who have already come back to New Orleans. There are actually traffic jams here right now that happen on a daily basis. I am sure that many have returned because this is home for them, but I get the sense that many others are coming because there are jobs here, and there is money to be made. Yet, the 9th Ward still remains a ghost town.

In the 9th Ward, we started clearing debris from the backyards of two houses. We then started helping two men clean out their home

The next two days we worked in St. Bernard’s Parrish. This was by far the worst hit section we saw. It was even worse than the 9th Ward, and I could not imagine anything being worse than that. Every single business that we saw was destroyed. We saw tree stumps and oil tanks actually sitting on op of houses.

We were working for the United Methodist Commission on Relief (UMCOR) both days. The first day, we were worikng at one house, but we met a homeowner nearby who also needed help. We met him because I had the presence of mind to yank the kitchen sink away from its moorings, without checking first to if the water was turned off, and alas, water was spraying everywhere. Plus, I cold not find the main shut-off valve for the house. Eventually, I noticed a man in an orange “LSU” t-shirt nearby and asked for his help. He found the shut-off valve in a quick moment and turned off the water. I later learned that his name was Monroe. He had lived in St. Bernard Parrish all of his life, and he and his family were trying to rebuild his home so that they coud come back. I wound up sending half of our group to his house to assist him and his family.

The next day (today actually) we helped out a man named Don and his wife Beth. They were in the same Parrish, but they are located in Chalmette, whereas Monroe is located in the city of Violet. We made quick work, knocking down walls and ceilings, and clearing debris. We only needed half a day to complete the work. and we were totally ingratiated by Don and his wife. They were tearfully grateful for the help.

Because we finished so quickly, UMCOR sent us to another assignment in a city called LakeView. It was clearly a middle-class to upper middle-class community. Our orders were to clear debris from the backyard and garage, and to tear down drywall and ceilings in the house. We decided to just do the backyard and garage because we did not have much time left until end of the work day. While were working, the homeowner showed up. She told me an emotional story about how the flood had destroyed her beautiful home and all the memories and mementos that the Flood carried away. I remember the tug between having to get back to work with the Oberlin students, and hearng this woman’s story. We go back to her house to finish the job on Saturday. Tomorrow we are back in Lakeview on another assignment.

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4 responses

14 01 2006
ScottyB

sounds like a sobering trip brother

are you gonna post some pictures and what not?

15 01 2006
marc

Hi Scotty B,

I am really bad with pictures. I have no camera with me, and I am one of those types that is always “caught up in the moment”. However, the students I am with are thankfully more forward thinking than I am and they have taken scads of pictures. I was thinking about asking them to send me there pictures so that I can post them in my blog and also in my prayer letter.

18 01 2006
ScottyB

i would love to see them what your doing is important bro

do you remember me from that debate with Emergent No about the emerging church

hey man im even down to subscribe to your prayer letter

19 01 2006
Marc

I have not forgotten you at all. Email me your address and I will get my prayer letter to you.

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