It is always with a certain sadness that the students approach the final workday of the week. They are tired. They have eaten (a lot of) food they are not used to. They are sleep deprived. And when you are in the Lower Ninth, one is constantly reminded of the overwhelming need for continued assistance in rebuilding.
I joined the group at our last morning meeting at lowernine.org. Emily handed out the assignments, which changed a bit. They needed six volunteers to help urban gardener and activist David Young with drywall and orchard irrigation. Yes, you read that correctly. He is setting up his home to house volunteers and those whose lives are in transition. And he needed to tie into a water source to irrigate a citrus grove, one of several groves and garden plots that he has scattered throughout the Lower Ninth. I asked for two volunteers from each van and helped ferry them across Claiborne Avenue to the hardest hit part of the neighborhood. The rest returned to their previous assignments.
I have also noticed that things seem to slow down on Fridays, and understandably so. For the most part, students are engaging in far more physical activity than normal. And there is that distraction of one’s last night in New Orleans before a 1600 mile drive back to campus. As it turned out, two of the groups were told to quit work after lunch. They went to see where the main levee break occurred and Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” homes. After our last lunch on the levee, my group continued to cut and lay tiles until three; we then started packing up supplies and equipment to take back to lowernine.org for the weekend. We took a few pictures and said goodbye to Gerald and his father, who owned the home we had been working on, and to Eileen and Liam, with whom we had
worked all week. The three guys working on the irrigation soldiered on until nearly five, coming back muddied and exhausted from breaking through a sidewalk to connect to a water source.
Before heading into the City, the groups was treated to a feast courtesy of the fried chicken chain “Raising Cane’s.” The owner is good friends with the father of one of our students. As a result, we had chicken fingers, assorted sauces, cole slaw, Texas toast, and beverages delivered to All Souls. Everyone seemed quite satisfied and, more importantly, we didn’t have to cook!
I made it in in time for the Molly’s on the Market St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which I almost always go to, even though it always comes
off lame, but with just enough goofiness to be entertaining. My favorite new (to me) unit was the Irish Zulus, who wore orange wigs, grass skirts, green or orange tights, and were in white face. I also got a shot of lowernine.org volunteer coordinator Emily who was fronting of the Muff-a-Lotta’s, another local “marching” unit.
I met the Hot Seven team at Cafe du Monde where I treated them to beignets and beverages as the reward for winning the Great French Quarter Scavenger Hunt. It was actually quite self-serving of me, as I hadn’t taken the time to eat there myself for four or five years. It was delicious, as usual.
We parted ways, as I like to give them a certain amount of space, especially on their last night. I headed over to a normally quiet bar in the Marigny, but with the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, it was rockin’. I sat at the bar and enjoyed (some of) the karaoke. Then I noticed a guy at the bar about three stools down. He
opened a leather bag that was tied to his belt and took out a three foot long boa, the snake, not the thing made with turkey feathers. He let it wrap around his hand and crawl up and his arm for a few minutes and then, with some difficulty, got it back into the bag. I’m sure my eyes expressed my surprise, but the other folks at the bar just kind of shrugged and went on drinking.
After midnight, the entire gang met back at All Souls, slept quickly, and woke up to pack; me for a weekend in the Marigny, they for the trip home. I just needed to pile my stuff in the trunk of the rental car, while they had to get ten people and assorted bags into each van. After a while, it began to take on the appearance of making sausage, so I left to explore a little bit around the Holy Cross neighborhood and then drove in to meet up with them at the St. Louis #1 Cemetery in Treme. I arrived early and walked around to
locate tombs I wanted to share with them. So, one by one, I gave tours to the three groups and sent them into the Quarter for a glorious Saturday morning and later, to catch part of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade. And because I was meeting up with a friend for the latter, we said our goodbyes and headed in different directions.
Postscript: as of this writing, all of students are safely back in New Hampshire and presumably attending class again. I’m sure there are many stories about things that happened on the return trip that I don’t know about…and probably don’t want to.