A love letter Thursday, Jun 30 2011 

Dear NOLA,

I miss you, more thank I’ve ever missed anywhere before. I keep trying to pin point what I miss most about you, but can’t narrow it down to one thing…

I miss your people, you’re community…. The way they go out of their way to give you directions if you just look confused or lost. The way they’ll talk your ear off on the bus/streetcar. The way they make you feel welcome no matter where you are. The way they wave at you, say hello, or smile when you pass them on the street. The way they work together, no matter what, to achieve as much as they can. I miss the way they made us feel like we belonged, never judging us for who or what we are, appreciating us for more than I think we gave them.

I miss your spirit… The way you don’t give up, even when others who should support you actually let you down. People keep saying you’re doomed, but you’ve really got that morale to keep pushing, to keep giving the best. You really don’t let others bring you down, and I find that super admirable.

I miss your music… The way it would (physically) fill the van, or just make you dance when you’re walking down the street (maybe that was the drive-thru daiquiris). The way it would put smile on your face to see someone happily play on the sidewalk, or watch an entire crowd of people swarm a band parading down the street. You’re music really helped me connect with you and understand you so much more.

I miss your air, your water… It all just felt so right. Even on those hot and humid days, I just wanted to be outside, the sun beating down on my skin breathing in your southern Louisiana air. I miss waking up on my top bunk with the feeling of utter excitement, each and every day. I miss the fifteen passenger vans, the group check-ins, drinking beers in the Laundromat, waiting for the bridge to go back down after a boat passed, the freeze-pops in the freezer at the Green Project, the lovely ladies from Americorps we met at the Dellavalle’s house, the motivating feeling of the “assembly line” moving bags of clothes into the warehouse, learning random tidbits of information on a drive somewhere, being absolutely shocked at seeing something such as waterline marks on a house….

I miss the way everyday you taught me something new about myself, and about life in general. You made me realize, no matter what, it’s worth it for me to push to be the best person I can be. It’s worth it to be constantly be challenging things. You made me realize who I want to push to be, and where I want to push to go.

Everyday I miss you, and know I left a bit of my heart with you. I think about you all the time. I thought I would start to miss you less and less as the days passed, but that’s hardly the case.

I cannot wait see you again, and I promise that will be as soon as possible.

Love Shannon K.

Taste of a Hurricane Wednesday, Jun 29 2011 

Taste of a Hurricane

 The sky is believe blue

and I am running

the taste of a hurricane

lots and lots of vacant lots

and glowing cat eyes dawn

through city streets gone wild

tall grass and empty space

cut short.

 

Sweating in Cynthia’s house

masked, air close, like a tomb

we scale ladders, balance the beams

Up, down, and side to side

circle, circle, cut the pie

scraping away the dead

skin of this place

attic, kitchen, closet,

leaving our hearts behind.

 

Running in the night

street-corner celebration

urine, vomit, beads, dance

to the jazz parade playing,

trombones long.

Band in a van

drum beat pounding

the taste of a hurricane.

 

Miss Josephine feeds us

jambalaya, bread pudding,

sweet and thick.

Thirty-six months to get back

to her kitchen

but she made it all

with thanks for her life, and us

and in one lunch she gives more

than we could ever return.

 

Juan carries pirate

in his blood, struggling.

His disappearing land: water, palmetto, silt.

Fish and oil, scarce and spilled

with recklessness.

He will work on the rig

once the shrimp and crabs are caught

running tours and calling:

Viens ici, cher bayou,

Viens ici!

 

We are running on the beach

like in Baywatch

diving in water and sand

after a lopsided ball

we will get sunburned

and see stars

bring home the Gulf shore, in our shoes

and sleep sound, through the snoring.

 

Mississippi rising

behind the sugar plant, too close to home.

and Tanya worries

the taste of a hurricane.

Sorting boards in the lumberyard,

muddy smell of cypress in the heat

No pools to cool kids in summer

and Joby has the car packed, just in case

he would swim, if he had to

because this is home.

 

May Day rain at Magnolia, students blooming

playing Duck, Duck Goose with Justin

and the beanbag toss, the dunk-tank.

Robert paints teeth, asks us to write

while Adam flips the bird, grins.

After the talent show we pick

out art to pack in our suitcases

learning like we never learned

at school before:

how the most valuable things

are packed up on the inside.

 

We are running along the levee

to the shore of the industrial canal

to see the ships, the shore

lifting with the bridge

climbing concrete in the sun.

If we could keep running

away from home

we would run to here

to find out what it means,

New Orleans, already missing

the taste of a hurricane.

 

-Daphne Paszterko, June 2011.

I wrote this poem as a series of flashes of our experience in NOLA – the different places we worked and some of the amazing people that we met during the trip.  I also wanted to capture how I think we were captivated by New Orleans, and how so many of us want to go back.

Beloved New Orleans Friday, Jun 24 2011 

It feels like it’s been ages since we got back from New Orleans.  To be honest, it kind of hurts to know that the experience is further and further away each day, and I keep doing things to remind myself of our amazing time there just so the memories don’t slip away.  I definitely experienced some NOLA withdrawal, and I can’t wait for the day when I get to go back.  I know that it will not be the same as it was the first time we went, that experience was unique.  It was all of our first time in New Orleans, we didn’t know each other and had so much to learn.  We still have a lot to learn, but first impressions go a long way.  However, I am excited about the fact that whoever I end up going with next time, the experience will be new and surely just as special. 

One of the most important things that I learned in New Orleans was the meaning of the “beloved community”, which is the integration of residents, groups and volunteers that occurs during social movements and after disasters.  The beloved community is an extemely powerful thing; people coming together for a common purpose and giving selflessly in order to make a difference.  I believe that we experienced and became part of the beloved community through our volunteer efforts in New Orleans.  We were accepted with open arms and worked so hard despite our tiredness, the extreme heat, and sometimes uncomfortable conditions (such as a tiny attic which needed to be insulated!).  Personally, I have never worked so hard at anything, even things I have been paid for.  The motivation that kept me going in New Orleans was the fact that this needed to be done and that we wanted to make any small amount of difference that we could because we saw how important it was to the people we were helping.  To me, that is more important than any amount of money.

After coming home, I was feeling a bit down.  Being back at my old job at a grocery store wasn’t as fulfilling as everything we had done in New Orleans, and I felt like I was getting stuck back in the same routine I had before I left.  One day at work, I found a crumpled piece of paper on the sink in the bathroom.  For some reason, I felt the need to open it and read it.  It said “You are a blessing from Heaven.  Go out and give of yourself.  We need you!”

I will never know who wrote this, or why it was there and why I picked it up, but it was just the reminder and motivation that I needed.  The last part really resonated with me and embodied what I felt in New Orleans – giving of yourself because you are needed.  However, I don’t live in New Orleans, and will probably not be going there as soon as I would like.  As much as I miss New Orleans and want to continue to help, it is not the only place where the beloved community exists.  I don’t think that there needs to be a disaster in order for people to come together, but unfortunately that is usually what it takes.  All that is needed are people with the drive and determination to do something positive, no matter how small. And so I challenge myself and anyone who may read this – go out and find the beloved community closest to you.  It may be difficult to find, or you may already be a part of it and not even know it.  Either way, it’s out there waiting, all you need to do is make a move.

-Paulina Kubara

I cheat on my city with NOLA Thursday, Jun 23 2011 

Originally, when I applied for this course, I had no idea what I was getting into. I simply thought it would be a great opportunity to travel somewhere new, hopefully use some of the theoretical concepts we have learnt in class in a practical setting, and be given the opportunity to help people that are still recovering after five plus years of disaster. I never thought that my life would be changed forever. I arrived home from New Orleans on my 25th birthday, sitting on the runway at Person, Olivia and Pascal wished me a happy birthday as we taxied into our gate. It was the perfect end to a great trip that showed me just how amazing the people I went with are (like the awesome birthday cards I received the day before). Going on a trip with 21 strangers could be a difficult time, especially when you factor in hard work, sleep depravation (which was our own fault…mostly), new surroundings, a new climate, a new culture and different personalities. However, by the end of the trip I had made 21 new friends and became a new person.

My first week was spent at the St Bernard Project. I was teamed up with Olka and Emma…Team Hardibacker…*slow thrust*. Our job was to finish the floors and install a laminate shower kit for this amazing family who, since Katrina, had such a difficult time returning home. Living between New Orleans and Florida to survive and also suffering the ill effects of the asbestos filled FEMA trailer, the family just wanted to come home, and we wanted to help. We all did. I have never seen 10 strangers come together like we did to complete a common goal. We encouraged each other, learned from each other, laughed with each other and definitely sweated with each other. The house was so close to being finished that we wanted to be the group to welcome home the family. Realistically, that wasn’t going to happen, there was still going to be a lot to do after we left, but we all wanted to finish the goals that had been made for us by Willem, our leader, and we might of finished them had we not gone to Stephensville to do some sandbagging. But it was worth it.

Stephensville, could be one of those, “once in a life time”, experiences, but I think realistically it was training for a lot of us. We got the opportunity to help a small Bayou community prepare for the possibility of severe flooding working alongside a chain gang from a local prison and a group of Christian missionaries. We were a group of odd balls, at least on the surface, but underneath we all wanted the same thing, to save this community. We all worked tirelessly to fill, tie and load sand bags into the trucks of people and even using our own van to transport sand bags to community members who needed them and in the case of a few we even unloaded and set-up a wall of sandbags at a couple houses (most notably Ms Junes). The one thing, being in the Deep South, that I was expecting a lot of, was racism, but up until the sandbagging I hadn’t really seen any. Even at the sandbagging, it was just a few hints at it from a few of the black inmates in regards to what a few white community members had said/done that made it somewhat apparent. It wasn’t until the next day that we would really see the racism and hate of the South.

For our first full weekend in New Orleans, 11 of us, led by Tanya, headed to the Civil Rights memorial in Montgomery, Alabama for a lesson on civil rights. Up until this trip I never understood, truly, what was(is) going on in the Deep South of the United States, and for me it was overwhelming. Walking into the memorial, we all had to get searched and have our bags x-rayed, as I was waiting in line for my turn, I noticed a charred and damaged clock on the wall behind me. Under the clock it read “Why the security?” and outlined how, since 1983, the memorial has been bombed (or attacked) more than two dozen times by the KKK and other white supremacists. This was unfathomable to me (and still is), how could anyone hate that much? When we walked into the memorial we were quickly sent into a theatre to watch a film on the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and how men and women, black and white, stood together to peacefully stand up for what is right. Learning about the segregation of the South, it quickly dawned on me, and the rest of us, that in a time not that long ago (40+ years) we would not be allowed to be friends with each other or study together or sit beside each other like we were doing.

After the film we went back out to the room we started in; it was a round room, with a window that looked out to the circular monument outside, there were a number of interactive computer stations to show us geographically where certain key locations around Montgomery were, and the walls were covered in a mural highlighting key figures and newspaper articles from the times. Standing in this room, with 12 like minded individuals looking at this memorial, I started to cry. I will never be able to understand how anyone could hate as much as the white people in the South did, and how strong and heroic the black and white people who stood up for civil rights were.

This put into context some of the racist planning and decision making ideas that all levels of Government in New Orleans (municipal, state and federal) have put into place. It might not be as blatant as blowing up a memorial (but what about a levee?) but with tons of homes still not rebuilt, thousands of units of social housing left rotten, infrastructure (deplorable roads and destroyed sidewalks) in tatters it is clear that even following Katrina, the disaster is not yet over. Environmental injustice is rampant in New Orleans, as Tanya Harris pointed out, and not much is being done by the Government to help the black people of New Orleans, so they are left to help themselves.

I cried a few times on this trip (and a few times since I’ve gotten back), and aside from when I watch the odd Disney-Pixar movie, that doesn’t happen very often. I don’t like to show people when I’m upset, but this trip showed me that its alright to let it happen. When we first started doing check-ins, I wasn’t fully convinced they were necessary, in Alabama, it became obvious that they were and we went as far as to request one.

The second week opened my eyes even wider, instead of going back to St Bernard Project and because I told Tanya to “put me wherever” I was shown a wide arrangement of new experiences. Day one and five was spent at Magnolia house, a school for adults with special needs. Going there, I had no idea what the school was for, and originally thought it was simply a school we would be helping rebuild. Magnolia School, for the most part seemed intact, and we were asked to help with some gardening around the front entrance of the school. For me, this work was hard, but it was just digging, NBD (no big deal, or as Briar would say no big dog) that was until we went in for lunch. That is when I understood the reason we were there. We ate lunch with about 200 other people, and aside from the few workers, everyone had special needs. This was new for me; I haven’t spent a lot of time with people with special needs and at first I was uncomfortable. But the warmth of the students and the staff quickly made me feel at home. Following lunch we were given free time to hang out with the students and Remo, Shakera and I decided to wash dishes. As we washed dishes, with a number of the students (who were on work detail) this feeling came over me, like I had been wasting my time in Toronto. I wanted to help people, I loved helping people, all people and this opportunity showed me that. I would be 25 when I came home from New Orleans, I wasn’t going to sit around and waste hours on the TV any more, I was going to come home and help.

I spent one day at the Green Project, taking nails out of reclaimed lumber and mixing paint (Timmies Double Double paint to be exact) and talking with Sarah about the homelessness class she and Pascal were teaching when we got back, and I decided then that was something I wanted to do. I was ready to keep learning and learning how to help back home as well as abroad. The two final days I spent at the Food co-op which opened my eyes to the importance of food security for neighbourhoods like the Lower Ninth, who had no grocery stores in the whole area. This was something I had never really thought of before, and coming from Canada, I think I took for granted. I have three large grocery stores and three local grocery stores in walking distance from me. If I could say one thing about this trip, is that it opened my eyes.

I regret not doing something like this sooner. I arrived back in Toronto on my 25th birthday, a milestone to some, and a milestone to me because it marks the year I make change. I will no longer waste my time, idling through life, letting things go on in the world around me while doing nothing about it. I no longer look at people and places the same and I can’t shut up about New Orleans, and I don’t want to. I read NOLA news and Youtube New Orleans music, I just can’t get enough. It is such a beautiful city with beautiful people and rich and diverse culture; I would go back any day and plan on it very soon. I took from this trip a desire to help, a desire to look deeper into the root causes of problems and issues and a desire to learn. I finally found what I was looking for through 6(ish) years of schooling at the University level, a way of learning that I blossom in, and lessons that aren’t theoretical in place or idea but something that was real; I touched it, I saw it, I helped to change it, I was physically there and did something about it. I will never go back to the way I was before, I’m new, I’m fresh and I’m ready to go.

Missing the big easy Sunday, Jun 19 2011 

Still seems like yesterday that I was in New Orleans waking up looking forward to the day and working my butt off to make a difference in the lives of others. Those days are the same as now as I currently am working in a residential setting for children with autism and other various disorders. Even though these work settings are very different, it still allows me to remain committed to helping those disenfranchised by society. Traveling to and from work means that I am leaving the heart of the city to the less populated areas around the GTA, I often look at the houses and think to myself ” back in New Orleans, these houses do not exist and I would think to myself, what if a disaster happened in this area, what damage would it cause and how fast would the Canadian government react. Riding on the bus to work also makes me realize how fortunate we really are to be basically disaster free thanks to the location of our city. We don’t have to worry about tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoons, drought etc and yet those living in the New Orleans area face those many times during the year but they still remain. That shows so much courage in my eyes, as they take a stand against everything around them and stay regardless of what it is happening around them. They let the world know that this is their home and they’ll remain regardless of what happens.

Sharing the stories with those in my life has made me realize how greatly a trip like this has a positive influence on others. My friends have all told me that this is something that they would love to. The majority of friends in my life work with disenfranchised people and are often champions for rights and equality as well. They have all wanted to hear about my trip and were eager to ask me how they could get involved themselves. Those who I had brief conversations with, have asked me to spend time with them again so they could know more about what has gone on and what I got to do over there. Seeing how genuine they were and how much they cared about what I did, made me feel really special and made me want to take them with me one day so we could make a difference together. My parents have always been very glad that I completed this trip and with my new job, they have commented on how much I’ve grown up in the last month and I completely owe my thanks to New Orleans. Each day I find something else I did or experienced there to share with people in my life, the trip as has given me ever lasting memories that I will continue to draw from and share with others. One thing that I’ve learned in my work with children and adults, is that even though we leave the lives of those we work with when the time comes, the most important part is developing that relationship in which we leave them with everlasting moments that they can draw on and use as they live their lives. Having experienced Nola made me feel like that has happened, those we’ve interacted with and helped, our relationship will last forever.

What hurts me the most after a trip like this continues to be the lack of progress that has occurred in New Orleans. Driving down the streets, it saddens me immensely that there is still so much land that remains empty. The government has found a way to drive away the poor people of New Orleans and have just left the land sitting there instead of putting it to good use and using the land to bring back the residents so that they may continue on with their lives. When I see places empty here especially in poorer neighbourhoods, I often think to myself why there isn’t a neighbourhood resource in this empty place to help the community and its residences. The trip to Magnolia was very uplifting for me because since I work with children with special needs and disabilities, it was great to see so many adults living semi independently and working together to achieve goals. Kind of made me think of how important it is to start young so that people can have better lives in the future. After the Magnolia visits and working with the people there, it made me that much more proud to be an individual who works with vulnerable people in our society. I would love to go back and do what I did, even though the trip has been over for a few weeks now everything still seems so fresh in my head and if I had the chance to go back tomorrow I would. What a life changing experience, I have told so many people and I’m continue going to share it with everyone not only to bring about change here but maybe over there as well. I hope people continue to do what we and countless others have done because only with action can something be truly done and the lives of others be truly improved. All it takes is one person to change the world and what better way to do it then in a group and working together with others who are there for the same reasons and that reason is to improve the lives of others.

Remo

Y’all Come Back Now Ya Hear Tuesday, Jun 14 2011 

What a whirlwind these last two weeks have been. Leaving New Orleans I never thought I would say that but it truly has been, albeit in a totally different respect. I have had a lot to process since returning home. The last few days in NOLA I struggled a bit with the idea of returning home. I come from a small town – we’re talking one stop light, blink and you’ll miss it sort of thing. Glenburnie, Ontario. I can bet you have’nt heard of it, and if you have, well good on ya! The relevence of this is that everybody knows everybody and everybody knows everybody’s business. When something remotely interesting happens to someone, it’s the talk of the town. I had no doubt that when I came home from New Orleans, not only would I be so excited to share my experiences, but my friends and family would be equally as excited to hear about it. What I struggled with however, is how I could make it clear to the people I care about the most how important and significant this experience was. I was afraid that I just wouldn’t be able to put into words exactly how I felt and what I brought home from this trip.

After being home for two weeks, I can tell you it hasnt been easy. I find myself saying things that became inside jokes from the trip and getting weird looks from my family before I explained the hilarity or significance behind them. I found myself at a loss for words when friends would ask me question upon question from my trip. To be honest, as I’m writing this, I’m not quite sure why Im typing this as if it were a past feeling because it is still something I struggle to capture in it’s entirety.

Tomorrow I am going to my old public school to give a little presentation on our NOLA 2011 experience. I am excited to (hopefully) inspire young individuals to consider partaking in opportunities like this as they grow. I sure wish I had before now. Once again however, I find myself worrying that I won’t get the message across as powerfully as I would like.

That being said, I think it is important to remember that sometimes, a loss of words is just as powerful as a novel full of them. Sometimes it takes people recognizing the struggles you have as you try to explain something to understand and feel what you are experiencing. From the people I have shared my stories with, the feedback has been phenomenal. Even though I feel as though my descriptions of this journy are lacking the true essence of NOLA 2011, talking about it continues to inspire me to continue in this direction and become more involved. I can’t speak for others and say that talking about this with them has impacted them. Sure, I have been told that, and that is amazing news to the ears, but realistically, I will never know the truth behind that. I had no doubt that the inspiration that came from this trip would never cease to amaze me, but to still feel it growing as the days away from New Orleans become more and more has really allowed me to appreciate this loss of words rather then curse it. I don’t know if I will ever be able to get the point across the way I would like. To be honest, I dont think I have ever had something render me speechless in the way this has, but I am slowly realizing that this is something to embrace.

I have never fallen in love with a city like I did with New Orleans and I cannot wait to go back.

Missing everyone from the trip and everyone from NOLA,

Cassie

Missing Y’all Saturday, Jun 11 2011 

Like all of the blogs I must first tell everyone how wonderful my experience was down South. I have met some of the most wonderful people, not just in group (although each member is a gem in their own natural way), but also in the community. The kindness and welcoming of New Orleans (NOLA) was really incredible. When I came back I had to take the subway with my huge luggage, no one helped me down the stairs or even opened a door for me. Instead several people expressed their anger at being stuck behind my large misfortune. The whole time I trekked up stairs and through heavy doors all I could think of was this would never happen in NOLA. I’d probably not even have to lift a finger.

However it was not just the southern hospitality that I brought back with me it’s more the experiences. My friends and family can not get me to shut up about my time down south; it was such an impactful experience. Seeing how almost six years after the storm there is still so much work to be done really bothered me. At least twice a year some tragic event happens in the world and for about a week the whole world cares about it and perhaps donates some money or a canned good and then soon enough some other disaster takes over their mind whether it be across the world or in their own home and they forget. This experience has made me think about all of the disasters in the world. At least New Orleans is in one of the most powerful countries in the world and therefore they have a better chance at rejuvenation. Yet there are so many mud slides and hurricanes around the world that do not have the same support that NOLA does and if this is how a high income country responds, these other areas are in serious trouble.

This thought has been bothering me since I came back to my safe and natural-disaster-free home in Canada (touch wood). I have been thinking hard about my experience, especially the abandoned homes, lack of businesses and important buildings like schools or grocery stores and the racism, because of this I have been trying to think of something I can do but instead these thoughts have given me a feeling of absolute helplessness. Which than got me thinking about one of the people we talked to who went to another country to make a difference while his own community had just been 20 feet under water, I thought about my own home and the issues that we have here in Toronto and how perhaps I should spend time getting people off the street and above poverty level. My friend made a good point that although I may not be able to save the world literally just listening to a person makes a huge difference in their life and may indeed be a way to help the world one step at a time. If everyone can help their own community and the people in it maybe that is the first step to a much happier world.

This experience has made me realize that whatever I do with my life it must involve helping people and I truly believe that everyone should experience and see what we saw down there. It gave me such perspective on how people are still very much affected by race, income and hurricane Katrina. I was really happy that I did a presentation for my community. They were all so shocked by what I had to say and about how the community is still suffering.

    

Thank you so much to both Tanya and Pascal. Not to mention my wonderful group and the welcoming community of New Orleans. Y’all changed my life.

– Briar McBoyle

Goodbye New Orleans… For now. Friday, Jun 10 2011 

we will walk these streets again..

Disclaimer: I have done my very best to sum up this trip without overloading the system. However it has happened once already.. Thanks Mozilla.

It has not been long since we returned but the withdrawal has hit me and stuck with me. It is difficult not to miss the city, the people, our group and the projects that we worked on. What I miss the most (obviously other than Group 2) is the projects that we worked on and the satisfaction of knowing that the fence, bathroom, or trim installed will bring the families one step closer to returning home and  make this structure we have worked on truly feel like a home.

I left for this trip forewarned of the possible frustration to not being able to finish a project and still set myself up on projects to expect more than I probably should have. In the first few days although happy with the progress I was not satisfied because I hoped for more, however the realization that these small tasks (in the scheme of a whole house) were necessary and so appreciated by the homeowners that it made the whole effort worthwhile and rewarding.

From this trip I learned a lot about New Orleans, the political issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina, the vibrant culture of the city as well as the wonderful people who live there. I also learned a great deal about myself and the potential that I have. I came to this realization through connecting with the group in a way I did not expect too and seeing what wonderful people that they are and the amazing things they have already done or plan to do. The group members inspired me to be a better person and made me comfortable with the person that I am. They demonstrated the importance of surrounding yourself with happy, motivating and like-minded people.

The issue that I have at home is trying to describe to others the experience that I had, the transformational experience that this was is difficult to put into words. When asked how the trip was I have fallen back on “amazing” as this is the most honest description that I can provide. Although there was frustration, tears, happiness and friendship this word does capture all of these aspects. As strange as it may sound the tears we cried and frustration we felt were amazing in that they brought us closer to each other and gave us a deeper appreciation for the city of New Orleans and the people within it.

I am so grateful to each and every one of the group members for making this trip as amazing as it was and allowing me to be myself and be comfortable doing so. Thank you to Pascal and Tanya for planning this amazing experience and for everyone that stepped out of their comfort zone to make each day as amazing/fantastic/great (and any other word we used every 5 minutes in the van to describe it) as it was.

Oh and see you next year ? 🙂

-Ola

%d bloggers like this: