Sunday, March 26, 2006

spring break[alternative]

in the last post, i mentioned a road trip for my spring break. i eluded the fact that the road trip actually had a purpose. it was to get us to new orleans. some fellow classmates and i drove down to help with a design-build project our professor set up in the ninth ward. i had no clue what to expect for those seven days, i only knew that this would be a chance to see a part of the country that i haven't seen before, and more importantly, it would be a chance to volunteer, and give help where it is desperately needed.

our project is to rebuild a museum, and home in the area known as the lower ninth ward. the house and museum belong to a man named ron. ron is a pillar in his community, and has decided to come back and rebuild his life. through various connections with tulane university and other compassionate people in the community, our professors non-profit organization got involved.

a few years back, ron built a museum in his backyard, showing the history of the mardi gras indians of new orleans. the mardi gras indians formed around the time of the civil war. the recently freed slaves, identified with the indians, and choose to represent them in mardi gras celebrations. people spend all year designing and making elaborate beaded costumes to wear during the celebration. ron is considered a chief of a tribe, and spends his time making costumes and passing on the tradition to the younger generations. to help keep the history of the mardi gras indians alive and also have a workshop, he built a small museum in his backyard. however, living in the lower ninth ward, the flood waters took his house, museum, and any artifacts he didn't have room to pack during the evacuation.

our goal over the next few months is to help ron rebuild his home and museum. over spring break, we met with him to discuss different designs, and to gut what's left of his house. the hope is, that if we can get ron back in his place as the pillar of this community, he'll give the support needed for others to follow, and this neighborhood will experience a "rebirth".

i learned an enormous amount on this trip. there were highs and lows. from seeing the devastation and destruction of a levee break, to seeing the spirit of new orleans in the french quarter, and the sense of community in the ninth ward. there is so much to say, and so many pictures to show. i've organized my pictures, in a hope that it will also organize my stories. click for larger views, or for more photos, click on [my_photos] under my links.
[road trip]
the road trip took longer then expected. eighteen hours in a car can be exhausting. our only stops were for gas and to try "white castle" burgers, which i had never had before. supper consisted of some great bbq outside memphis. the trip was filled with laughs from stories and movie quotes. we ended up getting to our camp at 2:30 in the morning, where we then had to find an empty cot, in a tent with 400 other sleeping volunteers. i really didn't get a sense of my surroundings until i woke up the next morning realized just how many people were in the tent.
[ninth ward]
these are pictures from the lower ninth ward, near where the levee broke. this is the one of the most devastated area's of new orleans. from what i was told, almost nothing has changed since the hurricane. they are now repairing the levee where it broke, but most of the residence have lost confidence in it's construction.
[french quarter]
we took part of a day to explore the french quarter. we drank coffee, ate beignets and drew in our sketch books all around the district. being born and raised in the midwest, i found the architecture, lifestyle, and over-all feel amazing.

[ron's house]
most of the week was spent working on ron's house. we finished gutting the inside, tore down what was left of the museum, and cleaned up his yard. we piled everything up in the street, to be picked up. after getting the inside down to the structural members, the next step will be to kill all the mold left on the wood.
[bbq and pin-up]
wednesday night, ron, his family,friends and neighbor's, hosted a bbq for us. they grilled hamburgers, chicken, sausage, and ribs with home made sauce. it was then, that i saw how strong the sense of community was here. ron knew everyone, and we were thanked over and over again for our help. we were informed that gatherings like this were a standard, but this neighborhood had been without one of these bbq's since the hurricane. ron's wife was especially happy to see her friends again. after eating we pinned our idea's for the house and museum up on the back wall. with the neighborhood still without electricity, we had to show our ideas with the help of flashlights.
[doors of the french quarter]
walking through the quarter, i couldn't help but notice the beauty of the doors, so i took a few pictures to show the variety. it's also noticeable that back then, the architecture reflected the fact that we had little control over nature. the buildings were raised in case of flood, the windows had shutters that actually close, and the balconies are light and airy, to provide shade, and allow the breeze to come in. why have we forgotten these ideas?
[french quarter close-ups]
some close up pictures of the french quarter. i saw a number of notes on the doors, just letting people know when they'd be back. i found ferns and other plants growing directly on the side of walls, and a door that has more stories then i will ever have.


Anonymous said...

wow eric, thanks for sharing this. I really admire for how you spent your week, must have been very sobering.
I love the door pics.

sloring said...

Eric, wonderful post, I sincerely wish that I could have been there with you guys to help out...I want all the details tomorrow.