New Orleans is known for its vibrant culture and startling vigor, but as I walked down the residential streets there was barely any life for miles. This was not at all what I was expecting when I left Ashland for the busy city of New Orleans. I was astonished by the way everything, outside the French Quarter, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Normally when someone ventures down the New Orleans, they learn about history, culture, and nightlife. I learned all these things, but in a much different way.
First of all, the history that I learned was of each of the families that we worked with. There was the first house where the homeowners had lived for twenty-eight years. On the day of the mandatory evacuation, Barbara and her husband didn’t want to leave. They thought it was just going to pass them by and they would have left for no reason. At the last minute they decided to leave and less than twenty four hours after they left their house was completely submerged in water. As we were taking out all of their possessions, we learned about her oil painting career and all 3 of her children. At another house, I learned about the 18 year old high school senior who had to live in the car during the storm. Her aunt was a deputy and unable to leave the city. Keshante, her mother and her grandmother all piled into the car and tried to stay in parking lots near the city so they could get to her aunt as soon as possible. They lived like this for over a week until they were finally rushed away to Dallas, Texas. I learned about her old school and friends and her mutual love for animals. At yet another house, I learned about a wife’s struggle. She is sixty five and her husband is eighty. He has been battling cancer for over seven years and, because of all the bacteria present, is not even allowed to come into the city or it would be fatal. I learned about his love of gardening and how he hand tiled their patio. All of this history is the kind of knowledge you would never have expected to come away with.
The culture of New Orleans has always been unmistakable, but we were able to learn about it in a different way. One of the homeowners, Denise, taught me all about Mardi Gras and music. She lived right across the street from music legend Dave Bartholomew. She told me all about him and how their children had grown up together. She told us about Fats Domino and how Dave was friends with him and even recorded with him. Denise showed us what his life was like; she told us about his family and all of his music. She taught us about the different krewes of Mardi Gras. Her brother is part of the Zulu krewe and was even deemed the governor of the krewe one year. She told us all about the structure of the parades and krewes and what certain symbols meant. She showed everything you could ever want to see from Mardi Gras. At another house we learned about the beads, we were shown what beads were given for what reasons and what other tokens you could be thrown. The Collins family was especially important in teaching us about the culture of New Orleans. They even took us out to dinner to let us experience the food. Then during dinner they had different games and rewards for all of us. They taught us about the culture that they grew up in and passed on traditions to us.
The individuals that we met are the most important thing from the trip. Each family had a different story, history, and culture; yet, they were able to give us a peak into all of their lives. I learned how to properly remove toilets, baths, washers, and dryers. I did manual labor I never thought possible. I even managed to become skilled at ceiling demolition. However, above all else, I made connections with each and every one of these families. That was the most important thing I gained from the trip. One by one the homeowners that we worked with changed my life in some way. Each story that was told, managed to etch itself in my memory forever. It is just so amazing to see these families rise up out of the horrendous conditions that surrounded them. It made me see what truly matters in life. It’s not about the cars we drive or the house we have. It’s about the connections we make and the way we shape each other’s perspective on life.