Thursday, January 29, 2009

Day 16: Monday, January 26, 2009

Our last full day in NOLA began with Mr. Ken picking us up to take us to Deanne Aimee and her partner Jean’s house. Deanne has been an RN for 50 years and has been an ordained interfaith minister since 1987. We were welcomed into their space by their puppy Molly, and offered coffee and our sixth King Cake. After finishing a delicious breakfast, we retreated into Deanne’s sanctuary which includes relics from all different religions.

After living in the same room for two weeks, it’s no surprise that 12 women would encounter some tension. Deanne reminded us that tension is vital to life and opens up creative streams of expression. Like most of our trip, we found ourselves at the right place at the right time. Deanne helped us work through some of our conflict and helped us see that our minor problems mirror the larger problems going on in New Orleans right now.

We finished our time with Deanne by writing our dreams, wishes, fears and nightmares on paper and dropping them through her giant dream catcher. We used our last five minutes to drum, which Deanne explained is a powerful healing and centering exercise. Drumming is also a great way to release anger and anxiety. We are so blessed to have met Deanne and to be welcomed into her sanctuary.

We had some free time before dinner for everyone to finish souvenir shopping and visiting their favorite locations one last time. Cynthia instructed us to meet at the Gumbo Shop at 6:30 for the final New Orleans supper, and to be dressed in “NOLA fabulous” threads. Everyone showed up wearing their favorite new shirt, boas, Mardi Gras beads and masks.

At dinner we passed around “the heart of New Orleans,” a small, porcelain heart that Cynthia purchased so that we could take a piece of NOLA with us. She asked us each to say what gifts the city has given us, giving us a chance to reflect on our collective experiences.
For our last night in the city, we had an interview with Glen David Andrews and Paul Sanchez at d.b.a. on Frenchman. They spoke about the importance of traditional music in New Orleans pre and post- Katrina. They happily took pictures with us and signed CDs. Glen’s show was high-energy and exhausting. Eight of us made it to the end of his second set, and dragged our feet home tired but happy to have spent our last night with each other enjoying some fabulous New Orleans jazz.

Day 15: Sunday, January 25, 2009

Today was an AMAZING day for the whole group. As we woke up and got ready in our finest clothing, we got picked up at 11:00am to attend church. We made our way to Saint John’s #5 Faith Church located in the 7th ward, with the service given by Pastor Bruce Davenport. Speaking for everyone this was the most memorable, soulful, appreciative and welcoming church most of us have ever attended.

During the service Pastor Bruce asked Cynthia to stand and say a little bit of what were doing here in New Orleans. She told him how we were taking a class called Race, Class and Gender in Post-Katrina New Orleans and all of us were from Saint Mary’s College. He asked all of us to stand so that we could say our names and anything else we wanted to express about ourselves. The one rule they told us is that once we were introduced we would always be a part of St. John’s Church. We were not the only ones who had to do this so it kind of took the pressure off!

While Pastor Bruce continued on with his service he spoke on how if you do the right thing, the right thing will follow. To make in impact in New Orleans we must help be advocates and set long-term goals because this won’t be fixed with a band-aid. We have to realize that we must look from in the inside out, and don’t judge on skin color but that we ALL have the same heart. God touches people all over the world, and according to Pastor Bruce, He sent a message to all of us from SMC in order to be there today!

After the service we were given hugs all around from many of the members of the church and they said thank you for coming and joining. We appreciate them all so much for welcoming us with open arms and having us today. While most members went home after the service, we stayed after to talk with Pastor Bruce and his wife, Deborah Davenport.

The two talked about the key issues that are going on in the 7th ward and how people like us could help. They told us how they stayed in the church until they were forced to leave during Hurricane Katrina and how they were the first church back up and running in New Orleans as soon as they could get back into the neighborhood. St. John’s church opened so quickly after the hurricane because they needed to help those who went there for situations such as teen pregnancy, gang violence, drugs, STDs, and other serious issues. Cynthia asked the question, "What would you ask of our new president in terms of resources for the 7th Ward?" Their main concern was affordable housing for those who used to live in the 7th Ward St. Bernard Parish public housing projects. Many people who used to live in the property across the street from the church moved to Texas and were give section 8 vouchers in order to have affordable homes.  However, now these same people are told they cannot use those vouchers if they are to come back to their homes in New Orleans. The new homes will now be too expensive for them to come back to and the problems are still there. Further, while the St. Bernard Parish public housing project buildings were completely intact after Katrina, they were recently demolished, displacing thousands of additional New Orleanians.

When asked what he wanted us to tell people when we came back home, he asked for us to let people know that New Orleans is a long way from being restored and to volunteer to work for smaller grassroots organizations. Not that organizations like the Red Cross aren’t helping, but smaller ones are the ones that are actually connected with the people and since they talk with the people who are in need, they know what they really want. "New Orleans will tell you what it needs; you can’t prescribe it with your own medicine," he told us.

After church some of us went off to go shopping while Cynthia, Melissa, Stephanie, and Dora met up with a woman named Ms. Barbara Jacques who they all met last Tuesday on Obama’s Inauguration Day. Ms. Barabara, who is 63 years old, shared her childhood experiences with them and told them how she lived in an orphanage until she was 8 years old. She shared her thoughts about New Orleans in its present state and how she believes the new President will initiate a change not only for the city, but for the entire country. She recalled her thoughts before Hurricane Katrina and how she was hesitant to leave New Orleans. Luckily she evacuated before the storm and drove off with her son to Atlanta, Georgia. After the storm she described living in a FEMA trailer where she got extremely ill due to the formaldehyde. As a result of the conditions, she now stays with her daughter who also lives in New Orleans. Despite the hardships she’s faced and is still going through, Ms. Barbara continues her life with a positive attitude, reassuring us that everything will be okay despite the fact that she is still displaced from her home 3 1/2 years after Hurricane Katrina.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 14: Saturday, January 24, 2009

Today is Saturday and after a long week of interviews and working we were all glad for the opportunity to sleep in. Not only did we get to sleep in but we had the entire day to do what we pleased. After sleeping in we all split into small groups but most of us headed into the French Quarter. Alisha, Michele, Nikki, and Roxanne went into Jackson Square to look for hot sauce for Michele’s dad and buy the vouchers for the Vampire tour that eight of us would take later that night. Many of the other girls spent the day in the Quarter as well getting custom T-shirts made at a local shop.

Stephanie, Anne, and Scarlett, like many who come to New Orleans, spent the afternoon in Jackson Square getting their tarot cards read. The woman did their astrological charts and read their tarot cards giving them a little insight into the future!!

After pizza dinner at the hostel eight of us—Cynthia, Nikki, Alisha, Roxanne, Michele, Melissa, Stephanie F. and Keelia—got on the streetcar and headed toward Jackson Square for our Vampire Tour. In the usual New Orleans fashion, we were late. Apparently our streetcar driver was hungry because after sitting on the streetcar without moving for a while we noticed that the driver was no longer on the streetcar. Instead, he had crossed the street and gone into the Burger King to pick up some dinner. We couldn’t blame the guy for being hungry but we had to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Although the Vampire tour guides were less than thrilled that we were five minutes late, they split the large group into two and we were on our way. It was a perfect night for a vampire tour—dark, rainy, foggy, and cold! We lucked out because our tour guide turned out to be the author of the book New Orleans Ghosts, Voodoo, and Vampires, Kalila Katherina Smith. She took us all around the French Quarter pointing out certain houses where police reports suggest vampire crimes had been committed. She showed us building where scenes from the film Interview with a Vampire had been filmed and told us about Vampire mythology. At the end of the tour she left us with a spooky thought. She told us that while she never said that vampires do exist, she never said that they didn’t…

Before we left Michele, Roxanne, and Nikki purchased a copy of her book and Kalila signed it. Cynthia took the chance to ask about two individuals dressed as vampires that had been standing near the tour group before we started. We had all assumed that they were part of the tour. It turns out we were wrong. Kalila said that they are part of a group of vampire life-stylers who are moving back into New Orleans. These people aren’t just playing dress-up. This is their life. Kalila wouldn’t go into detail but suffice it to say we were thoroughly creeped out!!

That night Kermit Ruffins was supposed to be playing at a bar on Frenchmen called the Blue Nile. Much to our surprise, he was nowhere to be found. Turns out Kermit’s wife told him he could not play that night because it was her birthday, so he didn’t—smart man. Instead, Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief Monk Boudreaux was performing. It was his last performance of the season before he retired that particular suit in preparation for the upcoming Mardi Gras season.
To our surprise, at the beginning of the night a man came out on stage and said ‘We have some guests here from California’ and proceeded to dedicate his song, “Laid Back,” to our group and sing it to us.

Next, Chief Monk Boudreaux came onstage to perform. He sang and played the tambourine dressed in his bright pink suit. According to Cherice Harrison Nelson, a woman who makes the Mardi Gras Indian suits, all of the suits are handmade. They do all of the beading and sewing by hand. At the end of Mardi Gras they start making the suits for the next year—that is how intricate they are.

All of the girls were thrilled to see musician Glenn David Andrews who had been in the film "Faubourg Treme" and who we had seen perform at Tipitina's on Monday night. Upon seeing our group, Glenn came right up and started dancing with the girls and having a great time. It was another night to remember in New Orleans!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Day 13: Friday, January 23, 2009

We woke up early this morning to finish the work at Jean’s house. All that was left was to box up the files in her husband’s studio, finish cleaning out the attic, box up the rest of the books for donation, and take an inventory of the rest.

After we were done, Cynthia treated us to lunch at the Eat Well grocery down the street. We had Vietnamese food and Po’ Boys. While there we discussed our plans to keep working on the class video project. We split up into teams and assigned various important areas of the city left to be filmed. Also, we each began to think about what we wanted to say, personally, in front of the camera.

We hurried back to the hostel because we were meeting with a woman, Marlo Bouvier Stevens, who had agreed to show us her house down the street from India Hostel and tell us her Hurricane Katrina story. We walked down a few blocks to the property where her office stood. She owned several properties all near the office, and all which were damaged in the storm. Upon arriving we were introduced to Jocelyn Sideco, who is the founder of Contemplatives in Action, a small Catholic non-profit providing relief and hospitality to those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Jocelyn explained her motivations for being in New Orleans. Living in Milwaukee as a minister at Marquette University, Jocelyn was inspired to come to New Orleans and minister after a student opened her eyes to the needs of those residents affected by the hurricane.

Jocelyn wanted to impress upon us that the hurricane affected everyone in New Orleans—black, white, rich, and poor. However, she said that it was those who were most vulnerable who suffered, and continue to suffer, the most. As the poorest state in the nation, Louisiana can use all of the help it can get. Their biggest fear is being forgotten. Jocelyn told us that helping out isn’t rocket science. You don’t need a degree to make a difference. Instead, she encouraged us to utilize our network systems to spread the word about New Orleans.

Next, Marlo sat down to tell us her story. As a registered nurse, when the call to evacuate came to New Orleans, Marlo and her two sons decided to stay. She told us, “I’m a nurse. The Lord God wanted me to stay. I’m going down with the ship.” On the night of the actual Hurricane, Marlo stayed by herself in her house. Her son, Santo, was in his house next door and her son Rasta at his a few blocks away. The night of the Hurricane, Marlo was amazed at God’s power as he ripped trees up from the earth and shingles off the roof. Waking up the next morning, Marlo and her sons laughed at the fact that the entire city evacuated for a storm that turned out to be so minor. However, the true storm had yet to be weathered.

Marlo noticed water in the street that morning, something that did not occur often but did not seem like a reason to worry. Soon, however, the water began to rise. First it was at the driveway; next it was halfway up the lawn. Suddenly, her son Rasta called her on the phone and told her that there was a car floating by his house and he was about to swim to safety. Then the phone cut out. What was going on?

The water outside Marlo’s house was rising quickly, she figured that the bayou must have overflowed because there was no electricity and news or radio to let her know that the levees had broken. As the water was rising, Santo joined Marlo at her house with some supplies. Knowing that she couldn’t swim he brought a duffle bag with beach balls just in case. Afraid they would be trapped in the house, Marlo and Santo put on the life preservers and waded into the water and headed next door to a three-story house. At this point the water was up to Marlo’s chest. Santo broke into the house and they went to the top floor where they would spend that night hoping the water wouldn’t continue to rise.
The next morning Santo climbed onto the roof and saw that the water was at least eight feet high across the entire neighborhood. He called out saying, “This is Santo, is anyone out there?” Three different neighbors called out to him letting him know that they were alright. Later that morning a rescue boat finally came by to rescue Marlo, her son and their neighbors. Travelling through the city, they took in the magnitude of the disaster. New Orleans was like a lake and there were people hanging out of second- and third- story windows calling out for help.
Marlo and hundreds of others ended up spending two days and two nights on a freeway overpass. Despite the 105-degree heat, no one bothered to bring them any food or water even though they saw them from the helicopters flying overhead. Thankfully, Marlo used her skills as a nurse to help those in need. One thing Marlo learned during the storm is not to judge people by the way they look. Despite what people may think about them it was the young people, “thugs” who stepped up to help out when the people needed them the most. They waded through the flood to bring back food and water to starving babies and refugees and carried the elderly on their backs through miles of flooded city streets to bring them to safety.

After the storm Marlo moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. She could not come back to New Orleans. It angered her son Rasta, greatly, that she seemed to be abandoning her city when it needed her the most, but she needed the time to fix herself before she could fix others.

Three years after the storm Marlo is back in New Orleans. Although she says she will never be able to live here again, she wants to help Contemplatives in Action (CIA) by donating the properties she owned. As donations come in, these properties will be transformed into volunteer housing. Also, Marlo is in the process of writing a book, Blind Faith, Can you Trust Me in a Storm? A Hurricane Katrina Survivor’s Story. In addition to be a way for her to heal and educate others, all profits from her book will go to CIA and the volunteer housing project.

Despite everything she has been through, Marlo’s incredible faith in God has helped keep her optimism and spirit alive. She told our class that we are the next generation and that the future truly lies in our hands. We are so thankful to have heard her story. Marlo is truly an inspiration and I am sure her story will remain with us forever.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Day 12: Thursday, January 22, 2009: "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood"

Let’s start off by saying that today was a fabulous day. The sun was up and we were able to sleep-in! Compared to yesterdays 50 degree weather the 65 degrees that the sun radiated was almost a god-sent. The t-shirts that were buried in our luggage were finally put to good use and the flips that were gathering dust finally saw the light of day! We were so grateful, it has been far too long of icy winds and long sleeved shirts, our day began and ended with big smiles.

So considering that we had so much free time in the morning before we embarked on our journey through New Orleans, or pronounced correctly as N’awlins, some girls decided to treat themselves with some lunch. At 2 o’clock we were picked up (a luxury compared to the streetcars we run after daily) by our knowledgeable tour guide Mr. Ken! He started down Canal Street and proceeded towards Congo Square, which was considered “outside the city”. The significance of the areas “outside the city” was that in the past musicians were not able to play their music in the French Quarters therefore starting their own style of music called jazz.

One of the destinations was the 9th Ward, where jazz was born. While we were in the Musican Village we came across the 75 year old legendary drummer Smokey Johnson, he played with Fats Domino at the ripe age of 16. He is Mr. Ken’s father in-law too. Professor Ganote was ecstatic to meet the individual who influenced her fathers’ musical taste. His house was definitely an interesting site. Also while in the area we did pass by Fats Dominos’ house as well. The Tipitina Foundation was funding the rebuild of Domino’s house and the surrounding area since Katrina. It was extremely pleasant to be around New Orleans history. Music is their history, and these individuals contributed to the richness and life it holds.

Entering into the 9th Ward was a stark contrast to the rest of New Orleans. It seemed as if we entered into a whole different world, which looked as if it had just been abandoned. Houses were left in ruin and it was scary considering it looked like Katrina had just passed through. The neighborhoods were destroyed and street signs still looked like crumbled aluminum. Senior citizen centers were used as morgues because authorities had to use the only large space available to hold the growing number of the deceased. Homes that looked unsafe to live in seemed to be inhabited by their owners. Mr. Kent described how the houses needed to be raised so that they can withstand the flooding possibilities. The lower 9th Ward is on the other side of the levee and it is easily seen that it is below sea level. You can only imagine the amount of water that flooded the area once the levees broke, a complete disaster. There is a memorial piece entering into the 9th Ward that was represents how much the water had risen. The tallest blue pole was 20 feet which was the symbol of how much water the 9th Ward was under. 20 feet!

Fortunately there have been efforts amongst some of the elite to rebuild. And there is a difference in construction that will be beneficial when another storm does come through. The Make it Right Foundation , a foundation Brad Pitt and his family created, are pulling together with experts to rebuild the lower 9th Ward. According to Mr. Ken the houses survived and proved to be a successful effort when the latest storm, Hurricane Gustav, did not affect the houses as Katrina had done.

Today was an extremely emotional day. As a group, seeing the most affected areas that had been destroyed by Katrina was important to us to fully understand the devastation that had happened to this city and its people. On the other side of the Mississippi it looked as if it had recovered well, but only to those who dig deeper into the real concerns of New Orleanians will they discover how “unfair” the situation continues to be. Now we are able to completely grasp how much New Orleans needs her prescription and educating ourselves and others with these images is a step to her recovery.
After coming back to the hostel some us decided to take time for ourselves. Before dinner started some went to Rite Aid and others walked down Canal to Angelo Brocato's Italian Ice Cream Parlor for some Italian gelato. Yummy! So all in all the sun blessed us with a good day and we hope for more warm weather to grace us with her presence!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day 11: Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sleep in day!!! It was amazing, once again we had the privilege to sleep in. Our class met at Tulane to discuss finishing work at Jean’s house and other aspects of our trip as closing days approach. Prior to arrival in New Orleans, each student individually chose topics of interest to gain ethnographic and participant observation for a final research paper. Using our own scholarly research and reflective experiences, the paper addresses our driving question that has formed or changed throughout the trip. Before concluding this class meeting we discussed how Sandrine’s Letters to Tomorrow by Dedra Johnson relates to New Orleans’ race and gender inequalities. We talked about the major themes that were found in the book such as patriarchy, oppression, strength and sexuality of women and the portrayal of systemic child rearing.

At 4:00pm we made our way next door to Loyola College of New Orleans for a “mixer”. We got the opportunity to meet with the women’s resource center in which we were greeted by people in that department ready to share their personal experiences, information and involvement in social justice. They were nice enough to serve us delicious goodies and treats, a nice change from our hostel kitchen. As we sat in a circle we all went around and introduced ourselves, our major, and most importantly our main focus of interest in New Orleans in which our feminist ethnographies will be based. The hosts listened to our ideas and enlightened us with more information on New Orleans post Katrina that will strengthen our research papers. This was a really a helpful opportunity to meet such great people willing to share their varying point of views. They truly accepted us as a group and helped us paint a bigger picture of day to day life in post Katrina NOLA.

After our long day at Loyola and Tulane we made our way back to the hostel where we greeted with spaghetti and meatballs, salad and garlic bread. YUMMY! Before bed, most of us are just going to relax and work on our research papers.

Day 10: Tuesday, January 20, 2009...Bye Bye Bush!!

Today was inauguration day and in Cynthia’s words, a day of “collective joy.” After having seen firsthand many of the atrocities done to the city by the United States government (not to mention the state and local governments), celebrating this historic day in New Orleans was perfect for our class. We started the day by gearing up in Obama threads and heading to the Ashe Cultural Center in uptown.

We met many wonderful people, all ecstatic for the exchange of power. One woman told me when we heard the “Star Spangled Banner” that she couldn’t remember when the last time she wanted to sing that song and that “the whole world just changed.” Tears and cheers erupted as Obama took the presidential oath and it was announced that Bush’s presidency had expired and he would soon be flown back to Texas.

We saw some great T-shirts, but by far our favorite was worn by a handsome young man, which said “I like my president like my coffee: strong and black.” Having just turned 18, this was his first time voting.

The best part of the event was that people of all races and walks of life came together to celebrate a step in the right direction and a hopeful new outlook.

For several of us, the celebration continued across the street at CafĂ© Reconcile, an extension of Reconcile New Orleans which serves to get underprivileged teens and young adults into the workforce. The staff was clearly in Obama mode as they all wore matching Barack shirts that said “Progress.” They served a special inauguration menu which included some of the best apple pie we’ve ever tasted and which we subsequently coined “Bomb-A** Obama apple pie.” It felt great to enjoy the moment with other young people and to help a program that does so much for the youth of the city.

After our morning of celebration, the group split up to celebrate Obama Day in their own way. We grouped up later in the evening to join the Obama celebration at Tipitina’s in uptown. We watched the performances of three amazing jazz and brass bands (Hot 8 Brass Band, Soul Rebels, and Shamarr Allen and the UnderDawgs). The bands captivated the audience by getting us to shout “O-BAMA!!” many times during the night. It was a late night, but it was a wonderful way to celebrate the inauguration of our nation’s first African-American president.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Day 9: Monday, January 19, 2009 (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

This morning we woke up to beautiful weather on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We ate some breakfast, packed some lunches, and headed over to Congo Square in the 6th ward, a district known as Faubourg Treme. When we got to Congo Square a man rode up on his wheelchair and stated that, ‘after seeing all the beauty here I want to recite a poem’. He then improvised such a beautiful poem that it moved many of us to tears. The first part of his poem was, “This place is because of love and because of strength, and I’m not lookin’ at the color of your skin, I’m lookin’ at the heart that makes me win”.

From there we turned the corner and immediately saw a huge gathering of people and heard Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” echoing through the air. We then realized the song was coming from a tiny 8-year-old girl and she was amazing.

The group then drifted over to the back of the park where dozens of school groups were preparing for their parade. Several bands, cheer teams, dance crews, and some political groups marched through the 6th ward, 7th ward, and Mid-City until we arrived at the Superdome.

Once at the Superdome we heard several inspirational speakers. Mia-X was a woman who was born and raised in New Orleans. She spoke about the struggles she endured as a young woman and how education was the most important thing to achieve. Rev. David Abernathy III, a man who intimately knew Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was arrested at age 7 for participating in a Civil Rights march, spoke about the progress from Civil Rights to having a Black president. Ahn “Joseph” Cao, the first Vietnamese Congressman in America and New Orleans’s Congressman spoke about diversity and the change that will be coming to the younger generation.

After a long emotional day, we were ready for some fun! After some nap and chill time, we left for a music club called Tipitina's to hear some jazz music. The bands were varied and showed many different styles. The first band played rock, folk, and jazz while the main artists, Glen David Andrews and his band, played more jazz and gospel music.

The event was very fun and entertaining. At the end of the night we quickly fell asleep, looking forward to the festivities in the morning.