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!!

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