Thursday, April 7, 2011

7 Quick Takes: NOLA Style

Ok Aimee, again with the lateness. But, better late than never. This spring break I went to New Orleans on a Mission Trip with the St. Thomas More Newman Center. It was an amazing experience, and here are a brief 7 Quick Takes from places that meant something to me on the trip.

1) Camp Restore
We stayed here, in East New Orleans (I think), at a facility created by a Lutheran church for the specific purpose to house volunteers that have come to rebuild the city. We slept in what I believe were grain cars. They are slightly larger than boxcars, both length-wide and width-wide. The one that the girls stayed in housed us all in eleven bunkbeds, lining 3 1/2 of the four walls, with a couple of walking feet in between. It was definitely cozy. And the food was ok, especially considering they were feeding 100 plus people every meal. My favorite memories from here though were from our casual group bonding times. There were a couple of excellent games of Mafia, and one night where we had an ultimate showdown in Bump. Camp Restore was our home base throughout the week, where we went "home" every night.

2) St. Peter Claver
This is the Catholic Church in the 7th Ward (again, I think) that we went to for Mass on Sunday. It was cool to see how Mass is still Mass and yet is still different by region. There was much more of what I would call "Southern Baptist"-style preaching during the homily, and their choir was robed and super super legit. Plus, the church was gorgeous and all the people were incredibly friendly. It was an amazing way to start off our trip.

3) The Cathedral
Sunday afternoon we went down to the French Quarter and got let loose for a couple of hours. I ended up wandering around with Therese, one of our permanent community members who came to celebrate her 50th birthday by giving of herself to New Orleans, and Mary, an undergrad also in my department. We walked around the French Market, and then meandered the streets, winding up towards the end in the Cathedral Square. One of my favorite memories was just praying inside the cathedral, which is a tourist site as well as a legitimate church. It was really cool, just spending a little time with Jesus while I could tell there were people walking around in the church, and I could hear the crowd and jazz music from outside, and still it was like there was just the two of us in the midst of all the noise and excitement of life.

4) The House for Novices
Technically this is named after a saint, but I don't remember which one. What I do know is that it was a large, old house that was originally a home for girls, and turned into a day care and is not really rather run down. However, what I remember most about it is what it is going to be, a home for novices for the Sisters of the Holy Family. We worked here for a day and a half, doing various work, but mainly working on the floors, ripping out small-ish areas of linoleum, carpet, tile and almost everywhere the tar that stuck the tile to the floor. It was hard work, slow and tedious, but it was good to be able to give, to make an investment in the future. Plus, there was a lot of working together, talking and bonding.

5) Dillard University
Monday night, after our first day at the House for Novices, we went to the alma mater of one of the Keila Whittington, one of the associate women's basketball coaches at UO and the main coordinator of the New Orleans aspect of our trip. At Dillard, some of the students told us what it was like for them during Hurricane Katrina. In all honesty, I wasn't particularly looking forward to this when we went; I was tired and just not really feeling like sitting through what felt like yet another presentation about what happened during the hurricane. However, this was one of the talks that definitely changed my perspective about the entire event. When the students talked about what happened to them and their campus-their home, I could imagine it as my home. Some of the things they said reminded me of UO, and I could put myself in their shoes, could see it happening to me-even though, as other people on the trip pointed out, the likelihood of a disaster like that in Eugene is almost nil-I just understood the sense of home that they were talking about.

6) The Overgrown Lot with the Gate
Thursday and Friday we spend working in the Lower 9th Ninth Ward, the area that was worst hit by the flooding when the levees broke. Some parts of this neighborhood were 20 feet under water, it was a complete disaster. When you see videos of people being helicoptered out of the flood area, it was in this neighborhood. Even now, it's hard to reconcile the fact that it's been five whole years since Katrina. What used to be a vibrant community is a ghost town, with one or two occupied houses per block, and many many lots that have nothing on them, save maybe foundations and steps. The one lot that really got to me though was the lot that we pulled up to when we first arrived, right next to the Lower 9th Ward Community Center. It was completely overgrown, except for a rusted gate and a foundation and steps. When I looked at it, I could feel that this was not just a house, it was someone's home. Someone came back to no home. Their life had literally floated away. This just struck me to my core, the idea of someone coming back, and holding onto that gate as they stare at what used to be their home, sobbing. It is a feeling that will stick with me from now on, I know.
On a redeeming note, the last thing we did on Friday was to clear this lot, mowing it down and trimming it up. I swept off the top step, even though I know it didn't do much practical good, and by the time someone sees it it will be dusty and dirty again. Still, I think in a spiritual sense it mattered. It was my way of saying "welcome home, here is a place to come home to, here is a place to start again".

7) Frenchmen St.
The last place I have to include on this list is Frenchmen Street. It is located downtown in/near the French Quarter and it was the most legit New Orleans place we went. The bars there are open to 18 and over, and card at the bar for drinks, so only people who are 21 can get alcohol. But, we got to hear some incredible live music, and hanging out, getting food, talking and listening to the bands felt so chill, so adult. It was a blast, and definitely one of my other favorite favorite memories of the week.

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