New Orleans
March 18 - 24, '06

(click on the first picture to get started; captions are at the bottom of each picture page)

This is the kitchen of the commune-esque place we stayed in St. Bernard's Parish, New Orleans.  The group here was affiliated with Common Ground Collective, which organized the volunteers, donations, etc. There were always lots of opportunities to chop vegetables, as Alexandra, Tomio, and Leah demonstrate.
In this photo you can also see the large, smokey grill in the background.  And the silverware drawers on top of the desk.  There is even an african drum in there.  Wow Katie, Nick, and Sara are walking in front of "Distro", the distribution center where residents could come for free supplies.
We usually ate meals outside like this.  The whole experience reminded me strongly of summer camp. Isabelle was in charge of CRISP RICE, no, actually the entire commune.  She was very sweet and got easily carried away (such as the time she locked herself in a church with a bunch of nuns for several hours before realizing that she would probably be more useful back at the commune).
The chairs here are around the campfire.  The building on the right is a community center which the volunteers were working on rebuilding. This is only about a third of the huge sleeping area.  It was in the main section of a huge gutted-out church building.  The cots were actually quite comfy.  There were about 75 people staying here.
The generator was *supposed* to power the water heater, but it usually didn't work, thus taking showers was a particularly COLD experience, as Katie demonstrates Sarah and Dan chillax.
The first night we were there, some of the more permanent volunteers put on a fire show with fire poi and batons!  It was pretty impressive. On the second day, a few of us drove into the city to check out a Veterans for Peace demonstration which took place in a park.
Malik, the founder of Common Ground Collective, was one of the speakers at the rally. Sarah, Erin, and Joe (and I) walked down to the ol' Mississippi.
Yessir we did. This was picture was mostly to demonstrate that downtown seemed to be pretty normal.  It did have some boarded-up blown out windows, as you can see in some of these hotel buildings.
Here was so more leftover wind damage. But overall things seemed pretty together.
By contrast, in the poor neighborhoods near the levies that broke, entire fields lay clear of houses that had been lifted up off their foundations by a surge of water and carried back against houses farther away ... in some cases landing on top of strewn cars
Another house that landed on a car Some houses were completely shredded
Trucks lay on their sides Some houses floated into the streets.
Every house had been marked with a big X and information about the party who had "inspected" it.  There is a date at the top, the number of bodies found is at the bottom, and initials of the search group are at the left.  Some houses had "TFW" which meant "toxic flood waters".  We operated under the assumption that all houses had been flooded with toxic water, since after all it was the same water everywhere. So what all did we DO to help out?  Common Ground's goal was mainly to get houses rebuilt so that residents could come back and occupy the neighborhoods, which would also allow them to vote in the next election.  The government has essentially done nothing to help in this area other than supply a few FEMA trailers.  So thousands of student volunteers came down to do some of the work.  One thing we needed was water bottles and snacks (which Katie is holding).
We also needed a good dose of dance energy. Here is our little work team ready to head out!
The work we did was "gutting" houses, which meant take everything out of the house, knock down the walls, ceiling, carpets, etc, and put it all into a big junk pile on the front yard.  Since everything was full of toxic mold, mud, and dust, we had protective gear.  First, full-body tyvek suits such as the one Katie is donning in dinosaur fashion. ... inner gloves to keep our hands safe...
... duct tape to patch holes that sometimes formed in the suits... ... hoods... bunny ears??...
... outer gloves over the inner gloves... ... respirators to filter the air we breathed ...
PICT0041.JPG ... and here we are ready to begin!
This was the house we worked on for two days.  Our "sanitary area" for water and snacks was on a sidewalk tile. And here is the huge pile of junk that we generated from inside the house
At the end of the day, we had to wash all the equipment with bleach. Cleaning respirators and goggles was pretty simple.  Gloves had to be scrubbed.
All the mud had to be scrubbed off of the boot covers... mmm Alessandra, Erin, Chris, ??, and Dan down below
Sara and Katie had a very mysterious wet t-shirt contest There were also always lots of dishes to be washed!  Here are Erin and Kimber (who was from Seattle).
I spent the last day working in the kitchen with Dave, the volunteer "in charge" of cooking stuff. We also spent a large part of that day having vehement discussions about race and the future of the world.
The last couple of days the weather was quite cold.  The only solution: form a warmth train! PICT0088.JPG
The center we were staying at was a few blocks away from the levy.  Here are Alessandra, Leah, and Tomio standing on top of the levy, which is simply a long, concrete-reinforced mound of dirt. On one side is a barge coming up the Mississippi river.
Alessandra tries to get a better view of the rivier A ship unloads across the river
Lisa, Joe, Tomio, Leah, Nick chill on the bank Sarah strikes a crazy pose with the levy in the distance
Here is a better view of the concrete side of the levy, with a pipe for pumping water at the far right Some of the Williams group atop the levy: Robin, Alessandra, Dan, Nick, Leah, Joe, Tomio, Lisa, Tyler.  And that's that!  There are many more interesting aspects of the trip that I didn't cover in these captions, which I will tell you about if you ask.

r o b i n : p h o t o s