Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In which I work in the Ninth Ward, and the city learns a new song

My health has more or less improved, so I’ve begun working. I am not, however, gutting. Because I’ve missed the last couple weeks of gutting, I won’t have the experience necessary to lead volunteer crews next month, as was hoped. Instead, I’ll be handing supplies out in the ninth ward – toilet paper, paper towels, snacks, bleach – from the Diocesan mobile unit. We have an RV, donated by a parish in Baton Rouge, and a Pinske truck (like a Ryder truck) that go to the parking lot of an abandoned Walgreen’s in the ninth ward every day and hand out the supplies, for free, to anyone who needs them. Some days there are ten volunteers, but other days it’s only the deacons who run the program, so my consistent presence should be of some use.

You meet lots of local people in grumbly moods when things are so hot, or who have just learned of an extra $250 bill they have to pay, but they’re always thankful for the free water, food, tissue, etc. They’ll say it’s hot, I’m sweaty, I’m tired, there’s so much work to be done, can you believe that insurance man but THANK YOU for this bleach!!! I hear a similar line from Emily, who often handles intake phone calls (talking to homeowners about gutting). Everyone, Emily says, has some other problem in addition to the storm, which makes sense: life goes on. If you were going to have that stroke before, you’re going to have it now. Your kids still get bad grades or get suspended, you’ve still got to pay the taxman, you have to get to work on time, you have to deal with the unruly neighbors. It doesn’t make rebuilding your home any easier, so usually when people call Emily, they’re in an upset mood, and they’re sick of making unproductive call after unproductive call. But then, all of a sudden, here’s someone who’s able to help them, and even knowing that yes, your home will be gutted and we’ll do it in two weeks takes a load off their shoulders. They call grumpy, but they hang up thrilled. That excites Emily: she says if you have 99 other problems, but you can now sleep at night because this one worry is taken care of, the pain-in-the-neck she has to deal with in making all these calls is worth it.

Thankfully, today wasn’t a grumpy day for most people. Everybody wanted to talk about last night’s football game. You may have heard about it: the Saints’ return to New Orleans had more reporters than the Superbowl! Thankfully, the Saints crushed the Atlanta Falcons, 23-3, but given the city’s energy around the game I don’t think any visiting team could have won. The Times-Picayune was screaming about it all week, and today’s headlines were bigger than those of 9-11. U2 and Green Day opened the show; Green Day put a new twist on an old song, “There is a house in New Orleans, they call the Superdome!” A number of celebrities were there, and for the first time ever, all of the Saints’ season tickets have sold out. Traffic was cut off for ten blocks around the Dome yesterday for concerts and parties, but that wasn’t enough; revelers poured out on to downtown’s Poydras St., gumming up traffic and getting the police involved. In fact, traffic was horrible all over town all day. The Dome was super-loud all through the game, and many beer vendors ran out of alcohol 45 minutes before kickoff. It was a huge event, it was a headache event, but it was a good event. I think it’s safe to say that this is really the first time the city’s been energized since the storm. Yes, Jazzfest and Mardi Gras were important, but they were small events, played up by the press. This really was the big deal ESPN made it out to be. I met one many today who’s 82 year old mother needed to go to bed at 8, but she wanted to see those Saints, and pushed herself all the way to the end of the game before sleeping (kickoff was 7:45). It was just that important!

I myself missed the festivities; I went to Cooter Brown’s, a local sports bar, to watch the game with the other interns, but they were checking IDs at the door. I haven’t been to Cooter’s before, but I’m under the impression they usually don’t check your ID at the door. I guess they figured they’d be packed for the game, and if you’re packed it’s better to be packed with people buying $4 beer rather than $2 Coke. We have no TV at the house, so I happily ate my soup and put the Astros game on the MLB.com radio service instead (can you believe they’re actually back in playoff contention???).

I’ll try to remember to post about sleeping arrangements and the possibility of a car tomorrow. Maybe I’ll write about some of the individuals I’ve met, as well. I’d tell you about them now, but this has turned out to be a much longer post than I had intended, and I don’t wish to burden you. Take care, my friends, and keep praying for my family, this city, and me! God bless!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Good News All Around

I didn't work yesterday or today, but I'm actually in a pretty good mood. Yesterday, health-wise, was not a good day; it was the worst day of the last week. But, today is just about as good as Thursday, maybe even better. If Monday's like today, I'm going to say well that's as good as it gets and go. It might not be pretty, but it should be doable, and it's important that I try.

But if it gets worse, which I doubt it will, that's ok too. I sent Holly, the volunteer coordinator at the office, an e-mail asking if she or anyone else at the office could use my assistance there. Since I've missed so much gutting time already and am headed to Texas for a few days soon, there's no way I'll have the experience necessary to lead gutting teams by next month. And they really won't need me to anyway - we have plenty of other interns who can do that. I might actually be of more use in the office than in the field; furthermore, just as all the short-term volunteers in October create more work for us (a good thing), they create more paperwork at the office. And office work is where my experience lies. I'm told that Holly's been a little stressed lately and might very well need the help, so this could potentially be a win-win situation for everyone. There's also a Diocesan RV that goes out delivering supplies, and they're often short of volunteers. Maybe I could be of help there.

I did manage to do something productive today - I spent about an hour washing out old coolers. Sam gave me a bunch of papers and brochures to look through for him and Katie in the next couple of days, too. Tomorrow I'll try to go to church, and Monday will hopefully be spent gutting or maybe working with Holly.

Other good news that helps my outlook: my mommy sent me my slippers, Josi and Oliver sent a lovely thank-you note, Mrs. Bierne sent me a wonderful care package, I finally got my own package home mailed, I bought my tickets to Houston for next week (I'm missing the Dartmouth homecoming, so I'll just have one of my own!), some friends from St. Luke's bought their own tickets here for November, and best of all, MY DADDY'S FINALLY HOME!!! W00TW00T!!!

That last line there, the one about Dad, is what really makes this a good day.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

It's A Small World

I had some procedures yesterday, and a doctor's appointment today. I don't know as much as I'd like to, and there's no magic pill, but hopefully today is my last day sidelined from work. I wouldn't be surprised if I can't get out tomorrow, but I'm gonna try. Anyways, I thought I'd make a quick post about what a small world it is. There are several startling connections between this and other parts of my life:

1. Mary Beth is a friend of mine from St. Luke's in Idaho, and was my supervisor at the Diocesan office this summer. Holly is the volunteer coordinator here for the Office of Disaster Response. They know each other from way back when; Mary Beth worked at a seminary while Holly's husband was a student there.

2. I talked to Father Ben, the Diocesan chaplain, on the phone today. He was asking about my stress levels, and asked if my Dad's getting good pastoral care. When I mentioned Father Pat, he said, "Oh, I know Pat!" Turns out they're friends who go way back to some old committee of sorts.

3. While in DC - I think I mentioned this in my first blog - I met a Dartmouth alum involved with a non-profit working with a church here in town. He's actually in town tonight, though I missed seeing him. Anyways, he knows Holly and Katie, my direct supervisor, as well as all the names I've read about but not met.

4. I believe St. Andrew's, where I'm staying, is the closest Episcopal church to Tulane University, which is within walking distance. Fall term last year at Dartmouth, I had a few conversations with a displaced Tulane student at Dartmouth while his school was closed; he's Episcopalian. I'd love to know if he attended/attends St. Andrew's. I sent him an e-mail today.

I would mention Bishop Waggoner (Spokane) and Bishop Jenkins (Louisiana) are friends, but I suppose that's to be expected. Anyways, it is indeed a small world! It will be fascinating to see if anymore such connections turn up during the rest of my stay here.

Also, so you know, I'm planning to visit my best friend Jon and my birthmom in Texas next weekend, and hopefully some friends will come down from church in November. Throw in a visit with/to my birthdad somewhere in there, and there's lots to look forward to. Yes, Mom, I know, I just ended a sentence with a preposition. ;-)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My Neighborhood

So here I sit, back in the coffeeshop Sunday afternoon. They sell the New York Times here, and I needed to get out of the house. I wasn't feeling up to church this morning - health problems persist, though hopefully they'll be all taken care of by Wednesday - so I stayed at home. (There is a service at 6, probably sans choir, and I might try to go to that.) Unfortunately, home is the Parish House; my room is right next door to the church nursery, and after church coffee hour is held downstairs. I stayed holed up in my room from the time I got up (those noisy little kids!) 'till around 2pm. I just wasn't up to meeting large crowds of people. Fortunately, I saw this coming, and brought breakfast upstairs last night. :-) I've spent my morning reading yesterday's New York Times and watching "Face the Nation" and "Meet the Press" online. I love Senate politics!

Anyways, I finally got out and saw the neighborhood last night. I stayed at home all day again, and by about 6:15 was feeling utterly worthless, unproductive, and restless. So I went for a walk! I headed down the street, and wound up at the Mississippi Rive fairly quickly, so I walked along top of a levee for awhile, watching boats and trains and bikes, then came back. It's a nice enough neighborhood, I suppose. It's mostly residential, but there are plenty of restaurants, and fortunately a Super Cuts. The homes are all typical New Orleans architecture like you see in the movies, even though this isn't the French Quarter, and the area is very shady, except for a few yucky parking lots. Most businesses in this part of town are open, though a few are still closed and the Methodist Church only reopened last week; areas along the river like this weren't very hard hit.When I got back, I talked to my birthmom for about two hours. Hopefully I'll be able to see her and my friend Jon in about two weeks, and my birthdad a few weeks after that. A couple friends from church are also giving seriously consideration to coming and volunteering for a bit, which would be wonderful - this all gives me something to look forward to, and helps break up the monotony of isolation. Whoopee!

Once I start working and gutting, when this health stuff is cleared up, I hope this blog can take a slightly more serious tone - I can start telling you what I'm seeing, how the people are, things like that. Keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Address

(Update, December 17: Had posted my address here, but have since deleted it, as it is no longer my address.)

Still not working, for health reasons, but I'll make a short post about the state of the city soon. Maybe today, maybe this weekend.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Crew

I worked on gutting a house yesterday in Challmette, which those of you who came here in March with the Navs will remember as Cheryl's neighborhood, with the seafood-freezer and the snakes. Fortunately, no seafood or snakes yesterday - just lots and lots of sweat. It's 15 degrees hotter than it was in March, and far, far more humid, so the work is a lot different. I'm also doing it without a dozen good friends at my side, which also changes it a bit. But, I'll get to know this crew a little better, and the weather will improve over the next month or so, and things will get better. I'm taking today off to deal with some health issues.

For the next month or so, it will be just a handful of us gutting homes, but in October we'll have many, many short-term volunteers coming in. By that point we'll all hopefully be up to leading gut crews, and we can take care of 20 houses a week rather than 3 or so. On that note, I'd like to invite anyone who thinks they can get a group together to do so! For my student friends, I know that's tough during the year, but perhaps some adults from St. Luke's could come down, or whatever your situation might be. The city needs your help, and I need your company - I'm feeling somewhat isolated and lonely, and some friends coming down in October would brighen my outlook. :-)

Anyways, I thought I'd briefly describe the folks I'm working with:

Sam, from Detroit, has been here since the beginning of summer, and will likely stay until January. He graduated from college in the spring. He seems like a nicy guy. He lives in the same house as me, and I guess is sort of second in command.

Beck lives in the house, too. He's been here two weeks, and will be here through the month. We're sharing a room, at least for now, but I haven't talked to him much yet. He's splitting his time between the Diocese and a project for helping people under represented legally get good legal help. He's been working 12 hours a day on it. Good work ethic.

Neelie (probably spelled wrong) got here three days before me, and is the one other person living in the house. Like me, he's taking the fall off from his school. Seems like a nice guy - looks a bit like my friend Chris M. back at Dartmouth.

Emily also graduated in the spring. She's from Albany, and said there was no question where she'd be headed after school. She lives in an apartment in a transitional neighborhood. "It's the perfect apartment, by which I mean it has four concrete walls and it's MINE!" The neighborhood she lives in "used to have a crackbust a week; now it's just one every other week." (Don't worry, Mom, that's not the neighborhood I'm in!)

Finally, Dan is a carpenter, and graduated not too long ago. He grew up on Long Island, and remebmers watching hundreds of out-of-state vehicles poring into Lower Manhattan on 9-14-01, when the city was repopened. He feels a debt of gratitude, and wants to pay it forward. He came down after Christmas and stayed until April; he came down again a month or two ago and will be here until next April. He's the only other Episcopalian in the group.

Katie is in charge, but I haven't really met her yet. We talked briefly this morning. Two more long-term volunteers are coming in soon.

That's it for now. The house wireless is weird today, so I'm at the coffeeshop. I't s a nice place, a good spot to get lunch. Love you much, and I ask again, please stay in touch! My favorite part of the day comes post-work when I get to curl up with my computer and read notes from my friends, or even chat with them online. It makes me oh-so-happy. :-)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Wireless!

As it turns out, while I was at the coffee shop setting up the blog and telling you my Internet access will be spotty, Sam was back at the house setting up a wireless connection. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope this is permanent - whoopee! :-D

Arrival!

Well, here I am! After months of planning and a week of Dartmouth's all-expenses paid Civic Skills (leadership) Training in Washington, DC, I am finally in New Orleans.

I'll say right here at the outset, I don't know how often I'll post here. I'm shooting for twice a week, but we'll see what works out. For the time being, there's no regular Internet access at the house I'm staying at. Hopefully that will change, but for now I have to use a coffee shop across the street that has free wireless (and plays Bob Dylan). Thankfully, this place is open until midnight, and I figure I'll usually go to bed between 10 and 12, so that's fine. The only real downside is they'll ask you to leave if you don't buy anything - so no kicking the coffee habit this term!

Anyhow, over the next three months or so I will attempt to use this blog to update you on my work here, the status of recovery overall, and personal insights and thoughts I gain while here. This is blogspot.com, so I think the blog has an RSS feed, if you know how to use those. Otherwise, just bookmark the link and stop by once or thrice a week if you're interested. :-)

The week in DC was fun. It was mostly seminars in a think-tank conference room - we covered fundraising, networking, project management, office communication skills, that sort of thing. The best part of it all was the people - I hope I can establish lasting friendships with most of the other nine students there when I get back to campus in January. They were all cool, some just way awesome. We also met with young alums who have cool DC jobs, some older alums, and a Congressman who strangled his mistress. I met my own Congressman, too, randomly walking on the sidewalk just ahead of our group! I talked to Howard Dean's Chief of Staff (a wonderful lady and part-time pastor) and an alum who knows all the staff here at the Diocese of Louisiana, as well (small world!).

But, the name of this blog is "Nathan in New Orleans," not "Nathan in DC." I arrived here last night a little after 10, and a fellow named Sam picked me up and took me to St. Andrew's Chalstrom parish house, where I'll likely be staying for the next few months. Take a look at http://www.edola.org/odr_volunteer_housing_options.php. There are only four of us living there right now, all of us long-term volunteers. Short-term volunteers come in droves during academic breaks.

Most of what I'll be doing is gutting homes, it turns out. I won't describe that process now; you can read about it in my Free Press article at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~thepress/read.php?id=1167. When there are no short-term volunteers, like now, we interns form a team and get 'er done. When there are more volunteers, we lead the teams. Sometimes there's office work to be done, as well, something I don't necessarily enjoy but am quite skilled at - so maybe in a couple weeks I'll do more of that. I spent this morning working in the Diocese's storage warehouse - they've rented a huge swath of a cabinet store's warehouse to store their thousands of bottles of water, paper towels, etc. There were a number of boxes of records and personal effects salvaged from a lady's home; I was sorting it all - cards and photos here, pre-'00 tax/legal/medical records here, more recent financial stuff here, etc. She's probably not coming back, so we're going to mail her the memories and important records. Sadly, you learn a lot about people doing this - she was a good Catholic, sent her kids to Catholic school, worked as a school secretary, her husband was a retired Deputy Sheriff. Then you learn personal stuff you shouldn't know, and I won't share, but that's the nature of the work. Tomorrow, if my stomach is feeling better - and I think/hope it will be - I'll go to an actual job site.

One last little thought: it was somewhat eery flying into the city at night. As I recall, flying in during the day in March was odd because you couldn't see much damage (I guess we weren't close enough to the flattened neighborhoods). Nighttime was weird because of all the neighborhoods still without electricity - odd spots in the city that should been lighted up but weren't.

That's it for my inaugural entry. I doubt most entries will be this long - at the least, they'll be without the DC and wireless/blog-explanation paragraphs. Please, PLEASE keep in touch over Facebook, MySpace, e-mail, AIM, or MSN Messenger. Blog comments are especially appreciated, since I know many of you don't use all those newer communication tools. I've got my cell with me, as well, so feel free to call and say hello! I'm a little familiar-sick right now - nervous about the work, and missing friends. I don't care if it's Dartmouth, home, or with the DC crowd; it would be nice to be with people I know and like right now, some familiar conversation. Obviiously, all new experiences start out that way, this one's just a little more so than most. But that's ok - overall, I'm excited about the possibilities the next three months hold. Please continue to pray for me and for my family, and I love you all!