The past two days I have spent in New Orleans have been nothing short of a whirl wind and it feels almost impossible to sum up. I suppose the best way I can connect everything so far is by saying that so much of what I have witnessed and experienced in New Orleans has been a series of dualities and ironic contradictions. The contrast between vibrancy and emptiness is so stark, and given the constant reminder that it has been almost six years after Katrina, I can’t help but feel more a heightened emotional response to these harsh dualities. I came to this city certainly expecting this contrast, however I never anticipated to literally stand on the line that cuts between these two worlds. During Tanya’s tour of the city yesterday, we traveled within minutes from the thriving downtown core to a whole other world on the other side of the St. Claude bridge- a world where to your left you see rows and rows of beautifully rebuilt and restored homes for the New Orleans’ Army Corps and to your right you see rows and rows of empty lots and empty houses. Ironic? An unbelievable contrast? Both a literal and metaphorical divide between classes? How must this have felt for the families living on the right of this road to watch a neighbourhood grow day by day in front of their eyes? I can’t even imagine, but being down here helps me try and put myself in their shoes.
Today after work, we were driven down to the Florida Avenue Townhouses in the Upper Ninth Ward to see an entire series of abandoned community houses. From afar, these homes looked brand new, painted baby blue, pink, yellow, orange and green, with flower trees in full bloom sitting in the front yards. From a short distance, these townhomes appeared to exude so much life. Once again, I am struck with another devastatingly tragic irony. To my shocking surprise, these houses are, well, completely and utterly lifeless. Sadly, their propped open doors do not lead to the families they once did but rather to mold covered walls, smashed windows and creaking eaves-troughs in what genuinely felt like a ghost town. Besides the graffiti covered exteriors, this place has been left untouched. To get a better picture of what we saw today, take a look at Tanya’s post from May 2009 when she first saw the town homes. I am astounded by the fact that what I witnessed today looks almost identical to what Tanya’s photos captured two years ago. What’s going to happen with this place and when? Where are these families now? Will they ever return to the colourful neighbourhood they once knew and loved?
I wish I knew the answers to these questions. But what I do know is that although we won’t get the opportunity to touch these Florida Avenue Townhomes during our time here in New Orleans, I can see that after our first day of work today, we are making a difference. In just one day, we have dipped our toes in one of St. Bernard Project’s 300 plus housing intiatives since Katrine (more than any other organization in the city!) and that is something to be proud of. On top of that, some of my fellow group members have been working with a food co-op and an animal shelter, making progress in areas of community development that desperately need it. This makes me happy.
Sorry about getting heavy up there, it’s tough not to. Although it may not seem it, I am equally if not more optimistic than anything else. There is so much more to come for us- more learning, more bonding, more laughter, more tears and more memories. I am beyond grateful to be here and I can’t wait to report again next week.
Until then y’all!