[Photos at the end]
Hello! We returned from New Orleans late on Saturday night, after a busy, fun, frustrating, challenging 10 days in N.O. The first four days we were tourists, with 4 others of our group. What a time. We had chosen to rent a car, so we got to visit two plantations, with very thorough and interesting tours. We spent a day on foot, walking through the French Quarter, along the waterfront, along Bourbon Street, until our little legs could move us no further. We had ridden into town on the marvelous street cars that are now up and running, and then after coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde (apologies now for all spelling errors) REQUIRED, walked and walked. The French market captured our interests and some of our money, a visit to the beautiful cathedral, an al fresco lunch with some enjoying boiled crawfish. It was an adventure. Sunday morning we were really moved to worship at Beecher Memorial United Church of Christ. Beecher was almost totally destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. They are making some progress, but still are not returned fully to their sanctuary. Folding chairs on concrete floors, lights but no ceilings and a simply astonishing zeal to keep on.
Sunday evening we joined the rest of our laboring troops at the church where we would stay for the work week - after St. Paul's UCC made the needed repairs post Katrina, they built some dormitories above the "hall" for the use of groups like ours. We used their kitchen to do our cooking (a couple of meals out) and ate in the hall. Our group of 21 was divided amongst three homes and we worked in those homes for the week. I worked in Mr. and Mrs. Washington's home. They were evacuated for 9 months and then returned to live in a FEMA trailer, where they have lived ever since. Their house is still several months away from habitation. We learned that there are still 4000 FEMA trailers in N.O. Amazing to consider.
In fact, there is so much to consider and ponder in this city of contrasts - many, many poor people, much fewer middle to upper income residents, a school system that is struggling to improve, a police force roundly criticized. Some people told us that the city cannot "come back", others hope it will but are doubtful - and new disasters continue to occur (Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, for example) which stretch resources even thinner. (for example, in NO, the Red Cross and Salvation Army have stopped funding for Katrina housing rebuilds. Now what?) Disaster relief? Urban renewal? The desperate need continues, but the "will" and the resources?
I don't mean this to sound like a depressing lecture, but it surely is sobering to consider. And it certainly says - Love your friends and your families, enjoy them, appreciate them, tell them how much they mean. We are truly the lucky ones.