I waited until I got back to school to post for a reason. When I first got home and I was asked how NOLA was I found myself not knowing what to say. How can I put into words everything that we experienced? I let myself really sit down and think it all through over the rest of the break. Now that we are back to school and I get asked that question I have a clear head and although I can never explain in words this experience I found a few that helps: eye opening, great experience. At first I was worried to say I had fun. I thought that people would think I didn’t take what we were doing serious. Now I realize that its ok to say I had fun and developed great friendships. We will all have something special to relate to each other about and that is something we will never forget.
Now that I have had two weeks to filter my experiences and emotions I feel I can share my general thoughst about the trip. Overall, the experience was eye opening and inspiring. The pre-trip seminars were very helpful but nothing can do justice to actually being there. When talking to people who have not been to Southern Louisiana about the experience I sometimes feel incapable of conveying the magnitude of emotions I feel.
When asked,”How was your trip down south?” I often find myself entering a lengthy conversation. It’s hard to express both the good times our group had mixed with the overall depression (economic and mental) in Southern Louisiana. It’s such a conflicting topic because our group had a great time bonding and doing the work; however, it is really hard to witness the quality of life and the overall neglect Southern Louisianians have. The trip definitely gave me a whole new perspective on life. We, as Union students, are extremely lucky. I find it humbling to compare our “losses” to the losses in Louisiana. A typical Union student would feel the world was ending if his/her computer crashed during exam week. A paper lossed or exam failed is the end of the world as many students know it. People living in Louisiana fear Hurricane season every year and pray they will not lose their home and community. Their losses put ours in perspective and open our eyes to the greater issues in the world.
After being in Louisiana, I feel guilty about the conflicts in my life; in the whole scheme of things I am very lucky. I do think the work we did in Louisiana was helpful and that the community appreciates what we did, I still believe that our experience was more beneficial. We, as privileged Union students, have gained a whole new outlook on life, improved our social skills (through interacting and observing), and learned a lot about Louisiana and what it means to help a community. This experience is one not to be forgotten and to be shared for my entire life.
So I have found it extremely difficult to talk to my family about everything we’ve learned. I was hoping that they would share my anger and frustration when I described my experiences and the impact they’ve had on me. Unfortunately they just don’t seem to understand the way I wish they did. Their responses and opinions are similar to mine before the trip; they don’t seem to fully grasp the gravity of the situation in Southern LA and I’m still getting the response, “why bother rebuilding?” It’s difficult to convey my thoughts and personal experience with anyone who was not on the trip with us and I am fairly frustrated with trying to explain myself to them. Like we discussed in our last meeting, perhaps it is something everyone needs to experience for themselves.
I thought that at least some of my friends and family would be highly interested in what I learned (considering this was an actual course), especially after meeting Jane on the trip home. This woman sat next to me on our flight from Charlotte to Albany and was fully open into hearing what I had to say. She did not butt in or desperately try to fight my opinion. She asked several questions and ended up agreeing with my thoughts. It disappointed me to discover that my friends and family did not share this interest. So although I feel I should relay what I’ve learned to everyone I know, I find my response to “how was your trip?” being shortened to “incredible,” “fun,” “educational,” etc., or I simply talk about the fun aspects of the trip.
Although I am unable to share my true thoughts with my friends and family, I am thankful that I have personally experienced what this mini-term had to offer. I am also thankful that I have 19 people who have had similar experiences that I can talk to about what I’ve learned.
A week and a half has passed since our trip, which has given me time to reflect and share stories with friends and family. Jan forewarned the group that many of us might feel a disconnect from our home life or not feel satisfied when explaining to others what we experienced. I still struggle with the latter concept. I’m normally comfortable with settling back in from trips, even when I was abroad in Vietnam for 3 ½ months. I found it easy to get back into routine habits, but difficult to share how my trip went with those who inquired. While my immediate family was comforting, understanding, and well aware of Louisiana’s current condition, friends and relatives did not seem to fully grasp what I was explaining to them. It seems as though they wanted a quick, joyful story and not be bothered with real issues that Louisianans face. This became very frustrating the more people asked about the trip, because unless they probed further about the current situation (which fortunately some have), I felt reluctant to share my entire experience. On a more positive note.. I am so glad I was able to work in Ms. Barbara’s house in Dulac. She was a wonderful, light-hearted woman, who always had a smile on her face. Whether we sat down and made fun of a talk show before packing up for the day, or discussed her memories of the flooding, I enjoyed conversing with her. She had a very positive outlook on life, and did not seem to have dampened spirits by her situation, which was refreshing and showed a lot about her character.
I am currently applying for Teach for America, so I have been busy over break. After being on this trip I have seriously considered volunteer work based in New Orleans or Dulac, if I am not accepted into the program. With all the privileges most Union College students have received throughout their life, I think it would be great for many of us to give back to those less fortunate. As we discussed in our final session, we are all most likely volunteer oriented and have a similar mindset, so I think it is important to encourage our peers to experience the mini-term Union offers. Looking back on this trip, I’m glad we had to take a class and are required to write a research paper. While volunteer work is great, I think the combination between applied work and becoming educated about the issues really supplies us with the proper knowledge and experience to share with others. I am so grateful to have experienced a trip with such a great group of people. I’ll admit I had a few doubts on how well we would internalize the experience (before we left Union), but after listening to everyone during our group discussions in New Orleans and after we returned I am convinced we all took a lot away from this trip. Our group really seemed to get it, and every person had a unique and original perspective to add to our discussions. During these discussions individuals brought up aspects of the trip I had not thought of and encouraged me to further digest our experience. Others responses inspired me and reaffirmed feelings I had, which made me feel comfortable that I was not the only one contemplating various issues. It was a true delight to be on the trip with this crew.
I hope everyone is enjoying their last few days of break and spending lots of time with loved ones. I look forward to seeing y’all when we return!
After returning from Louisiana I can only look back at the experience in a positive light. I must say that beyond meeting a lot of great new people, learning about the culture and history of New Orleans, and contribute to rehabing devastated houses, we, more importantly, all have returned feeling very appreciative of the lives that we have here.
I think the hardest part of returning from the trip has been talking to other people. I feel like I haven’t been able to really explain to family and friends the complete experience I had and how much it affected our group. I can’t help but feel like the entire trip was meant to help us keep in mind more than just our isolated, priveleged lives, but to live with the realities we learned in Louisiana that exist in the world, even in the United States.
I hope that after everything we experienced and learned through the program will stay with me beyond my years at Union. Even if that doesn’t bring me back to New Orleans to provide community service, I want to be able to use what I’ve learned in whatever I do in my life.
During our post-trip discussion we talked extensively about how we might respond to friends and family asking about our trip. I’m finding that it was much easier to talk about this hypothetically with our group than it is to actually explain to people at home. Part of the reason is that most of my friends from home are really looking for a sound-byte, not a lengthy conversation, when they ask “How was your trip?”. In general, I would say that’s okay by me, and I don’t really blame them for their lack of genuine interest. Except, now that I’ve been down there, I feel a sense of obligation to relay my experience. We were certainly emplored to do so by some of our hosts, so I figure, its the least any of us can do. With that in mind, I’m definitely trying to give anyone who will listen as complete a story of the situation in NOLA and Southern Louisiana as I can muster. For example, I’ve found myself opening conversations describing NOLA as an awesome city, where some people are being screwed plain and simple. While I do believe this to be true, it is certainly not the entire story. Truthfully, it doesn’t even scratch the surface. However, I think the shock value has worked to get people asking more questions.
However, even when people are interested and willing to listen, the task is not an easy one. Another reason why its so difficult to discuss my experience with people at home is that there are so many interconnected and delicate issues surrounding the recovery efforts (wetlands loss, government efficiency/corruption, race, economic status, etc.) that its difficult to know where to begin. Especially, when most people don’t have the first clue about any of these issues, never mind the overall situation in the area. I think this is another example of something you can’t really blame on your audience. I was just as ignorant before the trip. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when someone says “Why bother rebuilding NOLA?”, or “Isn’t it sinking anyway?”.
Another thing that struck me regarding my conversations with people at home was the level of interest and general knowledge regarding NOLA/Katrina/Rita versus Dulac/Ike/Gustav. It seems like everyone asks about Katrina and New Orleans, in disbelief that the city isn’t back to 100% of where it’s going to be over 3 years later. While on the other hand, the damage caused by Ike and Gustav in bayou country is barely mentioned, despite the fact that these storms occurred a few short months ago. Yet another case of blameless ignorance. This common theme is really frustrating, when you’re the person who is charged with getting the word out.
In the reflection session after the trip, Jasmine mentioned the lack of sense of urgency in Dulac people. They move slowly. They don’t care how much things are done. But they smile all the time.
When I came back to Union College, the first thoughts popping up my head was “I have many things to do from now on!” I had to write a bunch of applications, work on my research for this trip, prepare for an interview, etc. I stress due to time passing my college life. I don’t have time to think of other people as much as the Houma in Dulac. In college, we always have deadlines, exams and assignments. Our lives move depending on the clock.
My interpretation about the different attitude toward time is that because Dulac people aren’t often busy, they have time to spend with family, friends and communities. Their lack of sense of urgency creats their strong sense of community. And the connections among people give smiles on their faces, I think.
I can honestly say that I am having a difficult time adjusting to my life at home after spending two weeks in Louisiana. Prior to my return to Connecticut, I met up with a friend from Union who lives near Schenectady. My friend had just returned from a trip to Ecuador, and so we spent the majority of our time together discussing our experiences away from home. After my friend told me about amazing sights he had seen and the parties he went to, I had a tough time articulating what I had gained from my own trip. I felt that our experiences were so vastly different that he was unable to comprehend the transformation I have gone through. I cannot yet put into words how I felt when Jim brought us to where the levees broke in the Lower Ninth Ward, when I first gazed at the empty lots that were once people’s homes. I also do not know how to describe my emotional response I had when I discovered that the family we worked for in Dulac had been living in their damaged trailer since Hurricane Katrina hit. I was glad I got to see my friend, but I could not help but feel disappointed about how superficial our conversation felt. My hope is that once I gain a better idea about the ways in which my experiences in Louisiana have influenced me, I will be able to convey my feelings to others.Although I have not yet fully processed what it means to be privileged, I am beginning to understand the social responsibility I have to advocate for people who do not have their voices heard. Despite the challenges that the trip has presented, I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to develop connection with such an amazing group of people and I will carry the memories with me for the rest of my life.
To no surprise, I’m still very much consumed by the trip. I find myself thinking about New Orleans and Dulac very often. I’ve gotten to tell my family a lot about the trip and found I could go on and on in trying to paint a clear picture of what it’s like in Southern Louisiana. I didn’t realize how much I learned until I began explaining my experience and detailing all the facts I’ve absorbed since the start of the miniterm.
Being back in New Jersey, I can already tell I’m a little bit different – or at least my thought processes are (is there a difference?). First, I can’t describe how thankful I am for my family, my friends, and my home. Although I have always felt privileged, this trip has deepened my appreciation for everything in my life. Since my return to Warren, I’ve been stopping to think about how grateful I am to being able to do (what I previously considered) the most basic things. With that, I feel somewhat guilty that I had taken these opportunities and abilities for granted, and that I am returning home to luxuries that many others have never known.
It’s also frustrating to think that so many others take what they have for granted. For instance, last night I was considering the types of children I have been a camp counselor for in the past couple of summers. I remembered how some of them were so ungrateful for what they have and for what people do for them…the way they demanded things without being trained to even say “thank you.” They couldn’t care less about things that underprivileged children would go crazy for. (Of course, this is a generalization that doesn’t apply to all of my campers.) They won’t know until they’re older how safe their lives have been, and how amazing their childhoods are. With the exposure and experience that comes with growing up (furthered by opportunities like service learning) I feel so fortunate for my own childhood and for the life I live.
I thought about my campers when Jenny came to talk to us about her work with City Year, and the terrible things that some of her students in New Orleans have experienced. I’m so glad that my campers and other children I know have not been exposed to any of the horrors that Jenny’s students have unfortunately come to know. I really admire Jenny’s work, and I know I want to continue volunteering with children at home, in Schenectady, and/or in New Orleans. On that note, I feel a bit incomplete and know that my work in New Orleans/Dulac is not done. I already want to go back..
I’ve had a really hard time explaining my trip to my friends. Parts of the trip were very fun, while other parts were difficult. We were tourists enjoying ourselves, while realizing more fully the troublesome realities that challenge the region. I feel like I can’t convey my total experience well. I still think some of my friends assume the trip a vacation in which we happened to do some physical labor. Therefore, I try to express how much work still needs to be done in New Orleans and in the wetlands. Maybe the pictures they see will help to give them a better idea of what the trip was like…they can see our group having a good time in the French Quarter, but also see our worksites and pictures of Dulac. I don’t know. I know there is still a lot of processing to be done. I’m definitely very grateful to have had such a great experience.
I hope everyone is enjoying their time at home! Happy Holidays!
Upon my return to South Hadley, MA, I have been almost overwhelmed with mixed emotions. Part of me is happy to be home in perfect timing for the holiday season and the other part is already missing Louisiana. While adjusting to home life again, it has been hard for me to be like I used to. With reflection and much thought I have realized that I am different. From New Orleans and Dulac, I have gained patience, overall appreciation, and some guilt as well. As we approach the holidays, it is kind of hard for me to accept and be ok with how luxurious my life is compared to those in southern Louisiana. I have come to understand and appreciate more foundational things in life. Such things include my family, our ability to live with some luxuries, and most of all my home. After spending much time rebuilding and in some groups, gutting houses, my sense of home has gotten quite stronger.
I have so many thoughts still lingering in my head, of which I am still trying to piece together and find their personal meanings. It has helped me to reread my journal and look and explain to others the pictures and their significance. At the same time, it has also been very hard for me to explain to others my experience. I find it especially difficult when it is just a short conversation, for instance I saw a family friend and in a brief conversation they asked how the trip was. It was too hard for me to come up with a few words to explain the experience. I felt that I needed at least twenty minutes or so to even get my thoughts and stories across. After talking with more and more people, I am finally getting better at using strong enough words to show the emotional connection I made while in Louisiana.
After being home for two days I would have thought that I would have been completely back into my usual routine but it feels different being home than any other break. My mind is still very much in Dulac rather than in Ossining. I miss all the people from the trip and everything that we saw and did in both Dulac and New Orleans. It’s so hard to explain to everyone here, especially my family, why I’m not overjoyed to be home and why I’m not my usual self. I am also finding it very difficult to answer the ever-present question of “How was it?!?” I want to say “Great!” but at the same time it was so much more than that. For me it was a mix of fun and sad and memorable and frustrating and so many other things all rolled into one. I’m not sure that there are any accurate words to descirbe the whole experience. Being able to talk with the group before we left for home and then Arielle and Katie in the car has helped because I know that they all understand what I’m trying to say since they are all in relatively the same place as me. Hopefully as I see more friends and family I’ll find a more accurate way to describe my trip that explains both the happy and the sad aspects of the experience.
I think the hardest moment I’ve encountered while being home was when I went to the mall today. I was walking around by myself in the heat of holiday shoppping season and the ignorance of everyone around me and the excess of spending that accompanies this season in contrast with the devesation in Dulac, and all the other rural Gulf state fishing towns, was really hard to accept. Yet there isn’t anything that I can really do to change the self-centered frenzy and attitude of my fellow shoppers. It made me want to scream and I eventually had to leave becuase I just couldn’t take it anymore. I hope that everyone on the trip is able to have a happy holidays and enjoy being with their families and I can’t wait to see you back at Union in a few weeks!
Where do I begin? There is so much to say. The actual work we did on each home was great and we should all feel proud of our hard work. I think the people were very appreciative and even if some weren’t, we shouldn’t let it bother us.
While driving down the streets in my town, I can’t help to compare the two sights: Dulac and South Orange. These places are diametrically opposed in almost all aspects. This comparison makes me want to go back, I miss New Orleans and Dulac. I have not been able to clear my head of some of the disturbing images of New Orleans and Dulac but that is a good thing. The experience had an impact on me like no other. It is hard to explain the trip to family and friends at home because I feel that you really have to be there to understand it. Words alone can’t accurately describe it.
Our debriefing session was very effective and helped identify some of the important meanings of the past two weeks. The two that stuck with me were: with great privilege comes great responsibility and our primary responsibility is to cultivate empathy. Even though we may not be able to physically do something to help the situation in New Orleans or Dulac we can start helping by keeping their stories alive by sharing them with others; however. like I said above, it’s hard to do so. I guess we just have share our experience eagerly with others to the point where we make them aware and hopefully they will start looking into the problems both places face on their own.
As of right now, I have no idea how this trip is going to impact me in the future but I can assure you the experience will stick with me. The group was amazing. It was truly a pleasure to work with everyone and get to know new faces. I hope everyone has a happy holiday season and we keep the people of New Orleans, Dulac and anywhere else that suffers from poverty and destruction in our thoughts during this time of love and joy.
Being back home in Danvers, MA is not what I expected it to be. I honestly thought I would be eager to see my friends, family and evidence that Christmas is only a week away. While I am happy to see everyone, I find myself wishing I were back in Louisiana. The people, the culture and the things we did and learned have already had a significant impact on my life. When people keep asking me how it was I don’t know how to put into the words the experience we had. For me, I think the biggest thing I learned was why people never want to leave Louisiana. Pre-trip, after hearing about the devastation from Katrina and then from Gustav and Ike, I repeatedly asked myself, ‘Why would they move back?’ I thought it was ridiculous that people would live in harm’s way instead of moving to a safer area. Now I know exactly why they want to stay right where they are. Not only do many extended families live within the same neighborhoods, but many have lived there for generations. Jamie at the Dulac Community Center said it beautifully when she said that her people were “one with the land and water.” People are so kind and good to one another and they have great pride. The sense of community is genuine and strong and this land has and will always be their homes. I completely understand why people don’t leave even after being repeatedly hit by hurricanes. Louisiana is special. The people, traditions, food and music all make it a unique and wonderful place, a place that I am now missing, and a place that I now understand why people keep going back for more. If anything I hope that I will be able to share this knowledge and understanding with my friends and family at home and when I return to Union in January. I miss you all!!
I have been catching up on reading all your blogs and it looks like you have all had an amazing experience. I wish I could have been there to understand the difference between NOLA and the wetlands. I think the work you did getting rid of the invasive species should be so meaningful in that not only are you rebuilding but you are helping to avoid a disaster of this magnitude ever again. I miss you all and can’t wait to see you soon!
[Note: Because of a death in her family, Amanda had to leave the group just before we moved to Dulac. We missed (and miss) you, too, Amanda! - Jan]
I just returned from our final day of community service. It was definitely one of the more trying days of this trip- my group installed fiberglass insulation on the underside of a trailer home. I tried to cover as much of my skin as possible but am still incredibly itchy. I was a little reluctant to install this poisonous product, however. It’s projected that 40 percent of today’s youth will suffer from respiratory diseases, which are in large part due to poor indoor air quality. More troubling was the fact that the fiberglass company, Pink, claims to be “Green.” On the package it says “Pink is Green,” suggesting that their product is good for the environment. Their claim is not entirely incorrect, as insulation does prevent heat from escaping in the winter, which therefore means less heating is required, and thus less electricity is consumed. However, fiberglass insulation is probably the least green of all insulators. Soy foam spray, structurally insulated panels (SIPs), or to a much “greener” degree, straw bale, are far more environmentally friendly. They also have higher R-values (the unit for measuring insulation effectiveness).
It’s just a little discouraging to see non-green materials used in new construction. I realize that cost is a big concern, but their are ways to build green without spending a fortune.
In both New Orleans and Dulac I noticed something about people, specifically about survivors of natural disaster. At first I was surprised that people could live normally and appear to have a calm mindset when they were surrounded by debris left over from the hurricanes, and while their homes were still in shambles. I soon realized that the challenges the locals face are not unlike those of others, in that they must be processed emotionally but then (to an extent) be put aside. Eventually, you force yourself to move past troubles, and adjust to hardships simply because you have to in order to lead a normal life, and in order to maintain your sanity. You have to come to a point where you can remove yourself from the problems that once monopolized your thoughts. This simple observation helped me to understand why residents here were not more distraught at times. Sure, they still seem disappointed with their circumstance, but just like any other people they can experience a normal, healthy range of emotions, and are not constantly overwhelmed by the burdens imposed by the storms.
The past couple of days have been awesome……starting Saturday when we moved into the Dulac Community Center and returned to work at Mrs. Barbara’s house. She has been very nice and hospitable to us the whole time we have been there (she also has a slightly obese dog whose bark is bigger than its bite). At her house we have repaired the plumbing and put in a new toilet as well as adding trim and molding to the kitchen, living room, and hallway. She has been very appreciative of all of our work and is always quick to offer us local cuisine (such as homeade pork grinds and dried shrimp). On Sunday we took a 2 hour drive down to Grand Isle to help BTNEP (Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program) remove invasive plant species in the nature preserve. It was interesting to find out how important the nature preserve is to the migratory birds as well as its role in protecting inland areas from hurricanes. After a days work in the HOT sun we cooled off with a dip in the Gulf of Mexico…..it was freezing!!! Sadly, today was our last day at Mrs. Barbara’s house…..I am gonna miss working there and hearing her incredible stories.
Driving around Dulac it is crazy to see how many houses are still devastated from the hurricanes of this past summer and I’ve finally realized the differences between New Orleans and Dulac. In New Orleans you can drive around for an hour and never see a house that needs rebuilding, but if you go to the areas behind the main streets or drive to the lower ninth ward you will see the loss and emptiness left from Katrina. The Tulane University campus and the French Quarter have been built back up so much that it’s easy to forget this area was devastated only 3 years ago. Down here in Dulac it’s a completely different story. You can’t drive down the street 100 feet without seeing a house in ruins or a boat up on the sidewalk. It scares me that people in New Orleans didn’t even know what Dulac was and yet this area was so deeply affected and is still struggling to recooperate after the storms. At the slow speed in which the community of Dulac and these more Southern towns live their lives it worries me to think about how long, if ever, it will take for them to rebuild all their homes and get back to their lives post-Gustav and Ike, and also be prepared to face hurricanes of these statuses in the future.
I can’t believe how fast these two weeks have past. This experience has made me so grateful for everything I have. Sometimes I catch myself and others saying how it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Why? Because there are no lights, decorations, or music (well music…that doesn’t involve washboards). When I take a minute to think I realize that this will probably be the most meaningful Christmas I ever had. Giving is what the holidays should be about. We are helping out in giving a family a new home and a new chance to start rebuilding their families and lives. The homes we built for PNOLA will now be done before Christmas thanks to our help. Merry Christmas!
Like I mentioned previously, I have had the pleasure of working on Ms. Barbara’s house with Paul, Kenny, and Graham in Dulac. She is by far one of the nicest and sweetest people I have ever met and I have really enjoyed working on her home. Not only did we finish her living room on Saturday, today we completed her kitchen and the hallway (just for the record, we trimmed the whole kitchen before lunch). The bathroom still needs more work and the bedrooms just needs to be trimmed but overall the house is, in Ms. Barbara’s word, really starting to look like a house again.
Today we got a chance to listen to some of her stories about her experience during the hurricanes. Even though her home is raised four feet off the ground, during this year’s flooding there was about 16 inches of water in her house.
She also allowed us to take the rest of her MRE’s (Meals, ready-to-eat) from the military. Kenny is actually eating some of them as I type. It’s pretty awful and I can’t believe that people had to live off this after the storm. In each package there is “everything” you need to make a meal including a bag to heat up the meal. It uses a chemical reaction that releases heat and can heat up meats or drinks. It is kind of a neat concept but, according to Kenny et al, it’s pretty awful tasting.
She also gave us a bunch of Mardi Gras beads and one of those huge holiday tins of popcorn. She actually bought the popcorn for us which I feel is so sweet of her. She continuously offered us food throughout the day including dried shrimp, fried pig skins and chocolate covered strawberries. Her hospitality and appreciation for our work is incredible and I really wish that we could go back tomorrow and put in another day’s work for her.
Today we headed even further south to Grand Isle to volunteer at the Nature Conservancy. Basically we cut down invasive trees in the barrier island and picked up garbage and debris from the last storm. We worked in the morning in about 75 degree weather which was wonderful, but quite warm in all the clothing we were wearing.
We broke for lunch and one of the leaders of the effort, Mel, spoke to us for a while about how the wetlands have become the most disappearing land mass in the world, the importance of conserving the wetlands and different measures that could be taken to build them back up. It was great to get to go down and actually experience a community directly affected by the dissapearing wetlands and get to contribute to conserving them.
After lunch, Mel gave us the option of going back to the “camp” that he stays at right on the beach to just hang out on the beach for the rest of the day. Obviously, we eagerly got in the vans and headed over. Almost all of us swam in the Gulf in 69 degree water- it made for an interesting and a bit chilly ride home.
We stopped at Big Al’s on the way back to Dulac and all enjoyed an awesome meal of seafood. Overall, we all had a great day and are ready to get back to work in Dulac tomorrow morning.
Yesterday we went to Grand Isle and it was a nice change of scenery for us. We worked hard getting rid of invasive plant species in the nature preserve. The nature preserve was not huge but it plays a vital role for migratory birds: it is their pit stop on their way to South America and back during their mating season. Now we can say we helped rebuild some of the wetlands and it is a rewarding experience.
Swimming in the Gulf of Mexico was tons of fun too! The water was so cold but it felt refreshing after working under the hot sun. At the beach we could see the oil rigs about 5 miles off the coast and it was an interesting sight. It makes you think about oil production in a new way, especially since Exxon’s main command center was across the road from where we went swimming.
Grand Isle is a gorgeous place that is the vacation home to many and business home to many northern fisherman. I would love to go back.
As we travel around Dulac there seems to be substantially more damage and less recovery work than in New Orleans. I am currently working in Barbara’s house in Dulac. She has a great personality and is very friendly and kind to all of us working in her home. We first replaced her toilet and part of her bathroom floor. We also put up siding and trim throughout her living room. After having several conversations with Barbara, I am reminded of several class readings depicting southern Louisiana residents. She has a positive outlook on life and is so grateful for our help. When she spoke of previous hurricanes and the impact they had on her life, she used her stories as an educational tool to stress what she considers the important part of life. This was very refreshing because she did not dwell on what she had lost, but instead looked forward to what she still have to experience in life, such as watching her grandchildren grow up. She constantly spoke about her family and I can tell they mean a lot to her. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to meet two of her grandsons. The grandsons came over to help their grandmother and keep her company during the day. They seemed to have a special bond with her and the ease of conversation that flowed throughout the day exemplified their strong sense of family structure. I am looking forward to getting to know Barbara even better as we continue to work on her home.
After spending several days working in Dulac, I have noticed distinct differences between our work here and the recovery work we did in New Orleans. Driving through Dulac for the first time, the biggest shock I experienced was how visible the damage from Hurricanes Gustauv and Ike are. Traveling through the French Quarter in New Orleans, it is easy to forget that the disaster of Katrina ever occured because the city has made extensive efforts to rebuild the area. However, in Dulac, houses in the entire area have evidence of flood and wind damage and shrimper boats are scattered in people’s front lawns.
The physical appearance of Dulac has been diffuicult for me to process because it has forced me to examine how priveledged I am. For the past two days, my group has worked on replacing the walls in Mr. Bernard’s trailer. Nine family members are packed into the Bernard’s modest four bedroom trailer. Although the trailer did not suffer any damage from the two hurricanes this past fall, the Bernards do not have the financial means to repair the damage in their home. Being exposed to that level of poverty in America has made me question how a country that is seemingly so powerful could neglect to assist people in need. After working on Mr. Bernard’s trailer, I have an overwhelming feeling of guilt because I have been given oppertunities in my life that his children will never have. Despite my heavy emotional response to our recovery work in Dulac, I have gained a lot from the experience. The other members of my work group are Carl, Dave, Greg and Jamie; who are all much taller and physically stronger than I am. Even though they welcomed me into their group, in the beginning I felt nervous that I would not be able to make an equal contribution to the recovery efforts. However, I now feel comfortable working with them and have confidence in my ability to successfully accomplish the task at hand. I have never thought of myself as the type of person who could handle powertools, but this experience has pushed me outside my comfort zone and showed me how compentent I actually am.
So far I have worked on two different homes in Dulac and both of them have had a strong impact on me but I think my experience at the second home, Bernard’s trailer, will turn out to be more influential. After two stinging blisters, multiple cuts on my hands from handling splintered wood, and sore knees from kneeling and plucking nails from the old woodwork I was able to take a break while waiting for a ride back to the community center. Like they say, no pain no gain. I was sitting with the group on Bernard’s steps when all of a sudden I see a little, white, and fluffy mound rise from inside the rusted and filthy rowboat in the driveway. I went over to the adorable puppy and played with him while he wagged his tail in utter delight. It was Snowball, the family’s dog, however. I say that with reluctance because Snowball wasn’t really the family’s dog. They fed him and let him live outside their home. Snowball, most likely mixed-bred, had no collar and I am sure there was he was not registered by Bernard’s family, something we would make sure we do back at home. The concept of pets are different here and I think that is because of the different perspective on life, which I am slowly becoming familar with. I feel people down here simply accept their way of life and don’t struggle or strive to achieve a lavish style of life. As long as there is love in the family, a strong communtiy and a roof over their heads, the people of Dulac seem more than content. I think this “accepting” lifestyle is something that will stick with me and it will help me truly appreciate the things that matter most to me in life like family and culture, and make me more grateful. All of us on this trip may think we have such a wonderful life compared to the people down here but I think the people of Dulac feel they have a wonderful life too; we just have two very different standards of living. Snowball’s uplifting presence was a nice remedy to seeing all of the destruction from the hurricanes.
- being a recovery volunteer
- cool people we've met
- First Day in New Orleans…
- Grand Isle
- heading home…
- hurricane issues
- Jim's tour of NOLA
- makes us angry
- New Orleans
- Pre-trip thoughts
- Reflecting on our 1st week
- saving the wetlands
- telling our story
- The Houma People
- the Kaboom! playground
- The Land Trust Workshop
- things we are really surprised to learn
- Worksite experiences