The carnival ride that can sometimes describe the first day of work went surprisingly well, especially with such a large group. I thought that they would have some trouble finding jobs for all of us or, at least, have to divide some of the travel/van groups. Instead, they put all 35 of us on two sites and the homes were less than a block apart. I think it could prove to be a very accommodating work situation for us.

Instructions on removing lead paint, May 2011.

The houses were in a new area for me – Uptown just a couple of blocks near Carrollton. Close enough to nearly see the mansions, but in other ways miles apart. The Baratarians and Los Islenos groups worked on one house, while the Zulus and the fourth UNH, led by Blair and Ryan worked on the other. And since the Zulus were short a person due to illness; I did my best to fill in.

As usual, the long-term volunteers were a pleasure to work, although they have the ability to be light-handed, while getting students to do the work that needs to done. Between the two sites, we’ll be working with Molly, Duncan, and Christina, from Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Virginia, respectively. And Molly is a recent grad from St. Anselm’s; making this the third year in a row that one of groups has worked with a long-term volunteer from that institution.

Lunch on Hickory Street, March 2011.

We unloaded ladders, plastic sheeting, paint, brushes, and other gear. Both houses have grants to be painted. Of course, the one that I didn’t choose was further along, meaning that it required minimal scraping, so the groups there spent most of the day applying primer. Ours was a double shotgun, in need of a thorough scraping before it could be primed and painted. And parts of it had been painted in led paint, which meant we had to lay plastic sheeting, spray the siding to control lead dust, and wear protective glasses, gauze masks, and latex gloves. Oh, and did I tell you that it was a sunny and humid day.

But the students were troopers. Even though local painters are not fearful of undue competition, they kept at it from shortly after nine until 4:00pm. And it was nice that the proximity enabled some visiting back and forth and the opportunity for the class and leaders to eat together. All in all, it was a tiring, but rewarding first day on the job. I suspect we’ll enjoy this situation for several days, but with so many people on the job it’s hard for me to calculate how long it will take us.

Hickory Street, March 2011.

We returned to St. Raymond’s for one of Miss Kathey’s signature meals; and she didn’t disappoint.  After a long day in the sun, we were able to enjoy homemade Salisbury steak and gravy, herbed mash potatoes, and green beans. Before we went to bed last night, I heard several students wondering aloud what would be for dinner tonight. On top of that, Bethany, the volunteer coordinator gave out group four tickets to the Hornets’ game, so that after a very scientific and equitable selection process four of our group got to attend an NBA game.

Like most cities, New Orleans can be a city of contrasts; however New Orleans embraces its textures with a considerable amount of unselfconsciousness. And this extends to the landscape and environment. The proximity of urban to the wild is taken for granted here. To highlight this, the rest of the students fought through rush hour – I-10, the Mississippi River Bridge, and increasingly busy Jefferson Parish interchanges, to go back in time and enter the Louisiana wilderness. Only ten miles from Madonna Manor is the Barataria Preserve at Jean Lafitte National Park. The bayous and prairies where Lafitte’s pirates once stashed their contraband and illegal slaves, now houses alligators and various other swamp life; and it is only 15 miles from the City. Most students got to see their first alligator and a pretty nice sunset, to boot.

Somewhat surprisingly, even after a hard day of work, most students decided against going back into New Orleans. Most were satisfied to chill out, swap stories, and rest for another work day.