Sunday, October 30, 2016

Denham Springs

Volunteering is life changing. Not in the cliche sense, but in the sense that you are able to help those in need and the gains are invaluable in that you get to touch the soul of another.

The key lesson I learned is that people are resilient. Tears shimmered in the eyes of Butch: a grandfather and father who had lost every belonging. From the pictures of his parents to the gun collection he planned to passed to his children, all of it was gone. However, every day he came to the tatters of his home and helped us gut and sanitize it so it could be rebuilt. He smiled as he worked and told tales of what had happened there. At times it seemed an ear was all he needed to feel supported and heard. He was eternally grateful for our help; he promised to send us a picture of the house once fully rebuilt with his family.

Resilience is something he had learned, although the grief was still present which increased my interest in the field I would like to pursue: international disaster psychology. I want to be there at the forefront of a disaster helping those that need support to learn that eventually in time life will be better again. This ties in with my core essence. Not many of you know this, but I have suffered from depression. There are days that getting out of bed and smiling were hard. Through my work I have learned to accept what I am and still live a life I love. I greet each day now as a day that will happen as it's meant to and acknowledge that with the bad that good is never far around the corner. There is so much to be grateful for! If you ever feel that there is not, then please reach out to me and I will try to be there for you!

Getting back to my volunteer experience with All Hands... we spent days from 8-4/4:30 mucking and gutting homes as well as sanitizing them for mold. Drywall and insulation were removed, nails were plied from wood, sweeping commenced and then the walls were eventually vacuumed and scrubbed inch by inch so that they could be sprayed with a mold deterrent. The work was exhausting and grueling in the hot humid homes that lacked both light and air conditioning, but it was rewarding. The bond you form with your work crew is incredible due to the nature of the work performed together. I'm happy to say I have some life long friends all over the world because of this trip. Memories include drinks at Charlie's, feeding the turtles, runs with my running buddies, karaoke, and just living and laughing together.

I was also fortunate to have some off time in which I went swamp camping and bayou kayaking for the first time, while trying to escape the wrath of Mosquitos. Atchafalaya wildlife refuge is a great place to see possums, wild boars, spiders, and alligators. Another venture included my first music festival: voodoo in New Orleans which had a diversity of music and costumes with weed smoke filling the air.

Louisiana was healing for me and I fell in love with the beautiful bayou. The humidity slowly became bearable as I noticed the colorful scenery and experienced the local culture. Some day I hope to be back and until then I am grateful for the memories. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

New Orleans

I only had 24 hours in NOLA, but with that limited time I was able to try the amazing local cuisine, learn of the interesting disaster-filled history, and met fun people along the way.

The first night took me to the French Quarter to a big restaurant called ACME Oyster house. The wait was long, but jazz music filled the air, making it a pleasant evening. As the name leads on, the oysters were amazing! If you go there be sure to get a dozen of the chargrilled oysters; they are covered in a buttery sauce and melted cheeses! The gumbo and jambalaya were not as exciting; the best way to describe the gumbo is a less thick, stronger tasting clam chowder.

The next day I went for a run Audubon park. This park is a 3 mile loop around beautiful swamp lakes and a golf course right across the way from Tulane. I saw others running, although most were walking a running in the VERY humid air is a very sweaty experience. From there, after a cold shower, I headed in to Surrey's in the lower garden district for breakfast. They have great food and drinks! My lumpy crabmeat, avocado, and Brie filled omelette was incredibly delectable.

The highlight of my trip was a bike tour: Buzz New Orleans from which I learned a lot about the city. First off being that drivers hate bikers here, will not stop, and will honk at you if you cross in front of them or flip you off... despite all that going on, it was a pleasant ride.

New Orleans was French for 40 years, Spanish for 40 years, French again for a year, and then it was finally purchased by the USA in the Louisiana purchase for 12 million (for the whole state!). The people the French and Spanish sent over to Louisiana were the criminals (a lot like Australia's founding), prostitutes, and chronically unemployed who were given the choice between jail or the swamp; being a vagrant at that time was also considered a crime. At the time the U.S. took charge of the land the Europeans were unhappy, refusing to become American, and created the French quarter in essence to be exclusively European.
That was New Orleans intriguing start, but since then it has faced many hardships. Cholera and yellow fever killed many, which created its former nickname of death hole of the Dixon. It also burned down several times from fires. It was plagued with unstoppable prostitution due to its founding, which eventually became confined to a neighborhood called story time. However, with the coming of the navy during WWI, prostitution was eradicated.

Jazz originated from the Spanish slaves, who were given every Sunday off. On those days they congregated outside the city, which is the only place where slaves where allowed to meet up. They would practice their African tunes, which down the road incorporated European instruments to form what is modern day jazz.

We also learned about the cemeteries in the city, which are built in the outskirts and above ground. This is to prevent resurfacing of human particles due to flooding. Therefore, the style is above ground ornate crypts with cavos at the bottom. Each crypt has a family in it. The casket is put in and must be allowed a year and 1 days for the body to disintegrate. Than the remains are pushed to the back and down a shoot to join the others in the cavo compartment and the casket pieces are taken out. This was the process if your family had money and if not you ended up in a communal wall with a communal cavo at the bottom.

Those were the main facts I was taught about on the tour. I also learned not to leave your phone in your basket of a bike without putting it in a bag, as you will a) drop it, b) then proceed to run over it in your bike, and c) have to have a English gentleman rescue it for you in an embarrassing manner. Speaking of English, during the tour I got to spent 15 minutes with some folks from London and Chester. What I leaned is that I need to move to Europe so I can have 6 weeks of vacation a year.

It was a great 24 hours, but hopefully I can return some day to really get to discover more about the Jazz culture, as well as try even more of the interesting local cuisines. Off to Baton Rouge. Bon Voyage!