“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn…” –Jack Kerouac

Bead work from Mardi Gras Indian outfit, House of Dance and Feathers, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2012

Looking back to the weeks before my first trip to New Orleans, I remember being nervous and wondering what to expect from a city known for its indescribable culture. After spending one day in the city, I was hooked. Our first day experiencing New Orleans as a class helped me to understand the spirit and culture of the city that Bill had been trying to describe to us for the first half of the semester.


Our first full day in New Orleans, we started off by heading to the Lower Ninth Ward to visit Ronald Lewis at The House of Dance and Feathers, the museum located behind his house. The bright colors from the Mardi Gras Indian costumes filling the room made it difficult to look away. Each costume was created with beautiful beadwork and details. It is one thing to see them in photographs or videos but it is a completely different story to see them in person.

Lower Ninth Ward, March 2006

Once everybody had settled into the museum, Ronald shared some of his experiences with Hurricane Katrina. While I had heard a lot about Katrina before visiting New Orleans, I didn’t truly understand how it affected the city and her people until hearing Ronald talk about his experiences. He helped me to understand the depth at which the people of the city were affected. One thing he said really stuck with me. When asked about the response to Katrina and the progress that has been made over the past few years he said, “It not the hot story, but it’s an ongoing story”. This was a really great thing to hear right before we started our work with Habitat for Humanity. Living in a world filled with daily disasters and news stories, it is hard to remember that the problems that occur from these events persist long after the hype goes down and volunteering is not longer the popular thing to do. This concept resonated with me and was something I carried with me as I volunteered and hope to remember now that I am back home and far away from the damage of Katrina and the people of New Orleans. So often people jump on the bandwagon to support issues but forget about them shortly afterwards. It makes sense, but it is a shame.

New homes, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2012. Gabby Chesney.


After having spent a little time in New Orleans, I know I won’t forget. I am excited to explore ways I can get involved and support the amazing and spirited people affected by Katrina from a distance. Ronald’s words were inspiring and so truthful. His spirit and passion were contagious. I love people like that, those are the ones who stick with you and change your outlook. 
 
I think many of the people I met in New Orleans embody this spirit. A city is nothing without the people who fill it. The people of New Orleans, so filled with the spirit of life and music and resilience, are the heartbeat of the city. Throughout the week we heard stories of people who suffered greatly after Katrina but returned to the city with a strong spirit and sense of hope.

Gabby and Ronald, House of Dance and Feathers, March 2012. Gabby Chesney.

Those are the stories that made the week we spent amazing. Without the people, New Orleans would just be a picturesque city by the water. Once you add these eclectic and passionate people, you have a place that is impossible to forget and sure to change you in one way or another. 

–Gabby Chesney–
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