31 December 2005

New Orleans - Day 5 - New Years, Lower 9th Ward, LSPCA find them DOA

Saturday started late for us, great to sleep in a little for the first time since arriving. A quick lunch at Dixie gyro (our local favorite based on proximity mostly) we headed out at 12:45 to the 9th ward to work a clinic with Common Ground (highly respected by many of the people weve worked with for their hard work). The clinic was at a health clinic (a flooded house the owner gave to Common Ground to use while he was gone as far as I understand it) but the legal clinic was not supposed to be held there. Common Grounds had moved to a new site which we visited later, the medical clinic (with med students from the east coast, great people wed meet up with later that night) was closing the site down that day. We drove around the 9th and lower 9th wards which were some of the lowest, and worst impacted areas. This is where the levy was breached and water levels reached incredible levels very quickly. The devastation on the houses was sometimes clear (fallen trees on houses, burned out businesses, missing roofs, etc) but the major other problems are less visible inches of mud on the floor, ruined interiors and furniture, etc). Buildings are marked win an "X" which signifies when they were searched, which police department or agency searched them, people or bodies found, number and type of animals found, and some other code we couldn't figure out. Often where there was a marking for a certain number of pets found on X date (mostly in early September) there was a note by the LSPCA stating whether or not they found the same pets and what they did about them (found dead, captured, etc).

Beyond the physical limits to rebuilding theres the problem of access of the things people need to make living here possible. There are one a couple stores and gas stations and they are mostly by the FEMA Disaster Relief Sites where the demand is high and the people spending money on them are not spending out of pocket. Trees are knocked over, cars are flipped over and lay on top of each other, we only saw a couple kids and they were play fighting each other with debris from the hurricane.

When we returned to the new Common Ground site they were building some kind of storage space and had a few bikes waiting to be repaired, light fixtures to be moved, tent village of staff, and a food not bombs kinda vibe. While some were happy we were there others were a little resentful that we were doing easy work rather than physical labor. Some were turned off by this. I think theres a disconnect between the work they are doing (fixing houses, communities) and what were doing (making sure the bank doesnt repossess those house). In the end NOLAC will be staffing their legal clinic, but the small confrontational moment was just a small example of how people who agree about which communities to serve can disagree about the value of the work they are doing.

New Years night: we did go out for New Years, and it was pretty damn fun. I found a more authentic hurricane drink (around from long before the most recent bout with the weather) at Pat OBrians (actually I found two there but was some how missing them about 25 minutes later) and enjoyed them thoroughly. We watched a big bowl of gumbo descend at Jackson square at midnight, the crowd was immense and everyone was trashed a great combination for someone who does not fit through small gaps between people too well and needs to pee. Before the gumbo fell we watched Arlo Guthrie play a 30 minute set next to Caf Du Monde (one of the early stores to re-open) which was out of this world. Ill try to get the set list from my more sober friends who were there later, but Tambourine Man (a song by an old friend) stood out for me. After the big strike of 12 we roamed Bourbon st. for a little longer then made our way to Frenchman st. (apparently a more local hangout area). Being a concerned older brother male type I intervened between my friends and some gropers occasionally, though once we got some mixed signals and my intervention turned out to need an intervention from a friendly 45 year old Georgia man (though we did trade beads in the end which was nice). The gang of would be lawyers and our med-student friends from Common Cause ended up in a Hooka bar/club that was full of hip folks who we made friendly with (we even got cake from a guy named David, thanks!). We danced until about 3am and took a cab home cause our feet were sore from all the boogieing down. Relaxing tonigh was great, tomorrow nothing is open so we will be off the hot seat for a while, we may go back to the lower ninth to see some of the worse areas.

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