My Trip to New Orleans By Hannah Banana This is picture of the Mississippi River as we flew over it to New Orleans
5/31/09 at 4:45 am I arrived at LAX airport in order to catch my 6:00 am flight to Denver. After a 4 hour layover we flew to New Orleans and arrived at 4pm New Orleans time. The first thing I noticed was the heat and humidity. The weather strongly reminded me of Hong Kong.
A man on the plane told me about how he lost his house to the flood. He showed me pictures of upturned cars, trees knocked down, and piles of debris. He told me that he was going back to New Orleans for their first family reunion after the storm and his daughter is SO excited about returning home. This conversation really made me think and the pictures really hit home. I like calling this picture the Leaning House of Lower 9th.
Recognize the superdome? This is the same freeway bridge and building where tens of thousands of people waited for food, water, medical care, and rescue that did not come until at least 6 days later.
We stayed at the Rebirth Unitarian church. I shared 1 indoor shower, 3 outdoor showers, 3 toilets, and 2 bathrooms with 40 other girls. We had 1 computer for the 40 of us who hadn’t brought laptops. There were 2 co-ed rooms and 1 all girls room. Each room had 8 bunk beds, meaning 16 people per room! Can you imagine 16 alarms going off in the morning? I can!
We had plenty of chores to do each week in addition to volunteering, reflecting, and meetings. I was in team 6 so as you can see, I had to wash dishes twice that week and mop on Saturday regardless of our extreme exhaustion.
We also had a weekly schedule and a team schedule. During the 1st week my team did dry-walling construction and worked at the animal shelter ARNO.
Here we are dry walling!
Julie taught us how to drywall, tape, and float. We used to be very slow at putting up walls, but by the last day we were able to finish a room and hallway within 3 hours. These are before and after photos from our last day of dry walling.
Construction was difficult and tiring in the 90 degree humid weather, but it was satisfying being able to sign our initials on the walls of the hallways, bedrooms, and bathrooms someone will get to enjoy in the future.
At ARNO we walked dogs and washed food dishes, litter boxes, pet carriers, and water bowls. We also disinfected cages, mopped, laundered, swept, socialized kittens, picked up poop, suffered allergy attacks, got bitten and scratched…etc. The bottle fed kitty is only 8 days old!
This is Buddy, the cutest puppy at ARNO. This is a feral dog. It likes staring at me
The work was really tiring. Animals are draining! For lunch, you walk the dogs, clean their poop, wash their dishes, and once you’ve finished all of that they eat, they poop, and you have to start all over again!
We worked at Blair Grocery in the Lower 9th Ward during our 2nd week here with a man named Turner. Turner is an intelligent social studies teacher from New York. He taught us a lot more about the issues plaguing New Orleans and about why the levees broke.
Working with Turner meant working in the Lower 9th ward, which was hardest hit and slowest to recover after Katrina. Houses here look like the hurricane happened just a few months ago. You can still see the marks rescuers left each time they found a body, animal, or if the gas was on.
Blair’s Grocery store was the only grocery store in the Lower 9th before the flood. After the flood, Turner bought the place and hopes to one day re-open the store. He wants to make the store self-sustainable by growing his own fruits and vegetables.
Materials are scarce so Turner has to be resourceful. He made planters out of tires and rocks. He grows tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, eggplant, cucumber, squash, snap peas, and watermelon. We had to do a lot of weeding to keep his plants healthy.
Our First task was to chase the chickens into the other pen. Good thing they’re still so young because they can really run!
We had to ‘mow lawns’ in New Orleans because residents get fined $100 per day after their lawn grows over 6 feet tall. As you can see, some of the grass at this house was taller than me! Cutting grass this tall requires using a 1.5 ft long machete to hack away at the stalks. It was slow and painful work.
After a few hours of cutting and raking we were finally able to see a considerable difference. Unfortunately a lot of these plants had spikes, bugs, and thorns so we ended up with bites and scratches all over our arms and legs. All of us got terrible sunburns.
This is where the Battle of New Orleans, or Battle of Chalmette happened. We toured the site and learned more about what happened there. If Americans hadn’t won, the British might still own the US today. Then Turner told us more about how we are trapped in our world and about this huge crisis we face and about how money rules our lives too much…etc.
Here are some mustard seeds from Turner’s garden. Here’s a little caterpillar Josh found among the swamp grass we were cutting. We later found out that its spikes are poisonous! Not to worry, Josh is alive and well.
Compost at Turner’s Garden. It was a smelly job, but we found a bright green gecko! We got bored so we made this wonderful rendition of our captain Kevin using a baby watermelon that got separated from its vine and bottle caps. Don’t you see the likeness?
Later in the 2nd week we worked for Project Greenlight. Their mission is to rebuild a greener New Orleans by installing CFL’s in every household in the city. We drove to people’s houses and installed the energy saving CFL’s for them. We got to see how the poor and the rich live. Poor homes may only have 5 lights in the entire house. On the other hand we visited rich homes with almost 60 lights!
During our last few days in New Orleans, we worked at a day care for children from poor families in the lower 9th ward. The service is free. Here I am painting with Paris and Joshua. This is Paris. She was one of the sweetest kids at the center. We made her colorful rings, hair ties, and bangles. It was so much fun!!
Here we are having our few moments of rest during lunch. Kids are much more exhausting than dogs. I don’t want kids anytime soon! Joshua loves to paint. Here his is painting a butterfly. He’s so cute and a joy to work with! While Josh was sweet, most of the kids were violent, bossy, or bullies. I had to break up a lot of fights, stop chairs from being thrown, and stop metal rod and plastic bat – wielding kids from hitting other kids. One kid Sisi even pulled out a knife and our captain Kevin had to disarm him.
Here we are with Mr. Xyborg!! Joshua gets emotional sometimes because he’s neglected at home so he will grab onto someone’s leg and not let go for a long time. I guess he wants attention. He wasn’t the only neglected child there. Sisi saw his mother get shot when he was very young and his dad deals cocaine. While all the other kids were picked up by their parents at 2:30pm, Sisi was still waiting for his dad to arrive.
Jane and I loved playing with Paris. Here we are doing her hair and making flowers : ) What most of these kids really need and want is a little more love and attention. Sadly many of their parents either don’t have the time, or the will to give their children what they really need. I played jump rope with the girls and made it to 33 jumps! It was a playground record
As a treat for our 1st day of hard work, we went to The Creole Creamery, a delicious ice cream place. The unique flavors there included cucumber and lavender honey.
Jackson Square. There are many artists, a robot man, and a street jazz band from the local high school.
Café Du Monde is very famous for its beignets and coffee. Beignets are doughnuts covered in powdered sugar. They are truly heavenly and go well with coffee.
We wentshoppingWe bought Jewelry And tried on cute clothes!
A car with crazy decorations. Jazz paintings. Group photo in Jackson square
On Wednesday we took the trolley to Lafayette Square for the Jazz Festival where we heard some amazing bands!
Here we are at Jazz Fest eating snoballs (ice with syrup) and coche du po-boys (baby pig sub sandwiches). They were tasty! This is where I first noticed that black and white people don’t mix or associate with each other much. I also noticed that I was one of a few Asians there. By the end of the trip, I only counted about 10 Asian people!
After Jazz Fest we wandered our way to Bourbon and Canal. This street is best if you’re 18 or older. There are lots of souvenir and specialty shops.
This is the Jazz band that plays on Bourbon each Friday night. They have a lot of energy and are very talented. Apparently the band comes from the 5th ward, where residents will come out of their homes and dance on the streets to their music.
All the shops sell Mardi Gras Beads. People on the balconies drop some down to the pedestrians walking below on Bourbon St. I got stuck in the colorful boas!! I tried on a mask!
My friends and I on Bourbon Street! Someone asked me to dance.
LEVEE TOUR This is the oldest part of the levee in the Lower 9th ward. It was built in the 1960’s, but it’s still stronger than the ones that built recently. Worrisome isn’t it? Destroyed wetlands next to where the poor live. We think it’s partly due to pollution. The city also dredges all the silt away that these plants rely on to live for trade. The loss of the wetlands is a huge problem because this is the city’s primary and most effective natural protection against hurricanes and floods. Without them the aftermath of future storms will become increasingly catastrophic. The ground that New Orleans rests on is basically a thin layer of swamp. Without the wetlands, there will be no ground for New Orleans to rest on.
Doesn’t this wall remind you of a prison? Sometimes that’s how the residents here feel like. The federal government has not invested a sufficient amount of money into these levees to insure that they will not break again. In the 50’s, the government blew up the Lower 9th ward levees in order to save the richer and touristy parts of New Orleans. Eisenhower helped rebuild their neighborhood, but the residents no longer trust the government to look out for their best interests. This was shown after Katrina, when all the residents of the lower 9th accused the government of blowing up the levees. Many residents giving a 1st hand account will tell you they heard a BOOM! and instantly water started rising everywhere. Many barely escaped the water. Some think the barge illegally parked next to the levee by the city crashed into the wall during the hurricane. Others think the levee just broke because it was too weak. New Orleans didn’t get the worst of Katrina. All this levee had to stand was equivalent to a category 1 storm, but it still broke! So when the Army Core of engineers says that all the levees have been restored to “Pre-Katrina” standards, that is actually really bad! This picture was taken while we were on the levee tour.
Levee in the middle class neighborhood. See how their levee is covered in grass and has a trail? The residents can enjoy the scenery and don’t feel boxed in like the lower 9th ward residents with their concrete levee wall. Why are the most effective levees put next to the neighborhoods least vulnerable to flooding? This also doesn’t make any sense. The levees below protect the rich neighborhoods from harm and are the most effective levees in all of New Orleans. They also are covered in grass and have a park nearby. The scenery is beautiful. The city is shaped like a bowl, so if the lower 9th’s levee breaks, the rich neighborhoods will flood anyways. Doesn’t it make sense to make sure all the levees can withstand a category 5 storm?
What you probably don’t know What many don’t know about Katrina is what really happened. During one of our talks about Katrina, one of the students asked our speaker Viola how to explain to his friends why New Orleans residents are not at fault for not leaving before the hurricane hit. There were many factors that caused people to be trapped when the flood hit. Many residents of the lower 9th did not have cars. They were promised buses by the city that did not come. There was Amtrak service that was running, but no one was told and many trains left with no people on board. Those who are fortunate enough to have the means to get out always face terrible gridlock traffic. It’s nearly impossible to evacuate an entire city with millions of people in it all in 1 day, yet the city only announces 1 day for evacuation. My construction supervisor Julie told me she left home at 8am, got gas, waited 18 hours in traffic, and then finally got out of the city at 2am. Many like Julie are used to doing this a few times a year. A hurricane happened just before Katrina so many people were low on survival supplies and were less motivated to leave New Orleans because it’s always such a hassle. Katrina also happened at the end of the month when many poor people are starving and waiting for their next paycheck. Many did not have the money to drive out of state, buy water, or buy food so they were unprepared. This caused a large number of people to choose or be forced to rough out the storm at home. All these factors created the perfect conditions for a catastrophe. Viola and her family were fortunate enough to have some savings to dip into to drive out of New Orleans. They stayed at the nearest motel they could find once out of the city. The next day the news showed that sky in New Orleans was blue and the sun was shining. They were very happy and decided it to go home. Most people thought it was over and that it was ok to go home. Those who didn’t have a lot of money to spend like Viola wanted to go home as soon as they could. Other wealthier families may take a 2 week long vacation somewhere nice.
Surviving When Viola and her family got home they saw that the ground was dry. Everything was fine and they got settled down at home. She remembers how they were just relaxing on their front porch and chatting when all of a sudden they heard a huge BOOM! Out of nowhere water was all over the ground and rising fast. By the time Viola grabbed all her valuables, the water was up to her knees. By the time she got the the refrigerator to get some food, the water was up to her thighs. By the time she got to her emergency drawer, the water was up to her waist. And by the time she finally got to the stairs, it was almost up to her chest. She made it up the stairs and got to the second floor of her house. Looking back as she went, she saw her refrigerator, chairs, bottles, and food floating around downstairs. But the water did not stop. A few inches of water flooded her entire 2nd floor before the water finally stopped rising. Viola was lucky to have such a big house which was also on stilts. Some of her other neighbors had houses with only 1 floor or no stilts. The ones who survived came to her house and stayed for 6 days rationing their food as they searched for help. Viola remembers having to pass floating dead bodies of men, women, children, and babies as she searched for help while neck deep in water. She never felt so bad for animals before. They were all trying to cling onto whatever they could reach, dogs were swimming around trying to find a dry land, and animals were fighting with humans for things to hold onto. There were fires burning on top of the water and Viola would have to push the water away in order to avoid getting burned. Everyone was looking for someone or something and no one seemed to be able to find what they were looking for. Viola never learned how to swim, but she had to in order to get past certain obstacles. She was scared but managed to get to safety. It seemed like everyone needed help, but no one could provide it.
Help! Eventually she became one of the many people waiting on the freeway for a bus to pick them up to bring them to safety. They encountered hostile policemen pointing guns at them and treating them like criminals. She remembered how badly African Americans were treated by the racist police, who called them names and assumed they were up to no good. They waited 6 days before help came. She was put on a bus for 12 hours and not told where she was going. Her family was one of many that were split up. Husbands were separated from wives and children taken from parents. People didn’t find out where their loved ones were until at least 2 weeks later. Viola did not know where they were going till they finally saw a sign with ‘Welcome to Houston, Texas.’ on it. Viola was lucky she had food and water to last those 6 days. Others died because they couldn’t get access to fresh water. For a long time after the hurricane she and her family could not get back into New Orleans. The city wouldn’t have let them in even if they did have the money. They were stuck and forced to settle down in Houston. Many people don’t understand why anyone would want to go back to New Orleans. What most will say is their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and great great grandparents before them have lived there for centuries. New Orleans is more than a home. It is where their ancestors came from. It’s where they belong and where they feel they should be. That’s why all of them will go back given a chance. A lot of African Americans don’t really feel like Africa is their home. None of them can trace their family tree any farther back than from the time of slavery, so really the only home they have is New Orleans. Caucasian people’s families have been here for generations too and there’s a lot of history in this town.
But It’s Not Over Yet The problems in New Orleans are complicated due to this very issue. There was a 65% ownership rate in the Lower 9th, higher than anywhere else in the US. No one has the ownership papers to prove they are the owners anymore, so no one knows who should pay for fines, damage to the house…etc. After Katrina, people went to the government in order to get money, but were faced with a 100 page application, long lines, and trying to afford the transportation fees of going back and forth to New Orleans. Others fortunate enough to have flood damage were told the damage to their house was only worth $20,000. This was for a $50,000 house that was irreparable. Other stories include a woman who’s house was swept away by the water into a tree. The insurance company told her they couldn’t cover her house because it was not on her property. Others who were fortunate enough to have money to rebuild have been scammed by people claiming to be contractors. They say you have to give them money so they can buy the materials to start building. They’ll build a little bit of your house, but badly because they’re not real construction workers, make off with the rest of the money, and leave. Those poor people ended up even more in debt and have to rely on volunteers like myself to build the rest of their houses properly. Yet sometimes the volunteers who come are not skilled and don’t do a good job. Volunteers must at least be under the supervision of a skilled construction worker before they will really do some good for the house. For many victims of Katrina, it’s been 4 years and they still don’t have a home. If everything goes well for Viola, she will have a home within the next 3 months. But can you imagine how much hard work it was for her if she’s been waiting 4 years in order to make her dream of moving back come true?
Swamp Tour ^ This is our tour boat. I got to hold a baby gator!
A Herring.A snake!! Below Is a hidden alligator, yikes! Snapping Turtles also live in the swamps. They like sunbathing This gator liked my soft shell crab po-boy. Gators can get as long as 12 feet.
Phyllis got a scare from a freeze dried gator hand Swamps are actually quite beautiful and baby gators are actually pretty adorable!
We went to the Zydeco Festival, which celebrates Cajun Food and music. Here we are eating alligator sausage on a stick! Here is the French market where you can find great deals like $3 sunglasses and $10 coach purses. There’s also lots of yummy food to be found, jewelry, clothing, and other keepsakes.
We went to get mufalettas from Central Grocery. They are sandwiches packed with olives, gourmet salami, and fresh cheese. It was absolutely delicious! We couldn’t resist another trip to Café du Monde! This is the hardest to pronounce street name in New Orleans. Locals call it ‘chap-a-too-less.’
Audobon Aquarium was a lot of fun. We saw seahorses, penguins, hammerhead sharks, great whites, sting rays, jellyfish, turtles, gators, barracudas, swordfish, giant eels, and more!
What irony that the sponsors of this exhibit are the very oil companies who are actually causing many endangered marine species to go extinct.
A lot of the sea life we saw were huge. There were fish that looked like they could swallow a human if they wanted. The barracudas look much fiercer up close!
My friends and I had fun at Audobon Park, which is also called “The Fly.” It has beautiful scenery and is perfect for relaxing and playing card games.
This is Queen of the Ball, which sells snoballs. Snoballs consist of shaved ice smothered in sweet colored syrup. You can also get condensed milk on top, which really adds to the texture. They come in at least 30 different flavors and are all delicious. They make a great treat after a hard day of working under the sun.
Unfortunately for many of us, fast food became a staple of our diet in New Orleans. Nothing felt better after work than walking into an air conditioned Burger joint and ordering a cheap meal. To help relieve the heaviness of the day, we played telephone pictionary. It’s really addicting!! Especially after machete day, my feet and ankles looked like everyone else’s: covered with bug bites and scratches.
We always rode in our vans. Louisiana has no seatbelt rules, no rules about how many people should be in each car, and no rule saying you can’t sit in the hatchback. So… we experimented a bit just so we could say we did! But don’t worry it was in an empty parking lot : )
At the very end of our trip we hosted a community dinner at the Rebirth church. Our supervisors, some of those we helped, and others involved with this project were all there. We said our goodbyes and ate a delicious dinner. Julie was there and we took a group photo with her. Thanks to her we all know much more about construction and we’re a lot more appreciative of whoever put walls in our bedrooms and homes. It was still a little sad knowing we’d have to leave a place that has so much good food, such a unique culture, and such interesting people.