A Fourth To Remember

{I wrote this several days ago, but have just returned to Phoenix and finally — FINALLY — have Internet access. Home sweet home after yet another fabulous adventure.}

flags flapping in the wind, algiers

I am doing something more patriotic than I intended this July 4th – I am volunteering for the week in New Orleans. I’ve been working on a construction crew for the last three days, demolishing ruined buildings, digging up and removing contaminated soil, and driving around with my jaw unhinged at the complete and total devastation in which some parts of this city are still drowning, two years later.

If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning...
The 9th Ward

There are communities where it is hard to tell that Katrina stormed through in August 2005, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands of people displaced and reeling. And then there are communities of FEMA trailers where people are fighting to survive their daily existence. Strangely, these neighborhoods are often intermixed. Giant mansions flaunt beautifully coiffed lawns, wrap-around porches, swings hanging from giant oaks ‚Äì covered in moss, and shutters painted in this season‚Äôs tone ‚Äì seemingly in J. Crew hues — pear, aqua, sand and sable. Three hops down the sidewalk ‚Äì broken in many pieces by the root system hazard of having a tree-lined street ‚Äì sit three FEMA trainers, noisily gurgling as their temporary pipes chug water into the 10 x 12 foot white plastic boxes on wheels. At the other end, another plastic PVC web of tubes angrily disposes waste down makeshift canals to the sewage system.
Overhead, locusts cry in the humid night. Cockroaches in this city are the size of small birds – and they fly with creepy flare. And those tree-lined streets? Take a stop along that broken sidewalk and you can hear a familiar chorus. Many of the trees are home to large gaggles of parakeet and parrots. I assume these house birds were among the lucky pets to escape the storm and return without worrying about not being able to swim.

Houses are long and lean

New Orleans is a beautiful city, although the racial tension is at times apparently as thick as the humidity. The mélange of culture, religion and spunk make for a wild, sorrowful, boozy time. I want to cry for this seemingly forgotten area of the country, but it won’t be pitied. Instead, the music of jazz lures me to the doorways of tiny dark bars as I take my evening walk. The smell of Cajun cooking has me seeking out platters of food that tickle the tongue with sweet and spice. The cackle of drunk tourists in the French Quarter has me appreciative I’m staying with locals, in the community and not in a hotel. The promise of a city that once was and what will be again pushes me to pick up my gloves and go out for another day of moldy, disgusting, reforming work, alongside a team of Louisianans who have been doing this work non-stop for months.
I am proud of my country more than ever on weeks like this.

Not as much as I heart AZ, but it is still a nice place to visit

Happy Independence Day Miss America!

Now, back to work.