After ten years of doing this, some rather strong patterns emerge. That is not suggest to the group any one year is like that of any other. However, once mid-week arrives a sort of funk surfaces. The adrenaline of the trip and an action-packed Sunday has worn off. The realization work in the service others is not glamorous nor worthy of decoration. And perhaps, the most important, this long strange journey is halfway over. Then it’s back to Durham, NH and the resolution of this current semester.
Tuesday is the the precursor to this realization. Trip participants are free from the first day jitters, the uncertainty, and the awareness that you are taking directions from someone you never met until 10 minutes earlier. By Tuesday, students feel more comfortable and sometimes, perhaps too comfortable. You can become too sure of yourself, discover workarounds, or that nice shady spot to retire to when it gets hot.
In addition, Tuesday brought some minor changes to assignments as one group moved to a nearly finished house on Delery Street to prep and paint trim and porch railings. The rest of class continued scraping and painting on Flood Street and roofing on the lowernine.org house.
The class ordered poboys, muffalottas, and other fare from the Arabi Grocery for a picnic at the Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the Battle of New Orleans (January 8, 1815). The food and weather were both glorious. After work that afternoon, the students visited the hardest hit part of the Lower Ninth, where blocks of homes were swept away by the massive breach in the levee on the Industrial Canal. In spite of the collection of colorful and innovative homes build by Brad Pitt’s foundation, among others, an increased reality of what took place in this area was sobering; and it helped the students connect viscerally with why they are here.
Wednesday brought some more changes to work assignments, as part of the roofing crew moved to work with David Young, founder of Capstone, which grows fruit and vegetables, raises animals, and produces honey on vacant lots in the Lower Ninth. Its products help connect residents of this “food desert,” where there is not a supermarket within miles, with fresh healthy food. They worked making minor repairs, mowing vacant lots, and fashioning a filtration for aquaculture. The other groups worked on their ongoing projects.
While their day was beginning, I took one of my student to meet with Dr. Emilie Leumas, Director of the Office of Archives and Records for the Archdiocese. She gave us a tour of the historic Ursuline Convent and the St Louis Cathedral; the information she provided us, as well as a videotaped interview, should provide my student with plenty of information for her video project on the history and cultural significance of the cathedral. And it provided me with a chance to see and experience things I had never seen in all of my visits to the Crescent City.
After work and and a good washing, the UNH crew reconvened at Laura Paul, the Director of lowernine.org, for the volunteer cookout. In addition to enabling students to meet homeowners and be swarmed by neighborhood children from this historic Holy Cross district of the Lower Ninth, it provided them culinary treats, as well. Chuck, a long-time volunteer, cooked up a cooler full of the largest crawfish I have ever see. He rounded out the boil with potatoes, corn, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and an artichoke. And if that were not enough, the person on the grill was Stan Hays, a “Chopped Grill Masters” finalist and co-founder of Operation BBQ Relief, which has provided over 35,000 meals in norther. Louisiana in the past week. Even after chowing down on the crawfish boil, the assembly laid waste to burgers, hotdogs, and some amazing barbecued chicken. A passing thunderstorm passed to our north as we enjoyed a warm, humid convivial evening just blocks from the Mississippi.
It was a good day.