Reflections from the NOLA 2006

  • Everyone has touched my life and been so wonderful. To think about not being together is almost unbelievable.
  • Today we walked around Algiers and offered to plant trees. It was interesting that many were so excited; they were ready to start life anew. But there were also those people who seemed to fear replanting trees, after "just cutting down" the tree that was there before. So you could see how the storm affected the person.
  • What I did not expect was to have so many people asking for our help. Person after person stopped by asking for our assistance because they were unable physically or financially to help themselves. That was eye-opening.
  • Whenever someone asks me to do something, I don't hesitate to do it. I do the things that don't get done, or get forgotten. If others don't see, that's okay with me.
  • Today during reflection time, someone said that we had no weakest link. Well, I agree. Everyone has their talents and specialties, but I am more impressed how everyone just works hard, doesn't complain, and at the end of the day, has a smile on their face. Amazing!
  • I think maybe it's a blessing that I'm not breaking down, because the stronger I am the more help I will be. I can't be strong for others -- for Rosie and Don and everyone else we will meet -- if I'm not strong for myself.
  • What was really great though was stopping to take a little breather and see how hard and diligently everyone was working. Everyone was doing their thing and when someone needed help they'd ask and someone would quickly volunteer. Pride, egos, and hard-headedness never seemed to be an issue. If two people had different ideas on what should be done, we'd talk it out and work it out.
  • A lot of emotions and thoughts ran through my head all day and continue to run. I've learned a lot about myself on this trip. About the kind of person I want to be.
  • I truly plan to treat these people's belongings as I would mine and to remind others to do the same.
  • I feel that [working with Sandra and Joshua] made our experience stronger. . . This is service. Sure, gutting houses gives us all an immediate sense of helping, but I think my experience in service has taught me that service which brings change to as many people as possible is more meaningful in the long run.
  • We eventually finished the garden and headed back. I remember thinking to myself that I was going home. Incredible how 27 people can make a bus, tents, and a shower room feel like home. I guess we have accomplished it and that is amazing. I'm very proud of our group and its ability to formulate such a unit, a family.
  • Our team was amazing today, especially the men that carried out that final huge boat and the women that initiated a bridge in the sinking area. I guess we really have built bridges, in mind and in person.
  • This poor man had attempted to take his own things out without us so that we would have to do only minimal work. Wow! We were there to help him and instead he had attempted to help us! The kindness of these people is beyond words.
  • We had people stopping by on the street and asking us to help them in their houses because we are the only ones they see there to help them. It's five months after the hurricane and these people are just now getting into and gutting their houses.
  • I cried today. Wanted to cry all day. Want to cry right now. I wish I could do so much more. I wish everyone I know could see and experience this.
  • It's strange to say, but I was so happy today. I feel as though I'm supposed to be sad all the time because of the great devastation that occurred. Yet I felt so good today. Good to be in the sun with my hands in the dirt and awesome people all around. . . .
  • I'm so thrilled to be able to be doing this. Maybe this is what I am supposed to do with my life. And as bad as it sounds, I love to hear all the praise we get for what we're doing. Not because I'm cocky and need the reassurance, but because it's my way of knowing that these people realize that we have not forgotten about them and we never EVER will.
  • I broke down today. It's finally the halfway point and everything hit me. I realized how much we have accomplished and how little that looks when compared to everything that still needs to be done.
  • I realized that we get excited to gut houses and hate gardening, when in reality, gutting houses is just numbing us to the pain that is occurring here. I realized that love and hope can be more powerful than belongings.
  • I'm growing up, moving on, and changing lives (mine included).
  • It was a fun and relaxing day for all of us. We turned on music, got a little tan, and enjoyed playing in the dirt. It's funny how much fun our group can have with each other while working.
  • It's a sublime and intense feeling to realize that 24 people were randomly chosen and thrown together on this trip and we can all manage to click so perfectly. Never would I imagine this possible -- but we're the group that makes impossibilities diminish. I love it here.
  • . . . [W]e actually got to knock off early and head home. By "home," I mean camp, and yes, I've started calling it home. It's crazy how fond of "home" I am. I'm definitely going to miss it all so much.
  • Rosie just kept saying, "I'll see you in heaven, my little angels." I couldn't stop the tears. I had to run into the bathroom so no one else would see. Not because I'm afraid of others seeing me cry, but I know that as soon as one person starts, everyone else follows because the tears are on the very edge of their eyes.
  • . . . [I]t seems the markings on the wall or entrance of homes told a story. Sometimes the story wasn't bad, but other times it was very unfortunate. Seeing the number at the bottom identifying the number of bodies that were found is very sad. Sometimes I just want to say it's okay or that everything will be okay, but that would not be accurate or right.
  • I do not know for sure what was really the reason for Katrina, but I do know and strongly believe in destiny. God has a plan for all of us and everything happens for a reason. The people on this trip were chosen for a reason and will help create a better understanding of faith, love, casualties, and more. The only thing left to do is wait. The answers will come, and we will be waiting.
  • During the hard times, it is hard to show strength because everywhere you look is devastation. Donald mentioned today that if it wasn't for us or the work we did today, it would have taken them 3-6 months to do. That is amazing and mind boggling that we are the &*^%! to do it in one day, or in some cases just an hour or two.
  • Life consists of so many other things besides material goods, but without a "home," what do you have? Where else is there to go? When will you ever be able to say "I'm going home?"
  • You have to be here, you have to wear the mask and hard hat to understand this great devastation.
  • Burning all of our clothes and letting everything just fly away or be carried away was sort of a way to have a fresh start. Throw away all of the old stuff, burn all of the old stuff and start with a new beginning. That is what New Orleans has to do. Throw everything all away that is not salvageable and replace it. It is going to be a long process, but it will be accomplished.
  • Shawny was right. We are all still out there working our butts off singing Guantanamera, Stairway to Heaven, Hotel California, etc. You can pick the song you're not sick of the most.
  • Tears drip down off my face onto this paper thinking of all the times one had to cry in awe and shock. They are tears of sadness, but also tears of joy knowing that our "first" mission is accomplished
  • It's amazing how one day can completely change your perspective on your life, on people, on everything you thought you understood. Working gutting the houses today was by far one of the most unique experiences of my life.
  • Overall, at the end of the day today, I'm exhausted, proud, and yet ashamed that it took me so long to wake up to what is happening here.
  • Never in a million years did I think I would meet someone who had truly lived life to the fullest -- even if it ended up almost killing her. But I watched her -- and she was so well-spoken and genuine I just hoped the whole time that one day I could be half of that. I think our relationship with Rosie really established the relationship that we were hoping for -- the ones from our readings. The chance to actively dialogue with such an amazing woman was truly once-in-a-lifetime.
  • We had our first mass-type thing today and it was so beautiful to look around and completely admire everyone in that circle. I can tell that I am learning so much about what I want as priorities in my life from the class and the people we are meeting. I feel like this Jan Term is throwing everything in my face and saying, "Wow." I've always been too young and dependent to really change my life and now I can.
  • I just stopped to take it all in at one point and it was this realization of "this is exactly what we hoped for."
  • At the beginning someone gave us a quote about the importance of parks and that is finally becoming clear -- how they are a gathering place. They've given us a chance to grow closer -- a chance that gutting houses doesn't offer at the same depth. I hope that the gardeners find a similar opportunity to establish community too.
  • One of our letters said "stop trying to be interesting and be interested." That quote is so true on this trip, I feel like I should take every opportunity to learn as much as I can about these people and at the same time learn as much as I can FROM them.
  • . . .[T]he whole room was so alive and full of love. It made me think back to our first encounter with Rosie, when she talked about how we shouldn't be afraid to love. This class has completely let me do that. For me, trusting people enough to be myself around them is really hard but I realized tonight that somehow on this trip it was like we had always known each other, or I had always been looking for friends like this and I finally found them when I least expected to.
  • I feel like I could write each person a short novel of a letter and still be unable to let them know how grateful I am that I've gotten to know them this trip.
  • As much as I want to stay, I'm trying not to dwell on that and instead focus on what Shawny said about seeing each other across the quad and how special that will always be. It won't be enough to even compare to this month and knowing that 24 hours a day I got to see the most amazing people I've ever seen in one place. It is hard to even begin to understand how much I love this group and I'm sure it's not until I'm away from it that I'll even really understand it.
  • We walked through the wreckage and acted like CSIs trying to piece together the lives of the people before the flood.
  • Leroy's house was pretty bad. The worst part was the fact that he had an oversized fridge, which required the doors to be removed to get it out. Under normal circumstances, that would not have been a big deal, but the fridge had been sitting with its contents fermenting for the last four months. We affectionately call this mess "fridge tea." It was wicked! I definitely threw up in my mouth. Feke, Elijah, and Jed were troopers and took care of the mess.
  • Disaster is a funny thing. People accumulated all kinds of possessions over the years and then BAM-O, everything's gone. . . . But it's not actually gone yet. We are there to help, but yet we need to be efficient and that frequently leads to a swift kick rather than a screwdriver or a hammer. Is it wrong? I don't really know, but it's therapeutic enough that we keep doing it.
  • As I planted the seeds I realized how much time it will take for New Orleans to be the same as it was before Katrina. It was seeds that I was planting and to this our work can be compared. This is because we are doing something really small; this is the seed, but as the seed grows and the plant becomes a tree or reaches total maturity, the flowers bloom and the work pays off.
  • We have all learned our purpose here and take big responsibility. Without a doubt this group has a purpose to have been formed as it is. Each individual here is unique and God chose well when calling each one of us. We are becoming family. It's not "the group" anymore, but "us," a family. A family that is learning to live together, understanding each other without criticism.
  • We love each other; no one is less than the other. We have taken our motto literally: "Everyone. All the time." We all are one; let's take care of each other. Let's share our problems, let's listen, because communication will be the key to living together. THIS IS MY NEW FAMILY.
  • In the corner there were two citrus trees. One of those two was a grapefruit tree, of which I took advantage (hee hee). Throughout the whole day I probably ate a total of 5 grapefruits which were really good. . . mmmmm yummy.
  • Overall my experience here has been life-changing. I look at the houses, cars, streets, and pretty much everything around here that has been affected by Katrina and realize that this scene has become a part of us. Our reaction to all of this is so different from when we first arrived here. I can't imagine how weird it will be getting back home. It will seem strange seeing brightly-colored houses with a green front yard. Adjusting to our previous life will not be easy.
  • I dreamed about New Orleans. Some people from the group had decided to stay and I was one of them. We couldn't and didn't want to go. God had called us to serve and we were doing that. . . . We were heroes now. Sure, there weren't any superpowers, at least that's what people thought. But we were superhuman; being here helping others already made us different from the rest. We are superheroes because we have learned to give without looking to anyone or expecting anything in return. Our mission is not done yet; there are lots of needy people out there, and as part of the army -- the army of God -- we are ready to share our love and our help. World, be ready for us, because our lives have been changed and we now change lives as we walk the path of God.
  • The most memorable part of gutting today was sodas and lunch. From the outset, this group came to New Orleans prepped to be self-sufficient. Up until today, we had used our own food or food from the Red Cross trucks or the Hippie Camp. We were pleasantly surprised and thankful for the sodas and fried chicken that was provided for us by the guys (I believe Will was the mastermind).
  • We encountered our first church today. This was a powerful experience. When we first got in, we didn't know what to do. This is/was a sacred place, but the water was indiscriminate.
  • At this point, there is no place for questioning residents as to why they wish to return. There is only a place to ask them how we can help.
  • New Orleans has fallen down, and the hopes of most people in New Orleans have fallen as well. This is the main reason we are here: to build up New Orleans, not so much in a materialistic way, but rather -- and much more -- in terms of hope.
  • "Be kind in your actions. Do not think that you are the only one who can do efficient work, work worth showing. This makes you harsh in your judgment of other who may not have the same talents. Do you best and trust that others do their best. And be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies." -- Mother Teresa
  • So far the only problem that we have confronted as a group is to see the destruction in New Orleans and still be strong and have joy to be able to help those who need our help. In fact, I have never in my life been surrounded with people with such great hearts and at the same time such great joy. The only thing that I can say is that I have been blessed by being here.
  • "There are many people who can do big things, but there are very few people who do the small things." -- Mother Teresa
  • I can say that I have been blessed by coming to this place and sharing a space with 23 other students, youngsters just like me, who not only share a space but aspirations and dreams. We are all so unique in every possible way, but we share three characteristics that I consider the best qualities that a human being can possess, which are: love, care for others, and commitment.
  • Every time I do a journal entry, I want to start by saying, "wow, wow, wow!" But since that is not very original to do every time, I will say, "Whew!"
  • I am actually surprised that even when I am sore and the portapots are smelly, I am not ready to go home.
  • It was so nice to sit in a functioning establishment and drink coffee that was not too strong (because it wasn't made by the Verrips brothers).
  • We are on the flight home right now and I can't believe we are leaving. I was looking out over New Orleans and it felt like I was just arriving.
  • I want to stay for three months, not three weeks.
  • It was sad to do Sarah's house, because she was a packrat and cringed at every piece of furniture and knick-knack that left the house. You knew that every possession in that house had some sort of sentimental value.
  • Today we went through the Garden District of New Orleans on the way to Miss Marion's Garden. I was astounded to see the beautiful architecture and oak-lined streets. I felt like I was in a time warp; I could have been walking down St. Charles in 1862.
  • . . . [A]ll the boathandling was perfect team-building.
  • Not one person slacked for one minute on this job (Connie and Jerry's house). We didn't work like fair-weather volunteers; we worked like pros.
  • We have done more in three weeks than most do in ten years. We should be proud.
  • The smell in the Ninth Ward will be remembered in my heart forever, as well as the tears that local residents shed during our experience there. Today, I felt like one of them, signifying that my outsider perspective is beginning to change. I knew from months before that I would only be able to scratch the surface in New Orleans as an outsider. I was able to collaborate and reach beyond the surface and embrace the love that people here have in their hearts.
  • I was amazed at how much more efficient we are as a whole and how we collaborate to get our objectives done faster.
  • I think that the most difficult part for me was getting others to accept me for who I am and what I represent. The other students were very friendly and accepted me with open arms, which allowed me to realize that race, class, and gender don't matter. In this case, Hurricane Katrina cleansed our minds from all the stereotypes that we've all grown accustomed to.
  • When we arrived in Mississippi, I almost felt like the experience restarted itself.
  • As we carried out the benches from inside the church, my heart was filled with tears when I visually saw the rotten and molded Bibles on the backside of each bench. I felt that Hurricane Katrina was big and powerful, but I still believe that God is bigger.
  • Everyone really seems to have a spot and a purpose. Even the way that we reacted to Rosie's house, the rubble being taken away, everything really balances. When someone falls back, someone else runs off the bench, takes the job, and kicks butt. Who does that? We do. I get to be a part of that. Go me. How did I get to be so lucky and blessed?
  • If there was ever a time, a reason, or a setting to believe in a higher power, it's right here and right now.
  • The more we work on our projects, the more I realize how important they are to us being here. We definitely listen to people and observe people in a way that we wouldn't have had it not been for [the projects].
  • People passing by stopped and gave their blessings and regards. People even offered MREs and to let us come and watch TV and use the internet. The Southern hospitality is definitely apparent. I'm absolutely amazed at how friendly people have been compared to California. Maybe they realize our good intentions, or maybe it's just ingrained in the culture.
  • Like always during our times of nearly complete insanity, we began to discuss things about ourselves. Mallory, Sal, Steph, Hugo, Emily, and I all talked about our first kisses and what our biggest fear was. It's remarkable how those little tidbits can tell you so much about a person and their personality.
  • Jack came around and expressed his gratitude; you could really see it in his eyes. What really meant a lot to me was he walked around and individually shook the hand of every member of our group. I think that was probably my most heartfelt thank you so far on this trip.
  • The gumbo we had tonight was amazing and perfect. Heart really went into it. You can always taste love in food.
  • I am realizing that God is real and in this city.
  • I believe that for me it's hard to get emotional to the destruction because it's not mine, but I feel emotional when I see the victims in their houses. It's just shocking.
  • Mississippi: The storm surge blew away the houses, just blew them away.
  • It was sad taking stuff out right by the couple and I could see the sadness in their faces.
  • I am watching Leo jump rope and am thinking how great a bus driver he has been and how perfectly he fits into our group.
  • (While canvassing on Magazine Street): Everyone kept saying "Anything to rebuild New Orleans." That was awesome to hear.
  • Then one of the most emotional times came tonight while at Lisa's in Destrehan where Rosie made gumbo for us and Connie and Jerry were there. It felt like family there, like we all have a bond that I can never find anywhere else.
  • I couldn't leave these people I'd known for, like, two days; there is a bond between us that is like no other. I will never forget any of them and I sincerely know that they will never forget any of us either.
  • There was so much love in that house tonight, I could feel it. It was amazing.
  • Never felt like that before with total strangers; it's just this bond that was forged by these hard times and the great people of NEW ORLEANS!
  • Today was sad too, just thinking about leaving. It's sad because we have been living here loving it for three weeks and I wasn't expecting to be that attached to camp and the people.
  • What kills me more than anything is to see that big pile in front of everyone's houses. I mean, this is their life. This is everything that they have worked for -- and to see it all washed away is so devastating.
  • I thought it would be another slow gardening day in NOLA with Parkway Partners. Little did I know that it would be the hardest manual labor day so far. It truly gives me appreciation for farmworkers and those who do this for a living.
  • What keeps me going on this adventure: the people. These people need all the hope they can get, and we provide a little bit of that for them, through the community gardens. Most people are just coming back and those who are coming to gut out their houses or deal with the contractors or insurance guys only see moldy destruction. But anytime they see the lady in the yellow hat and her kids in the rainbow bus, they find HOPE.
  • Life in New Orleans keeps flying by. I wonder if we'll ever be able to feel what it's like to live in "Southern Time" (i.e., everything slow). I doubt it; the Californians in us can't do it.
  • "This isn't work for ladies; the men should be doing this." --Miss Rosie
  • The next house we went to (Leroy Palmer's) was SO wiped out I felt like I lost a battery.
  • I'm feeling everything right now. I can feel the blood tingling at the tip of my toes. I can feel my heart beating. I can feel my lungs fill up with air and then let it out. I can feel my eyes blink, and tongue swallowing. My eyes are tearing up, and my nose is running, and I can feel ALL OF IT.
  • I see an amazing love that flows through our group. We are all carrying each other. We are all drained together and no one has yet broken the chain. . . .
  • At the end of the day we were talking to a construction worker and he told us that he was taking apart a roof on one of the houses and they found a little girl's arm in the attic. Imagine that.
  • I am truly amazed at how great the devastation is here in New Orleans four months after the storm. I honestly thought that the city would be more rebuilt than it actually is. It still feels like the storm just hit yesterday. And what trips me out is that the citizens of New Orleans even talk about the storm like it hit yesterday.
  • I find myself doing work that -- physically and emotionally – I didn't think I'd ever do, let alone be able to do.
  • I continue to amaze myself. . . our group continues to amaze me . . . and the hope and faith of the people we meet here continue to put me in a state of awe.
  • While gardening I found myself in a state of appreciation as I replanted an apricot tree.
  • It doesn't feel like I'm at Universal Studios anymore.
  • Hopefully, when I'm longing to be in New Orleans, all I'll have to do is give someone a call, open a photo album, and read through my journal. Then maybe, even if it's only for a quick second, I'll be able to hear Fernando snoring, smell fridge tea, feel my fingers pulling weeds, hear Shawny singing Amazing Grace, and maybe I'll get to experience a little piece of the love I carry for others on this trip, the moments when I saw glimpses of God reflecting in their souls, and the love I received within the group and from those we worked with.
  • I'm overwhelmed with emotions of longing to be back in New Orleans mixed with an amazement that I did what I did. I'm in awe. My smile won't leave my face. My eyes well up with tears. I love. . . I love. . . I love. . . .
  • January 4-26 = the best days of my life!
  • The boat recovery wasn't as easy as they were entailing it to be. The smells, mud, the sights were all gross but kind of cool. Today was different but it was a different challenge. That's what I liked most about today. I DID NOT LIKE THE BUGS! Mosquitoes, gnats. Hate them. Still not as much as Bermuda grass.
  • When we start gutting I get an adrenaline rush and I want to keep going and going and going. Even after dinner I wanted to take a tiled floor apart with a crow bar. People looked at me like I was crazy.
  • It's very hard for me to let things go, whether it's journals, clothes, shoes, or papers; I'm always scared I'm going to miss it. I burned almost all the clothes I brought, including a pair of shoes. Very liberating.
  • Shed first Katrina tear today.
  • When I was working with Rosie, pretty closely going through her possessions together, she kept saying, "baby, this is hopeless. I'm hopeless." And the only thing that came to my mind was the complete opposite. There are so many people that just left their homes. . . and she wants to come back!
  • "It was a preview of heaven. . . ." --Miss Rosie
  • For lunch today -- or rather, "brunch" -- we had lovely cinnamon rolls, sausage, eggs, grits and fruit. Pretty good, but I think our camp powdered eggs won out.
  • . . . [W]e soon realized that providing beauty for the people of New Orleans is just as important as gutting their houses.
  • So many times I find myself questioning if it's fair for me to be benefiting so much from this experience.
  • It hit me today and last night driving into the Hippie Camp that the city of New Orleans is still (after 5 months) in a state of chaos. People still don't know what to do. Life is clearly lived day to day.
  • Driving to the Hippie Camp, coming down from the bridge, darkness haunted the Lower Ninth Ward. It made it clear that the storm took the light out of New Orleans, physically and metaphorically.
  • I hope that everything we've done here will fully sink in. Whether at home two months later or on the plane ride home.
  • Today when we were listening to Connie LeRouge's audio, I came across her repeatedly saying that they were going to be okay. It is such a simple saying, but somehow it continually hits me the hardest.
  • I love this group of people. I love what we are doing.
  • The pics that Shawny had showed us back in December in no way conveyed the damage to this area. The live oaks that once lined the streets, one of my favorite staples of Louisiana, were all split open, pulled up out of the ground, brown. It was so disturbing.
  • The houses today flew by. The quickness with which we totally strip houses of everything that makes them a "home" is amazing and good (because we can help more people) but eerie at the same time.
  • Even if the houses do get bulldozed, the help we've given renews the owners' faith in love and kindness, which makes an hour of labor a small contribution.
  • We needed that time on the Mississippi: the river that impacted our presence here, the river that makes NOLA what it is but also brought it to its current state.
  • I know that I will never be able to go into that city again without thinking of it as one of my homes.
  • Rose was born and raised in the house, and is now 73. She was never married and, as she claims, is a "73-year-old virgin." She has a dynamic personality. She likes to "drink, smoke, and talk." As we were going through her house, I was surprised to find a pistol in one of her drawers but it definitely fits her personality.
  • I have started to realize that as our trip goes on, I am becoming more and more vulnerable.
  • How much emotion should we allow ourselves to feel when there is work that needs to be done?
  • Combine good food, a tree house, a bath "for two," and a guy named Papa Hoot and you know we're in for a good time.
  • "Time is neutral." (MLK Letter from a Birmingham Jail) This quote is significant in response to the question of why we are here. In his letter from jail, MLK comments on how change can only be created through action. Some people argue that issues such as racism, sexism, and poverty will be fixed over time, but MLK disagrees. Things won't change, conditions will not improve, things will not get unless people take the initiative to make them better. And that's why I'm here, because time is neutral. New Orleans will not improve until people take the chance to help improve the city and all of us on this trip have been called to take up that challenge.
  • One of my favorite parts of going into the French Quarter is taking the ferry across the river. However crazy and fast-paced our day is, riding the ferry is such a calming a refreshing feeling.
  • But what helps and makes all the work worth it is all the thanks and love these families give us. It really shows how we are already making a difference after only four days.
  • Everything coming out of those woods had to be either lifted above or lowered below some blown-over tree. We basically carried hundreds of pounds through an obstacle course.
  • I wonder what kind of bacteria makes fridge tea smell so bad?
  • I have never worked as hard as I did that day for a complete stranger.
  • The sadness we've seen in these past few days is the most I've ever seen, but then again so is the love we've shown each other and those we meet.
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