Friday, April 25, 2014

People of New Orleans

As I discussed in my previous post, over spring break I was in New Orleans on a trip called ServeUp, with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I met a lot of wonderful and interesting people from the city, and I want to tell you a little bit about some of their stories.

I'm going to tell you about 5 specific people I met (there were many others, but these are the main ones who stick out to me): Mami, One Love, Ms. Maxine, Maxwell, and Pastor Rob. (Unfortunately I don't have pictures of any of these people.)

Mami and One Love
I spent a lot of my week repainting a house. The woman who lives in the house is an adorable old Haitian woman; everybody calls her Mami. Sometimes I could barely understand her because of her accent. She has a small store in her house, and people from the neighborhood came by all the time to buy things or just to talk to her.

The sign out in front of her house

I didn't personally get to talk to her very much, but we did hear a little bit about her life. She has 7 children, 3 or 4 or whom have died. Most of her children currently live in Florida, so she only has one son living close to her. Which brings me to the most interesting character I met: One Love (Mami's son). He also grew up in Haiti so he had quite an accent, although not as much as Mami. When he showed up on the first morning, he informed us that we should call him One Love, and that he would call all of us One Love because he's horrible at learning names. (And yes, he actually did.)

Overall he had a very loud personality, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not. He occasionally became really angry, mostly at his mother, and none of us knew how to respond. At other times he was happy, in a completely infectious way. He also told us many powerful stories about his own life. I don't feel comfortable sharing all the details here, but suffice it to say that he has had some major medical issues (he told us about many accidents and injuries, including once being shot) and some issues he ran into with the law. He told us he was extremely grateful for us coming to help out his family, because we were the first ones to offer them any help after Katrina. The last morning we were working at the house he told us he wanted us all to carve our names in the wall, but unfortunately we ended up leaving early due to rain and never got the opportunity. One Love is the type of person you actually have to meet to believe somebody like him exists. Our week never had a boring moment!

Ms. Maxine
One of Mami's frequent visitors was Ms. Maxine, we saw her a few times throughout the week. A group of students from a different ServeUp team had painted her house a few weeks before. It was really nice to talk to her and hear the impact their work was still having on her life. Going on trips like this you don't often get to stay in contact with the people you work with. Her story gave me some hope that we were making a real difference in the neighborhood, and that what we did would still be remembered and appreciated after we left. She was SO thankful for what they had done for her in painting her house, as small as that might seem.

One day a couple of us went on a walk around the neighborhood, to see if we could meet any of the neighbors. A man was just leaving his house when we walked by, and we ended up stopping and talking with him for at least 5-10 minutes. He had a really interesting perspective on the city before and after the storm. He said he felt like the city was much less dangerous now, and specifically that there were fewer deaths related to crime and gangs. (Of course, he also told us about a man who had been killed a couple days previously just down the street. Afterwards I started questioning the wisdom of walking around the neighborhood by ourselves...) No matter how much we talked among our team throughout the week about the problems New Orleans faces, there's nothing quite like hearing it directly from somebody who has always lived there. I appreciated his transparency and willingness to talk to us and give us his opinions on the city, and specifically the neighborhood where we were working.

Pastor Rob
The church my group was working with to paint the houses is called Journey Ninth Ward (the Ninth Ward is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city). The main person who was working with and directing us was Pastor Rob. He is originally from New Orleans, but for several years lived in California. He moved back to New Orleans to do ministry there in the summer of 2005, only a couple months before the hurricane hit. His wife was pregnant at the time, and actually gave birth 3 days before Hurricane Katrina, just enough time for them to get out of the city with their newborn daughter. He didn't give us a lot of details about his life, but he did mention the fact that he spent time in prison and in other kinds of trouble. From the way he acts and lives his life now, you'd never know. I thought it was a really amazing testimony that there really is hope, even in individuals (or neighborhoods) that may seem hopeless.

Friday, April 11, 2014

New Orleans 2014

A couple of weeks ago, during spring break, I went to New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a service trip, so much of my week was spent out in the community doing physical work (my group painted a house, others did construction or worked on an urban farm). I've been to New Orleans twice now, and both times I have been surprised by just how much rebuilding work there still is to do. In some of the neighborhoods we worked in and visited, there was certainly evidence of the fact that the population still hasn't recovered from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (Here's some more information about the storm, if you're interested.) Many houses are clearly still uninhabitable, and there are many empty overgrown lots where houses most likely stood 10 years ago.

Now, don't get me wrong, many parts of the city are beautiful and flourishing. Coming into a city like New Orleans as an outsider, I feel like its so easy to focus on the negative, to think about the huge tragedy that happened there. Especially since we went there with the purpose of rebuilding, its hard not to think of the city as a broken place, and a place that needs to be repaired. It makes me really sad that I was never able to see the city before Katrina; I feel like I'll never be able to fully appreciate it because I'm always so focused on the negative aspects.

But, its an incredibly beautiful city, and unlike anywhere else I've ever visited. I highly recommend you visit if you ever get a chance!

Most of my week I spent painting a house. This house, to be exact:

This is after we washed the house and before we started painting

Our leaders put a lot of emphasis on walking around and meeting people in the neighborhood. Hopefully I will be writing about some of the people I met in another post, but here are a couple pictures of the neighborhood I spent a lot of time in:

I love the bright houses
A garden next door (the white wall is a cemetery)

The trip definitely wasn't all serious. I spent time eating beignets (yum!) and hanging out in the French Quarter:

The trip was an exhausting, but amazing, experience. (It didn't help that I was sick for most of it, so I crashed when I got back to school the day before classes resumed.) All that to say, life was a little difficult after coming back! I wanted to update you all much sooner but had many other more pressing things to deal with (like the housing lottery and registration, stories for another time). Please feel free to ask me questions or bring up the trip! I love talking about it, but sometimes I don't even know where to begin.

I'll be writing another blog post soon about the trip, so look out for that!