F & M College: New Orleans Notebook

May 14 - 20, 2006

F&M students returned to Katrina devasted regions the weeks of 5/6 and 5/14/2006. This time we hit "Ground Zero." The last trip in January was some 30 miles north of the coast, in Picayune, MS, where much of damage was from wind and trees, affecting property and rooves. This time we were smack down in the infamous Ninth Ward, New Orleans, where water crept to roof tops, and mold grew in abundance. Over the the span of a week (for a few, two) we learned a lot about neighborhoods and race and rescue and recovery, and of course, MOLD!

NO = New Orleans
CG = Common Ground

Andy Gulati - Systems Librarian

Woke up at 3am for a 4:30 van to BWI; flight to connecting Atlanta (Gabby, Allie, Nate, Mariam, Erin and Andy); Roshni catches up on much needed sleep during our 5 hour layover.
Airplane care and feeding; gut as laptop table; See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil (but somehow, still having fun); Marian assumes crash/nap position; sparse New Orleans airport; waiting for airport shuttle.
Still waiting for shuttle; arrival and registration at Common Ground (yes, that's one-week veteran Miles, checking-in Week 2 students into Hotel St. Mary's; orienation; and orientation; AND orientation!; Sam and Gabby, in front of familiar FEMA markings.
Our first chow-line, its dinner time; regular Evening Meeting; Erik gets us up to speed on current events; 5:30am, time to wake to the wandering guitarist, singing about a grain of sand, and getting that grain up a hill (did I mention that it's 5 friggin' 30 in the morning!!); can you guess? (those are our showers(!) much appreciated at days-end); sun-rise over St. Mary neighbors.
Have you ever tried to fit rubber boots over regular boots? Steve has, as is evident; Tyvek suit "glamour shots" (who knew wearing head-to-toe plastic, and face-covering masks in 90 degree weather could be so fashionable); Natalie and Mariam (note the rose, and the sense of ennui); dozen riders in a pick-up full of equipment, zipping along NO highways, to our very first job; Steve hangs on; our driver Emanuel attempts to fix a very valuable wheelbarrow wheel with epoxy and duct tape.
I'd like to say we created that pile, but it appears other businesses had already cleaned-up at this sort-of strip mall; our first project, a family denistry, east of NO, water rose about 4 foot, maybe no gutting needed, but lots of debris, exterior looked like an abondoned movie set; next-door beauty salon; we finished early, but had to wait a LONG time before food and ride back; everything except those fancy white suits gets santitized after the job - so gloves, boots, respirators and tools all get scrubbed and bleached.
There is a central Distribution Center (FEMA?) in NO, where CG also gets much of their food supplies; chain-gang moves food stuffs into the CG supply tent; CG Tent City, this is where some of the long-term CG'ers live; Sean tried his hand at the single-hand crack, over 100 eggs whisked for next-day's breakfast; there was always kitchen prep, by far the most fun work place, groovy head cooks, lots of chopping and dicing, and a chance to meet and chat with fellow one-week workers; Monty plays the ukulele.
Back by popular demand, Monty entertains at the Morning Meeting; Allen (works with us later) provides a welcome balance to this Ladies shot; precariously-tilting two-story, on our way to our second project; thankfully this job is only a few blocks from CG; at this point we have no idea what to expect; till now.
Tim (from Michigan) shows the kitchen; master bedroom; garage; Mariam clears out a bedroom; you haven't lived till you've experienced the wretched palate of an 8-week festering fridge; Where's everybody? (this surviving photo struck us as eerily coincidental)
We never did get an opportunity to meet the family that owns this home, but I was able to take pics of a few rescued photos, this was enough to establish a much-needed connection. Of course we were left with unanswered questions: Where are they now? Why didn't they return in 8 months? Do they want to return? Would we really want to be present to see their reaction to an empty house with no walls or ceilings?
More family.
Waiting for lunch, frequent breaks for water, and meal times became very important; self-portrait; Tim and good-buddy AJ dismantle the kitchen; blue-suitd Steve does his best horror cameo; on the way to the French Quarter, Steve finds a second career; this guitarist/slash/schmoozer strolled out onto Bourbon Street to carouse with all the Ladies, Natalie is a good sport.
There are all sorts of comics and clowns and crooners out on the Street, just waiting to entertain and gather a few "donated" dollars; this balloon/clown makes a few pretty pieces for the Ladies (Gents got the sillier headwear); Roshni and Mariam show off their newest fashions; apparently Larry Flynt owns a number of establishments on the Street; everyone in their finest; at Jackson Square.
NO skyline, along the Mississippi River; AJ, only 19, but with 2 CG weeks under his belt, is our team leader. AJ is full of wanderlust, ambition and talent. He finally treated us to an original tune at Jackson Square, only to be bested by a river-side freight train.
More train; and train!; Cafe Du Monde is opposite Jackson Square, world famous for their chickory coffee. Chickory was added during the Civil War to make the most of scarce coffee beans. I had a decaf cafe au laite that was quite good. And we all had beignettes (same as faschnachts); Mariam is unfortunately focussing too much on Saturn's rings; we happily adopted Liz (Whitworth College) as part of our work group; Natalie and AJ.
Roshni and Natalie show the Cat's Meow crowd how its done; Cat's Meow is billed as the "World's Best Karaoke (establishment)"; Nate is fully equipped and styling (Steve casts doubts); we were greeted by FEMA(?) the next morning; they thankfully removed the first mountain of debris; but left the fridge!
Tear; down; this; wall, Ms. Liz!; Nate finds his way through the backside of a closet; Tim and Steve finish out the living room.
AJ is determined to tear out every last bit of the master bedroom; Mariam and a sun-shielded Roshni take a water-break; Andy say everything is A-OK; Mariam the Brave, with fresh morning arms, ready to cart all our supplies to the job site; Allen (center) is a former Nebraska farm boy, he joined our team for our final assault on 1822 Alvar Street; smooches!
Andy's thirsty; Andy's refreshed!; some generous company must have air-lifted 50 million tons of Detour bars into New Orleans, they are all protein, and sit in your stomach like a brick; American "Moldy" Gothic; that's our third, and heaviest pile of debris, all drywall and insulation. Across the street a mix of companies (Pepsi-Shell-Texas Roadhouse) were building brand-new homes. We were grateful their job site had clean spot-o-pots; back at St. Mary's, this hippie had been baking for a few hours... how long before you flip him over to brown the backside?
Waiting (again!) for Mariam to apply enough eye shadow to be ready for night on the town; Erin can make friends with anyone (good friends); the gang, a peaceful Thursday night stroll along Bourbon Street; this guy actually wanted money for his picture; dixieland-jazz at Fritzell's; the Spotted Cat in Frenchman's (west-end French Quarter) was the best place to go for great music, this group had a French-Polynesian sound.
Theresa watches over Erin and Steve; AJ and Tim, they kept threatening to leave Friday morning. After 2 weeks at CG, they were ready explore the rest of the south, eventually to end in Knoxville, where AJ (might) start school in the Fall. Something tells me their car will drive right through Tennessee; an eclectic mix, and Sean; we had a chance to attend a real New Orleans-style funeral, with music and food and dancing; it was interesting to see how people congregated; and divided themselves.
This family is serious; about bar-b-que!; I could be wrong, but I think this singer tours hippie groups like CG to sing and sell CDs. I don't remember seeing her in a Tyvek suit; Irving (with his grand-daughter?) is a close family member of the deceased. He was the nicest man, wanted to know where all the CG'ers were from, all over the world as it turns out; dawg; around the most of the St. Mary gym are charcoal etchings of people who had experienced Katrina, their faces accompany their stories.
Friday night (Roshni, Natalie and Mariam); we started at Frenchman's with some decent music at the Spotted Cat; then tried some of the offerings along Bourbon Street; looked at the sites; experienced the diverse culture; then when a few of us could no longer stand the crowds, drunks and noise; we returned to the loving arms of the Spotted Cat, for the amazing sounds of the Jazz Vipers.
Denouement - forgotten breakfast; Steve maintains a comfortable distance from the sealed-off gym stage; a quiet post-breakfast moment before getting on the airport shuttle; goodbye to my bed and bedroom; goodbye to Hotel St. Mary's; goodbye.

Ode to St. Mary of the Angels School (sung to Hotel California)

On a dark bayou highway
Humid wind curls my hair
Warm smell of king cakes
Rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance
I saw one or two working street lights
My head grew heavy, and my sight grew dim
I had to sleep on some plastic for the night
There she stood in the doorway
I heard the Catholic school bell
And I was thinking to myself
This could the French Quarter or this could Ninth Ward
Then she lit up a candle
And she showed me the way
There were voices down the cinder-block hallway
I thought I heard the hippies say

Welcome to the Hotel St. Mary of the Angels School
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely place (background)
Such a over-pierced face
Plenty of room at the Hotel St. Mary of the Angels School
Any time of year
Any time of year (background)
You can find (where?) some beer
You can find it here

Her mind is Hand-Granade twisted
She's got the borrowed-bike bends
She's got a lot of pretty, tattooed dudes
That she calls friends
How they dance on the school steps
Sweet summer sweat
Some dance to ukulele
Some dance to forget
So I called up the (who's in charge here?)
Please bring me my grain-alcohol
He said
We haven't had that spirit here since just last Tu-ues-day
And still those voices are calling from across the levee
Wake you up at the crack of dawn
Just to hear them say

Welcome to the Hotel St. Mary of the Angels School
Such a lovely Place
Such a lovely Place (background)
Such a over-pierced face
They're livin' it up at the Hotel St. Mary of the Angels School
What a nice surprise
What a nice surprise (background)
Bring your bacteria wipes

Roaches on the ceiling
You're joking, where's the ice?
And she said
We are all just relief workers here
Absent of head lice
And at the CG organizational meeting
They gathered for the feast
They stab the Detour bars with their steely knives
But they just can't kill the taste
Last thing I remember
I was running for the door
I had to find the airport shuttle back to the place I was before
Relax said the drunk hippie
We are programed to recieve
You can walk down Bourbon Street any time you like
But you can never leave