Tuesday, November 22, 2005

New Orleans - Day three. Surreal on many levels.

We turned in at about 7pm last night and got a solid 11 hours sleep. It wasn't enough.

More campers at our site now. Still no wifi. Or showers. Same story at Convergence center. Its baby wipes for now. We eat and break into groups. Well we try to, but the announcements drag on and on. Our leader isn't around so I gather up the crew from yesterday. We gather the tools we will need. The trailer appears and we load up and head out to finish the Community Center. More signs of life as city sewer crews are seen. The red cross swings by and offers us hot meals but we have bag lunches.

At 11 we leave the site to attend a protest rally at a public housing project. The city is evicting tenants and is planning on razing the structures. The first floor was flooded but the rest of these units wasn't and other projects survived without damage. These are brick structures more sound than most buildings in the area but the city would very much like to raise the tax base (bring in whites). Several reporters are there amongst the fifty or so people holding banners and signs. Of course, no one could see these signs so Rossana and I went out to the central divider for the street and waved nice and friendly at people. Common Ground has two legal advocates working to prevent illegal evictions. Its going to be an uphill battle.

We finished the tear out at the community center and bleached the studs. Hopefully on friday they can start laying in sheetrock. There is a ton of trash in front of the center. Yesterday we managed to get some FEMA contractors to haul away about half of it. A first, I am told. They promissed to come back today but didn't.

We returned to base and finally ate. Tonights meal was chicken rice with curry vegetables and beans. It was at best so-so. Feeling unfulfilled and dying of curiosity we drove into the French Quarter. It is physically little changed from when last we visited. A few businesses are boarded up and others say 'open soon'. But its a different place. There are cops eveywhere. They gather in clumps and their cars clog intersections. We drove down Decatur I believe and a huge tent complex has been erected. There are large mobile kitchens and lights. We look closer and see signs saying. 'This a FEMA facility. NO public services. ID required.' inside were National Guard and more Police. Outside half a dozen Military Police Hummers sit looking serious. What exactly are they guarding? Of course almost half the police force was fired for corruption, looting, or abandoning their duties so I suppose they need the help.

We found the Cafe du Monde open and ordered the first good cup of coffee we've had this trip along with a big order of Beignets (my addiction of choice). On the way back to the van we stoped by a small hotel we stayed at last year just to see how they were doing. They were open and the nice manager chatted with us freely. She winced a little when she found out we were working in the ninth ward. When I asked her what she thought the National Guard was doing she told us that she believed they were there to keep the gangs out.
'You know just before the hurricanes hit they tried to come down here and take over. The cops had a shootout with a big group and killed ten of them.'

I would really like to find out if that shootout story is true. It makes so little sense. Why would gangs come to New Orleans right before a hurricane is set to devastate the area. Maybe they came to loot. But you dont use guns for that and this area is piss poor for good looting. You want the burbs with those WalMarts and Best Buys.

Then again, this woman firmly believes the popular myths about shootings and killings at the superdome. Its hard to change peoples minds here. But that is really what is needed. Some fresh thinking.

The foot feels much better. I grapped an ice cold shower after dinner just to get the worst filth off me. I pray they get the solar showers working but I'm not holding my breath.

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