Back from Louisiana...

(above, Point-aux-Chenes, LA; with apologies to Patrick...)

Just got back last Sunday afternoon from Lousiana. I spent a week-plus with a group of six (including yours-truly) from my church, working with Mennonite Disaster Service, in Bayou Point-aux-Chenes, Lousiana. This area is a low-income, largely native-American community, about an hour south of New Orleans. Our full group numbered in all about sixteen, since we partnered with another church in New Jersey, First Baptist Church of Jericho. The drive/ride was somewhat brutal - twenty-three hours straight, both ways - but very enjoyable in another way: I got to know several people, whom I like very much, better than I had before. And I woke up next to them in the morning...where else would that happen? Anyway, it was a wonderful, blessed and fulfilling experience; one which I'd repeat in a heartbeat.

A few more thoughts about the area and job...this bayou area is only about three miles as the crow flies from the gulf proper...water is all around; in fact it permeates and influences the air and atmosphere more than anything else in the area. Most mornings that week were heavy with fog and mist, which eventually burned off or blew away, but for a few hours it was thick enough to cut. Snowy and graceful great egrets were gingerly skulking around every corner...brown pelicans coasted into the bayou occasionally, like miniature, silent jets. Biting, swarming gnats were the most noticeable denizens during the day, unless breezes blew them off; when it grew cooler towards evening - about 34 F at the coolest while we were there - they were replaced by the far the more desirable of the insects, I decided. But the insects didn't deter from the ramshackle charm and allure, even, of the area. Among the broken-down, askew boats, leaning shrimp-cleaning docks, and junk piled up by the road; the jerry-rigged and tarped houses painted in garish shades of teal, bright red and greens, or more dour greys and redwood browns, a question arose. It was hard to determine which layers of disrepair or damage occurred because of Katrina or Rita, or whether this was a general disheveledness and a permanent part of the area's look, and had just been exacerbated or rearranged by the most recent storms - albeit, the worst in a long while. We got a sense that this was somewhat true...this area was a mostly neglected, native-American area; quite poor before any storms, and therefore more susceptible to what those two violent harpies doled out. So, we were there to throw in our little bit of elbow-grease and an even tinier portion of building knowledge, and do what we could to make this place better, and to show these people that not everyone had forgotten them.

The first job I worked on was in the Dulac, LA area...a house already underway in repair, but with quite a ways to go. We did drywall work; paneling, siding and other small construction work. But what a difference it seemed to make...and how wonderful and unexpected the shrimp jambalaya, white beans and sausage and king cake were, during our lunch breaks with the family! Their happiness and hope were bracing and joyful.

The second job I worked on (Thursday and Friday) was helping to construct a wheelchair ramp for a mostly-incapacitated woman, living in a trailer home that was falling apart, also in the Dulac area. We didn't quite finish it on Friday afternoon, but I was promised a picture of her rolling down it, completed, in her wheelchair.

It was a wonderful and challenging thing for me to work with people I'd only known for a few days, on a job site...but it came through beautifully. I hope that in some strange way our intermingling of black and white; female and male; young and old; Mennonite and Baptist, took some people aback, and caused them to ask; what's going on with that group? What do they have...and why are they traveling together? Perhaps just our being together as a group made a difference in people's minds, in our long trip through LA, MS, AL, TN, VA, NJ and finally PA.

Just a thought or two about New Orleans...we were able to stroll around and visit the French Quarter the Sunday morning we drove down. It was my first time in the Big Easy, and I have to admit I was least with the largely-undevastated French Quarter. It was an idyllic spring-like morning, with warm zephyrs (look it up) skimming through the beautiful tropical plants in the square we were parked near. Just like a blessed April morning in PA. The breakfast at Cafe du Monde helped lift my spirits, and the architecture was absolutely wonderful; picturesque. Of course, this is not ALL of New Orleans, and we saw the terrible devastation coming in and leaving N.O...the neighborhoods that looked like they hadn't been stepped in since September: brick walls broken down; trees laying like toothpicks on the ground, cars overturned and encrusted with several months worth of salt, pollution and filth...a general film of despair seemed to overlay these places. But here and there, even to this unfamiliarized eye, changes could be seen...things spruced up; people working; machines running; trash being hauled away; walls being uprighted...

It brought back to me a mindset that I'd almost succumbed to before encountering the city of New Orleans...the defeatist attitude of, "why bother rebuilding New Orleans?" Isn't it a waste of money, time and resources? After finally seeing and breathing New Orleans, I realized how selfish, and foolishly subjective this viewpoint was...fallacious, even, I'd add. What did it matter now whether or not this city's original founder in the 17th century had been warned away from building below the level of a lake by his engineers? Of what import was this to the thousands of people to whom this city had been home for years; generations? This city to which they'd pledged allegiance in many ways; a city which they loved and lived in; invested in? These thoughts of whether or not a city should be rebuilt suddenly seemed selfish and self-centered...what did it really matter how or whether rebuilding would benefit me, or the country in general? That ultimately doesn't matter...what matters is whether those who once made up this tenuous web of connections that a city is, think it worthy of repair, and return...if they believe in it still, then so should I. Yes, a city is even more than just a bunch of people living in one is a mindset; a philosophy...a psychological cement found in between all the bricks and the brains, that keeps people believing and belonging. And this is what was calling out to me for recognization...not a bottom-line, capitalistic, is-it-a-good-investment, defeatist attitude. And so I threw in my "two cents;" bought a coffee and chicory, a bag of three beignets, and a balloon sculpture from a clown on the corner...

Back to the studio this week...

benvolta  – (Monday, 23 January, 2006)  

good words..... miss you man

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