Monday, March 31, 2008

The last blog

I forgot to write my name. The blog entitled 'second year' was written by Jen Piller.

My second year

This year was an entirely different experience from last year. Last year I felt like and worker bee and this year I felt like a sponge. As I am still processing everything that I have learned from the trip and my peers, I now have a better understanding of what happened, how it happened and speculations into why it happened. I had the opportunity to speak listen to Tanya' story, the director of ACORN in New Orleans. She was a resident in the Lower 9, as they say down in New Orleans. Her story, her courage and her motivation to get the Lower 9 back on its feet was more than inspirational about the devastation, it gave hope to all that was there to listen to her. She told us that volunteers in a big catastophe is something special, it is as if there is a common thread that unites the human spirit into doing miraculous things, for example we all are working for the greater good by helping srtrangers and those effected by Katrina. Even our presence there, and those of other colleges are hope and optimism in itself. I had heard that before last year and it really rings true. Service learning is not about spending your spring break down in a city you are unfamiliar with, it is about helping people, learning from them, having them help you and to keep something that builds us together concrete. I will tell stories of those down in New Orleans and let people know it is not fixed or settled. I will try and explain the causes to better understand the situation, as the media has its own priority and agenda that revolves around money and what sells. Oh so exciting. It feels like we are up against a wall, yet together as a community, not just down in New Orleans, we can better the human spirit in people and find connections in one another. That will help our world succeed and get out of destructive messes.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thoughts on Katrina

We returned from New Orleans yesterday. I've been talking to family members about my trip and I've been realizing some of the things that really stuck out to me.
It was amazing to get to do so many projects with Hands On. Neighborhood clean-up, painting murals to go into a high school, working with elementary school kids, and so on. Throughout the trip, the people I talked to in New Orleans felt that the volunteers gave them a lot of hope. They talked about how even though there are many things that separate us, people coming down to try to help the community and learn more about the problems they face gave them a lot of hope.
The biggest thing I feel I learned on the trip is how incredibly complicated Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is. When I got down there, I got the sense that everyone was searching to pinpoint the answer or the cause of why it happened. It happened because the levees were faulty or because global warming is creating stronger hurricanes, etc. I do not believe there is any one cause, rather it was a multitude of problems working together to create one massive one. In some ways this feels completely overwhelming. But at the same time, I think it gave me hope. If everyone works on their own part of the problem, specializes in that and works together with others, I think a lot can get done. For example, we saw a large homeless population living under a bridge when we were down there. So if someone is really interested in issues of homelessness, they would be helping New Orleans. Katrina obviously had many ties to racial and class discrimination, so work to help fight discrimination would help New Orleans. The school we went to needed more teachers, so helping children would help. And so on and so forth... I really began to think that as long as people are doing something to help the problem, it's really all the same battle. And that gave me a lot of hope.
There are a lot of things that I don't think I'll forget (and I hope not to). People talking about friends they lost, the kids at the elementary school we worked at, and especially the lower ninth ward. Overall, I feel fortunate that I could go to New Orleans to help out and to learn new things about something I didn't know very much about going into.

-Anne L.
(Hands On)

super powers, life, etc...

It's Sunday evening now; I'm back in Minnesota but I left my mind (and heart) in Louisiana. I've been thinking about all the people (from Hamline and otherwise) that I got to know, about the weather, about the work we did, about everything. But I've been struggling to transform the magnitude of my thoughts into a form that other people can understand. If I could choose to have one super-power, I would want my eyes to be a camera/video camera that is constantly documenting and recording how I perceive the world so that I could present my feelings in the form of a movie or a picture...

But anyway, I had a really powerful experience this past week in New Orleans. I'm fascinated by the concept of unity, and I think it's awesome that everyone got together and made the best his or her time. Although it is hard to tell our friends and family the intricacies of our story  - we can at least communicate how important it was to have had this experience at all.

We are young, young people. But it will not always be that way. Life can change on a dime, and I think all of us have seen that this past week.

I'm not sure when to stop writing because I could type out random thoughts for hours probably...but I know that I want to end by saying thank you to everybody who went on this trip for being so awesome. I don't think a group of people has ever kept me smiling/laughing/thinking as much as you guys did!

thanks, enjoy the time back at home
- Randa S.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Levee Tour

On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to go an look at the levee with Professor Steven Nelson from Tulane University here in New Orleans. In addition to teaching classes, Professor Nelson has conducted independent research on why the levees failed, and what needs to be done to prevent such a catastrophe in the future. The tour started in the Ninth Ward, where the levees broke in two spots. He explained some architectural and geological considerations that go into building levees, and was very informative. From there we drove over to Lake Ponchetrain and he explained more about how the effects of storm surge can be prevented, and how the Gulf Coast is severely environmentally damaged. We also viewed a portions of the levee deemed to be most structurally at-risk, and a portion of the canal by the city park that has no levee and was allowed to flood. The tour answered some questions about the science and politics that make the levee systems work and/or fail. It also made me think about many different things related to Katrina such as natural disasters in general, responsibility, and human error, to name a few.
What struck me most about Professor Nelson's talk was how preventable this disaster was. Before this, I thought that a disaster like Katrina was bound to happen, that it was just a matter of time. Mother Nature would overcome all our human engineering. However, it is totally preventable, and if only those responsible for the building the levees had not taken so many shortcuts, and done a more thorough job researching the best way to build it, we would not see the mass devastation that we do now. Obviously I can't explain it here, but if you want to learn more I recommend going to Professor Nelson's webpage devoted to his research on Katrina. It saddens me to think of the price the people of New Orleans are paying for the lazy mistakes made by the engineers and politicians responsible for the construction of the faulty levees.
What saddens me even more is the fact that steps are not being taken to improve the entire levee. As it is, it is only being repaired in the places that it failed. In those places, it has been redone using better levee building methods. However, the rest of the levee is of the same old second-rate design that killed hundreds of people, and thousands more homeless. People, when will we learn from our mistakes?

Tyler Anderson

this is what it feels like

I haven't told anyone else yet, but my group will probably hear about it in time. I had a dream last night that I felt was really induced by what I've seen here in New Orleans, so I would like to share it.

I dreamed that I came back to my house in Minnesota and there was a large hole in our roof. Snow was falling in our living room, and I wanted to know what had caused the damage. My dad told me that the city goverment had come to our house and planted a tree in our yard. The tree had fallen on our house shortly afterwards. My dad said that the city goverment wanted the tree to fall on us so we would move. I was outraged and couldn't understand why anyone would purposely try to do that to us. My dad said it was because of who we were.

The city goverment, the mayor, and the army corps of engineers, because of reasons of their own, helped to worsen the tragedy in New Orleans. Buracracy and politics ruined the lives of thousand of people. It's sad that we call this humanity. I hope that future leaders can learn from this experience, because there is no reason why this should ever happen again.


"And to the republic..."

The trip has been emotionally draining. I couldn't help but notice the disparities that exist in the city. We rode in on St. Charles street, where there are houses tha put Summit Avenue in saint paul to shame. I saw the French quarters, where the businesses quickly responded to ensure profitability. I saw homes off lake Pichotarian and off the Gulf of mexico. Then, I compared that to the "real" New orleans.

From my perspective, the "real" New Orleans consist of the inherent underclass in the United States. The ones who create the culture everyone admires but God forbid someone with priviledge to be burdened with its reality. The ones who lost everything and can't get it back because of the systematic discrimination that occurs daily. The ones who live with underresourced K-12 schools yet have some of the nations best colleges right in their cities. The various names for the "same" streets. And, the statues of Confederate heroes who are honored for the contributions to this great nation we live in. These are the things that represent our "democracy" and I am ashame to see this in the wealthiest nation I have to call home.

What's more painful is our political system. I don't understand how so little has been done. I realize that rebuilding takes time but this is ridiculous! Systematically speaking, everyone is suppose to fend for their own. But, how is one suppose to take care of themselves when they have nothing to start with and no one to turn to?

I don't understand, there is no logic in that...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The reson why

I have been asked to post something on the service learning blog....but it's not that easy!
I am not from Minnesota, I am not American...I come from Italy and I am just an exchange student. How does it happen that I am in New Orleans right now? Kind of wierd...i was just arrived at the Hamline, without knowing anybody, when I first heard about the CSI New Orleans. The idea was great: seeing one of the most famous and beautiful cities in the US, living the south, seeing with my own eyes what the hurricane did and doing something good for my spring break. I just applied...
In the meantime, before our leaving, I started to get informed about what ahppened to the citY.
In fact, the news of Katrina's distaster arrived in Europe. in 2005, but I hadn't heard anything else about ever since.After 2 years and a half.....what was left to do?
So...internet, movies...just to have a clue of the reality that I should expect...but only when i came here I COULD REALLY REALIZE.
After a 24-hour-bustrip I am arrived in the ancient Nouvelle Orleans and I've visite the French Quarter as a tourist. The impact of the city, of the music, of the colors was so great that I suddenly fell in love! But the amazement for the discovering of this beauty had to be offset by a similar feeling for the discovering of a total opposite landscape:Lower 9th.
I was told that we were going to the part of the city most affected by the flood. I was told that the levees broke.I was told that a lot of people had lost their house and all their belonging.
But when I saw it I could not believe it....
In front of me there was a huuuuge green plain surrounded, for one side, by an enormous white long white wall. Some trees and a few little houses. Was that a park?Was that a residential area?Where were the houses I'd been told of?Where were the signs of the disaster?
I get off the car...I wanted to undeerstand more...and walking on the grass I could perceive that here and there there were tiles, steps and house basis.....there!the houses were there!
it was full of houses of which only traces were left!
Where were the people?
Where are they now?
The worse thing is that it has not been a natural disaster as I've been told by the media before coming! The engeneers knew!The government knew!The knew that the levees system was not efficient for preventing a flood....but they didn't do anything...
I was angry, sad, all at the same time....I just wanted to do something for those who had lost everything. I wanted to do something....and I've found the reason why I was in New Orleans.
Even if only for a week, even if it would be necessary a governmental intervention in the area...What are the volonteers doing here is essential for the rebuilding of this wonderful city.
I am glad to be here.


So, back to blogging. It's been a very interesting couple of days since I blogged last. After our day of work with the office and the tool shed, we spent the next day scraping paint off a house a few blocks down. This was a very different type of work from how we'd spent the previous day; rather than just helping First Street, this time we were actually helping members of the community. This was my first time actually seeing how the poor people of color are living in this area of the city. As we donned masks and eye goggles, and started scraping away the thin flakes of white paint from the rotting planks of wood, I couldn't help but glance down into the windows. How do you cope with living in a house that is coming apart at the seams? How do you deal with the sides of your house rotting off, after two years of damage? Simply, how do you get through the filth? All around us, other houses were creaking apart just the same.

It was tough work, but I felt good about it. This feeling was strengthened when I walked back for a bathroom break and to check in with Darryl. As I walked back, I have to admit I was nervous. This is a very low-income, very black, and very crime-ridden area. People were just there, starving, sitting, dragging for something, anything, to hold onto--- how would they treat me?

As I walked through, I smiled, and tried not to make too much eye contact. Would they talk to me--- this little white girl from Minnesota? Before long, an old man stopped me. He asked me what I was doing, and if I went to church down on First Street. I smiled, made small talk, and explained that I was a volunteer. Immediately, they all paid me respect--- "God bless you", "God bless you, baby", "We need it, good for you", "That's hard work, God bless you". I was blown away. That they would pay me that kind of respect, and they don't even know me, and have every reason to dislike me--- my privileged, rich, white upbringing, getting all the opportunities their sons and daughters never got--- but apparently my ivory tower didn't dissuade them from seeing the work we're trying to do here. It's important, and like the woman said last night--- "It's not about white or black, it's about help." I'm so glad we're learning to be able to come together like this. It's the future we're building here, a future that we can construct ourselves--- a future built between all colors and classes and thoughts and people--- and this kind of work is how it starts.
--- April

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I have never been to the south, nor ever had an inkling to. But my friend suggested I sign up for this OSLV trip - I thought, hey cheap spring break trip, sounds good. Little did I know, that this trip would recenter me and show that things are not always as they appear. As the bus traveled further down south, I saw the sticks and swamps of Mississippi and Louisiana. Things seemed as I expected, but then we hit the city of New Orleans... oh my. I feel in love! The people, music, food, sights, sounds, smells, it all hit me and I gorged myself on the culture of New Orleans, with excitement and joy.
Those first few days were filled with fun and enjoyment. I wanted to gather as much as I could. But now I am on day 5 and I have been changed and resifted to a new understanding of New Orleans. It is not always about me and my enjoyment with my surroundings. Traveling to the lower 9th ward and seeing the devastation that Katrina brought and then hearing the stories of Kim, the lady whose house my team is working on, my perspective has sharpened. Not only am I filled with sorrow, but disappointment and anger. That our country and government would let these conditions continue in this city that I immediately fell for. How could this happen in America? to Americans? how could our government put these people in tents under overpasses, in infested trailers, and have no home or community to go back to. This is far greater than me. Although I have not made any conclusive and large strides to Kim's house, still what help I could offer I did. I am no longer concerned with my own well being while down here, I am privileged and have people who care and help me. But these people need us, need our attention, our time, and our help.
Thank you New Orleans, OSLV, my AMAZING group, and Alicia and Corey for a wonderful and opening experience.

- Beth Homa

The Upper/Lower 9th

We were all expecting things. I for one was expecting some progress. I was expecting an ounce of justice. Walking on cracked, uneven streets, my feet found it hard to find a place that wasn't touched by people. A ghost people that echoed into my mind through their little broken pieces. The concrete slabs of houses were no longer such, tombstones to a dead they had becomes. A smelling pleasant candle entered my nose, the distant sounds of the occasional car and bird killed the drowning silence, and my eyes were numb. I didn't want to think about these ghost people, they hurt too much and thus made me hurt. Little broken pieces were what they left, the sidewalks now overtaken by green weeds were once children's' canvases, and the glass bowl was finding its pseudo home in a blanket of dirt. Why had the ghost people been forgotten? They spoke to me loud and clear, their words stuck like razors in my chest. These weren't just words, they had a palpable salty weeping taste. I un-numbed my eyes, we had left the whispering ghost people so they couldn't hurt me. I hadn't forgotten them and I'll try my best to explain color to the blind.

-Jordan Zieth


When Sharon pulled me inside to take a minute to blog, I was washing paintbrushes. I was washing paintbrushes, periodically pulling my hands out of the dirty water to throw a ball for the dog that lives at our site, dodging other volunteers as they smeared paint on each other's arms and noses, and of course, enjoying the weather.

That's a long list of things for just one sentence, but to break it up would not do justice to the fact that we are so very busy. There are moments of waiting for instructions and standing in line for street trolleys, but there are just as many flourishes of quick labor to get one more wall done before we meet with someone from the community, and hurried sandwiches in the mid-afternoon so we can finish up our job before heading off to see how the hurricane and its aftermath have had different effects on different parts of the city.

Our group, from First Street, also met up with other Hamline volunteers today. We came from our various sites around the city for a tour of the levies that broke during the storm, led by a professor from Tulane. He left us speechless. With this being my first time in the Crescent City, I have been eager to experience as much as I can, from lively jazz and funk shows to solemn strolls in the Lower Ninth Ward.

But, with this panoramic view of the city comes the profound, first-hand realization that along with the physical damage caused by the storm, there is a slew of intense, systemic problems that are plaguing low-income residential areas. Predominantly communities of color, like the one where we are volunteering, are appreciative of our help, but are also suffering on levels greater than we are currently prepared to address. The list of injustices that need to be addressed seems to get longer every day, but for now, I'm heading back to the paintbrushes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two Days Into Work

So, having experienced the emotional ups and downs of our first full day in New Orleans (a long walk to Magazine Street, a Mardi Gras Indian parade, the Lower Ninth, an evening full of new places), Monday began our first real day of work.

I woke up earlier than everyone else, and showered quickly, so as to save time. While half the group went to pull siding off a house, Matt K. and I set to work. Our job was twofold: to move a classroom to other rooms and move an office to that room, and to work on the tool shed.

I don't think I've worked so intensely in my life, so quickly. First it was books--- then a huge pile of heavy boxes--- then bookshelves--- then *several* fairly huge office desks--- then chairs--- the list goes on. I must have gone up and down those stairs, arms stretching and red lines rising up in anger on the insides of my forearms, something like fifty times. And then, while Martin (our leader) had a meeting, we carried the contents of the utility room out of the utility room, down the path, across the street, around the corner, and into the brand-new tool shed. My rearranger's heart was bliss!! But then it was back to work. I switched doorknobs! (My dad would be so proud.) I can only hope that the work we've been doing makes it easier for everyone at First Street to get things done.

Ah--- off to Voodoo BBQ--- will blog more later. Thanks all for listening to my blabber. April

Monday, March 17, 2008

A First Time for Everything

This trip is a lot of firsts for me. It is my first service-learning trip. It is my first time to truly be in the south. It's my first time in Louisiana and New Orleans and today was my first time in the Lower 9th.
After a day of working in a fairly nice house and laying down wood floors for the dining room driving into the Lower 9th I really did not know what to expect. Of course I've heard countless stories on the news, in movies, from residents of New Orleans and some from my fellow students at Hamline. None of it prepared me. I was nervous as I stepped out of the van as we looked at the plot of land where the house of the grandmother of one of my good friends once lived. I was worried about how I would feel. I didn't know if I should be expecting sadness or anger or who knows what.
Wandering through the empty streets and staren at these broken houses, broken memories, I felt as though a chunk of my soul was being wretched out of my chest. I am so disappointed. The sadness and anger well up into one and I feel defeated though I know that I've lost nothing. I'm disappointed in the response from the government (I don't care if it's the city, state or federal), I'm disappointed in all of those who have moved on and forgotten, I'm disappointed that what happened has not been corrected for. I don't understand how anyone can lack the humanity to at least lend a helping hand, to get someone else started in the right direction again. Is it so hard to care?
I know that it is important to move on from hard times but when so little has been done for some I don't see how they can. This being said it was not all bad. Being in the Lower 9th gave me new perspective not just on New Orleans but on many things. The frustration that I felt as we walked the streets can be channeled into something positive. And while I know that everyone in my group was moved in very different ways the fact that we were moved at all gives me back the hope that I lost as we walked those streets.

-Matt S.

The Lower 9th

I think I've run the emotional gauntlet since being in New Orleans. I feel a sense of pride knowing that some of my roots lie here. I feel angry that in a car ride of about ten minutes I can see a fully rebuilt Starbucks and then a house that looks the same way it did right after the hurricane. Most of all I feel lost. Walking around the lower 9th was pretty surreal for me, mostly because the first stop was my Grandma Pat's house or at least what's left of it (her blue stairs). I knew this neighborhood, I'd slept in that house, eaten, laughed, cryed in that house. I think what struck me most is that growing up I didn't know that this was a poor neighborhood. I didn't know that the levee was a block from her house. The lower 9th was pretty much all I knew of New Orleans in terms of how people lived. It wasn't until we were driving into town that I saw the Garden District and the disparties between rich poor for myself. It's amazing to me to think that small part of who I am is gone. That house, or rather land, has been owned by my family for over 50 years and I'm not sure what my Aunt or my Dad are going to do with it, but I kind of hope that they rebuild. There's a history there and a community. I'm at a loss of what to think about the tragedy here except to say that in a strange way it's allowed me to reconnect with people I love and bring back some memories I thought I'd forgotten.


In Memory of Patricia Lindsey Anthony
5/29/1941- 9/9/07:

I come from large
leather Lincoln seats &
oldies playing in the
background. From
down south heat
& 10 hour car rides
to crack crabs on
linolium kitchen
floors. I come from
single parent, “broken”
family apartments
& hushed whispers
in the dark.
I come from crisp
Bible thumped pages
& women with hats
big enough to block
out the sun.

I come from an
invisible father &
a barely there
brother. From
rock playgrounds &
dust clouds.
I come from
wide open spaces
& long idle bike rides
down pre-plotted paths.

I come from
sturdy irish stock
that doesn’t show
in my features.
From southern hospitality
that seeps from my soul

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Initial Thoughts

When Sharon asked me if anyone wanted to blog about their experiences in the past day or two, I immediately raised my hand. I have had thoughts appearing in my head as facts appear in dreams--- unconsciously, inexplicably, and fully-formed.

Thoughts on entering New Orleans: To imagine what New Orleans is, one must imagine a stately old Southern town. Then one must add French, Spanish, and African influences. Next, surround much of the region with the state's infamous bayou, and finally, add modernity. This is New Orleans at its best. At its worst, it is a hot, crowded Southern city, with a corrupt law enforcement system, racial segregation, and class disparity at every turn. This is the New Orleans we entered yesterday, and this is the New Orleans visited by that thoughtless, soulless Katrina, in 2005.

Thoughts on Hurricane Katrina: Emma and Maggie called it not simply a natural disaster, but a human disaster, as well. This could not be more accurate. The hurricane itself would have been bad enough--- but then the levees broke. The levees breaking would have been bad enough--- but then it started to flood. The flooding would have been bad enough--- but then, the lowest, poorest, blackest areas started to flounder, and before long, started to die. The death and destruction would have been bad enough--- but then hours went by, and the hours turned into days and nights, and the days and nights turned into nearly a week before supplies finally arrived. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived faster than much of the work from FEMA. Truly, the only step in this horrific process that cannot be blamed on human failure is the initial one, the appearance of Katrina herself.

Thoughts on the Lower Ninth: Really, there is little to be said about this area. So much of it cannot be translated into words, much less blogged about with any accessibility. For me, it was not the few, solitary devastated households. It was not the plain, empty, overgrown spaces where houses had been. It was not even the spraypaint markers of rooms searched. It was not even the silence. Rather, it was the little bits of lives left over that got me. A box of waterlogged records here... a baby bath there. On this porch, little elastic baby pants. Half-buried in filth, a tiny Beanie Baby. What are these things doing here? People aren't supposed to be here--- that's what the emptiness implies. Like Emma said--- there are loud memories in this silent space. And meanwhile, the water over the wall continues to flow. What will happen to this place? The birds caw overhead. I can't help but think of Gettysburg, where the gulls come back, year after year, century after century, because during one horrific week, there was so much blood on the ground they could stuff their beaks full millions of times over.

There is no point to these ramblings except also to note that in the emptiness, there was also warmth, sunlight, and a hint of breeze. Is it possible for peace to exist in this destruction?

I believe there is. I also believe that is what activism is for--- not to grow mired in anger or resentment, but instead to latch onto that most fleeting of chances: peace out of destruction, hope out of pain, growth out of anger.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Return to NOLA.

I am so excited to be returning to New Orleans this year and hope when we arrive we will see that comminity members have as well. Spring snuck up on me but i have been taking the week to prepare both mentally and physically, minus packing, yikes! Well I look forward to the 24 hour bonding bus experience on Friday. Hope everyone is getting ready and see you at 4:30.