Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Week in Review

So the past four days have been quite eventful. The house we've worked on is in the Upper Ninth Ward on the corner of North Roman and Gallier. If you aren't familiar with New Orleans neighborhoods, the Upper Ninth is upriver from the Lower Ninth Ward—one of the harder hit areas of the city—by the Industrial Canal. Both are downriver from the French Quarter, separated by the Faubourg Marigny. The Upper Ninth Ward is also called Bywater. In pre-Katrina days the area wasn't the safest area of the city, especially at night. There was just as much violence, especially gang-related in the Lower Ninth, if not more. However, it is just as dangerous at night now in both as thieves run about trying to steal copper wires and other building supplies from those trying to recover from the storm, even two years plus since its fateful landfall to the east of the city. So are the times in post-Katrina New Orleans, very trying times.

In fact, we heard from our neighbor's contractor (who happens to be a Lutheran pastor as well) that he tasered a person trying to enter our house last night. In short, we had good reason to board up the windows each night after finishing work for the day. The neighbors were friendly nevertheless and our co-volunteers and SAFER people were even nicer.

The work was strenuous at times, tedious at others, and nerve-wracking at others. However, in the end of it was a satisfying work that was both manageable and meaningful at the same time. I can see both Wanda and Dorothea, her mother, better for our work these four days.

Monday was a stressful day because of the evening and some severe miscommunication that briefly ruined a blessed day. It was something that will eventually blow over that didn't affect the rest of the trip but drew me closer to my fellow St. Mary's volunteers.

Tuesday became a day of routines but good routines, nevertheless. We had crawfish in the evening and bonded even closer with our reflection times helping a great deal in this area.

On Wednesday we had the University of Miami (FL) join our house and so this made the accommodations a bit more crowded, but by today things were as such that much was accomplished because of the doubled up teamwork of more hands on deck.

If there were to be one thing learned from this trip is flexibility—flexibility in the Lord's plan—that and there's plenty that you can do with some Sheetrock, screws, and a whole lot of friends who want to give back to the community. Slowly but surely, with every screw in place and piece of Sheetrock hung, the city of New Orleans will return, but we should never lose sight of helping our neighbor in need without reserve.

Today I shared something that I had shared previously with my Texas friends while I was essentially exiled from the city and its culture and day-to-day activities especially the year after the storm. As a friend on the trip reminded during our trip to pick up the crawfish on Tuesday, much has changed in the city no matter how much I wish to think otherwise. Well, what I shared today was a taste of the pre-Katrina mess and an attempt to crystallize the goodness of the city despite all said by its detractors (and there were many who wanted it never to return).

I had not intended it to be a public show, except to my fellow volunteers, but in the end it became a public demonstration of my love for the city. I have all along, especially in word here, wished to note my love for the city of my birth. If I fail to do so, I have forsaken my own blood...this is how deep the consciousness of the city runs for me. It deserves its constructive criticisms—like all things it has its flaws—but I do find myself tied to the city, for better or for worse.

No matter what ends up being of that place of my first consciousness, of that Crescent City on the Mighty Mississippi, I hope that you, my dear reader, understand its intrinsic and priceless value it has for the country. I have tried my hardest to impart not only this to my fellow volunteers this week through my small insights on the city but also the value of its residents past and present—that they are of worth and deserve respect which has been lacking for multiple reasons, especially in the face of the tragedy by all levels of government.

In the words of the poet activist Nikki Giovanni of Virginia Tech on their sad tragedy last year of a different sort:
"We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech."
So too can be said of New Orleans, if not in word but deed these very days. I dare say this approach to mourning has been as such in the city's countless jazz funerals before the storm and since where "we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again." We celebrate life as much as we mourn it and as much as we reflect on it. Much is still to be done for this respective tragedy, and much has been done—but only so much, a drop in the proverbial bucket. We must not rest for we are called to help those in need, in distress, and in torment. We must for if we do not, no one shall. We must.

I wanted to come to the city not as a local but as an outsider to give back without reservation or expectation other than to work—and to work with my whole heart. I am happy for the decision, for a productive Spring Break, for an enriching week, and for the love that shone during this trip...what a week!

Praise be to God!

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