My project for today was to help gut a house in east New Orleans. I didn't get there until after all of the possissions had been removed from the house, but I'm sure it was disgusting becasue the water line looked to be about five feet off the ground. Actually, I'm sure it was disgusting because I saw the pile of debris sitting in the median of the road when we pulled up. I got to work pulling off molding and doors, making several trips to the median to dump waste. Then we all go to work tearing down drywall and pulling nails from the remaining studs. The walls were completely molded over, so when they would crumble and fall, we would get clobbered with green or black slime. Sometimes it was even orange, but only rarely. I would like it to be known that I tore down an entire wall in under 30 seconds, and I have the video to prove it. I'd like to thank Billy Blanks for helping me improve my front and round house kicks and also my sister for not caring that I stole her Tae Bo DVDs.
For some reason, we don't wear Tyvec suits to gut a house, only to mitigate mold, so I was covered by lunch time. I know what you're thinking right now, and yes, eating lunch while covered in mold is a challenging task not meant for weak stomachs. By the end of the day, we had created a garbage pile so huge that it spanned at least 50 feet. I'm not sure exactly how trash removal works in this city right now, but from the looks of things it doesn't actually work at all. Apparently no one has been by this particular house in over a month. They city is littered with trash and debris because there's really nowhere to put all the stuff people are throwing away. Imagine this: 80% of the city is said to be inhabitable (which I can attest to), so if all of those people were to clear their houses of everything they own (since it was all ruined by flood water) along with their walls, we can only wonder where the heck all of that waste will go. The problems here extend far beyond physical destruction. It really will take a quarter of a century to revitalize the area, and we can only hope that disaster doesn't strike again before that.
Speaking of problems we don't hear about on the news... The reverend of the church we're staying at stopped by out community dinner last night to share a story with us. If you've ever been to New Orleans, you've probably seen the creepy above-ground cemeteries everywhere. Bascially, they can't bury people in the ground because the city is already below sea level. Apparently the flooding ended up moving a number of caskets, usually only a foot or two. However, the casket holding the remains of the mother of Reverend's grandmother had been missing since September, and they were ready to give up searching for it. Yesterday, he shared the good news that the casket had been found about two blocks away from the original site and only a few hundred yards from the mouth of Louisiana's strongest flowing river. Their family was so relieved to know that their relative was back in her final resting place, and he was so happy he just had to share it with us. These are the stories that aren't getting out, and I feel a sense of responsibility to share them and make them known. It is so easy for us to go about our daily routines without giving a thought to the little things that are still weighing heavily on the people down here. I feel so privileged to hear these stories first hand, and so many people here are so content to find an open ear.
I can't believe my trip is winding down already. I have one more day of work before heading back to Detroit on Saturday. I feel like I have found a bit of a home here among strangers, and I have made some friendships that will certainly last beyond this week. I wish I could stay for an indefinite period of time. I guess I don't really know what God has in store for me this summer, but I can't say I'd be disappointed if I ended up back here for a while. That's the beauty of this operation. The doors are always open, and you don't need a dime to survive.
I hope these updates are providing a little window into life in New Orleans post Katrina. It is truly my privilege to share it with you all, and I am so proud to serve as an ambassador from Michigan. My hope is that I might insprie more people to come down and make a difference. Until tomorrow...