Thursday, April 8, 2010

a magical place filled with beautiful people

Finally life has slowed down enough for me to waste time in a coffee shop again..

My trip to New Orleans was amazing (I know that word is completely over-used, but in this case it fits, I promise), more than I dreamed of. I worked mostly on painting a complex designed for elderly tenants that a non-profit supports - a bright yellow paint job, fitting in with all the various colors of New Orleans. I worked with amazing girls and a charming Irish man, who introduced himself to us with a disclaimer about himself: "Alright, I swear alot. I don't mean anything by it, but I'm Irish." (this said in his thick Irish accent, which we never tired of imitating). At one point in the trip, during the lunch break, he sat on an ant colony and had to shake those "motherf***ers" out of his pants, which we found even more entertaining than the accent. Anyway, we worked very hard and really believed in what we were doing along with that United Saints does (by the way, - check them out) which made us all able to work with joyful hearts.

On Sunday afternoon and Friday evening we were able to explore the French Quarter, where I fell in love with the architecture and colors and noises and statues and smells and people and parks. The only thing I didn't fall in love with there was the lack of places to find coffee - being from the Seattle area and now residing in Bellingham, I've become accustomed to a Starbucks and/or independent coffee shop on ever corner, which is definitely NOT how New Orleans is designed. My good friend and I eventually split from the group to go on a 30 minute search for coffee, which was finally solved when I glanced down an alley and saw a sign proudly declaring "COFFEE AND POPSICLES"...a strange combination, but it seemed like a savior at the time. Again with the coffee culture shock, this was no expansive espresso menu - just straight black coffee with a side of popsicle, if needed. The owner was a fellow coffee-lover herself, and we bonded over that as well as a mutual apprecation for her straight-forward sign. On Friday night we went to a great jazz show in a venue called Snug Harbor in the middle of the French Quarter, which was soulful and lovely and so New Orleans. I cannot wait to go back and explore more.

Our group was also fortunate enough to get a tour of the city from a man named Konai, who came to New Orleans from CA to volunteer literally days after Hurricane Katrina struck and has been there, though seperated from his family, ever since. He piled in our van with us and shared the rich history of the city, particularly on the Lower 9th Ward, which is one of the poorest communities in New Orleans as well as one of the hardest hit by the hurricane. We got to visit a couple houses that had been hit and rebuilt, see some memorials, hear some stories of real people affected by Katrina, and visit a community center that a man had put together to help heal the people in the 9th ward. We saw some of Brad Pitt's "Make it Right" houses being built (he is paying for 150 houses to be built in the ward, which are very nice and solar-powered, going first to those who have lived in the community for more than three generations) which is a really cool thing, but we also heard from several people how the real work has and is being done by small groups of volunteers coming in for weeks at a time. Konai was also more than happy to share several conspiracy theories regarding how the government has offered help (or rather, lack thereof) to the people of New Orleans, all of which I found very intriguing - but I"ll save that for another blog. All in all, the tour was heartbreaking but at the same time full of hope and courage and belief that things can always be rebuilt.

Our evenings were spent in group time, talking about our days, sharing silly stories, how we'd seen God that day, singing in a cirle around a couple guitars, and sharing our personal stories with each other. I can't describe how powerful those times were, putting our whole hearts out for all to see and being met with compassion and support. Have you ever been really, I mean really listened to by 26 other people as you talk about your struggles, joys, and dreams? It is a terrifying and soothing experience.

I've left a few things out, but basically the week was spent in a magical place filled with beautiful people. New Orleans has so much heart and soul, and I cannot wait to return. Now, pictures!

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