Hey ya’ll! So it is now almost day 7 and I could not count all the emotional, physically demanding, hilarious and delicious experiences I’ve had with one of the most amazing group of people I have ever met. Before I left for NOLA, I had read the first group’s posts about what a roller coaster ride this trip would be. I anticipated there would be many ups and downs on the trip, but I was not prepared for the profound realizations and emotional responses I have been experiencing for the past week. I could write pages and pages about the days that have been jam-packed with meeting locals and hearing their courageous and unique stories, eating the most delicious bbq I have ever had at The Joint, learning how to lay hardiebacker and tiles with the St Bernard project and the various sobering and sometimes upsetting tours of New Orleans and the greater New Orleans area. However, I will try to put in to words, briefly, one of the most enlightened experiences I have had since I arrived in NOLA.
On day 4, we collectively decided to head to Stephensville LA to prepare some sandbags for the Mississippi flooding that is taking place in and around NOLA. We took a break from our assigned weekly volunteer tasks and headed to Stephensville. When we arrived on site, we immediately began sandbagging, side by side with the Military, the Sea Hawks and a group of male inmates who had been ordered to work in Stephensville for the past 16 days. I could not help but recognize the social and political implications of working with these three groups. For instance, after spending most of the day working closely with the men who had been imprisoned – talking with them, hearing their stories and just plain shooting the shit – the military Sgt. arrived and had ordered the soldiers to order the inmates to discontinue speaking with the us ‘civilians.’ This was when I really realized the power differential and social stigma that was attached to these men who were labeled as inmates. Like many other moments on the trip, I became emotional when this happened because I had perceived this group of men as anything but ‘inmates.’ Rather, they were some of the most friendly, welcoming and interesting people I had met on the trip. This made me realize the importance of critiquing social, political and economic structures, but also finding a balance to perceive people as individuals, as people, as merely human. Once again, I feel as though my words cannot fully do justice to the experience I have had in NOLA thus far. I have laughed (hysterically, at many things and with many others), cried in front of a group of people (for the first time ever), felt both anger and hope and have been both exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. I cannot wait for the adventures that lay ahead in the following week. I feel like I have already built my own home in New Orleans and will be returning many times in the years to come…