My Time in New Orleans

My Time in New Orleans

Where were you when Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc over the gulf coast communities and when the levees broke? I was in Atlanta, worried sick about my friends and their families and about the city I have had a sincere love for since I was a little kid—New Orleans. I remember not being able to get in touch with anyone for weeks because the network was down. And I remember feeling like there was nothing I could do. I did clothing drives for my friends, but it never seemed to be enough.

Well, five years have passed since that disaster that hit so very close to home and affected so many people that I personally know. And still, the city has not recovered. There are still empty but overgrown lots, houses that are abandoned, people that can’t return yet. There’s still so much to do, and this past weekend, I helped do it.

I led a group of 15 volunteers—3 traveling from here in Atlanta, 2 from Jackson, MS (plus a hubby–shout out to Trey), 1 from Vicksburg, MS, 8 from in and around Hattiesburg, MS, and 1 from Chicago, IL. We worked with Hands on New Orleans in two areas of town. And boy, were those two volunteer projects different.

On Saturday, we went to Harvey, Louisiana, which is on the West Bank of New Orleans. The project was with the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana to move their Esperanza Neighborhood Farm. Not just develop one—move it. From one parcel of land to another.  I walked into a land dispute that I had no knowledge of until we showed up to work. The organization had received an acre of land from a board member, but they didn’t go through the official channels of learning where the property lines were. Turns out they spent months creating a garden on someone else’s land—someone who didn’t want them there. So much in fact that the owner of the land showed up with police to make sure we were moving the garden, and not tending to it.

That whole situation was a mess.  Both sides were wacko.  She was wacko because she felt like the owner owed her something.  No ma’am.  Her organization should have done their due diligence to ensure they understood where the property was.  So she kept calling this man a bad person because he didn’t want to lease her the land for the three months it would take to reap the harvest.  It’s his land so he has a right to say no.  But going by her behavior and attitude when the owner pulled up (she was even rude to the police who weren’t at all mean when they pulled up), it’s clear that she was not pleasant ever in the situation.  So much for the attracting bees with honey because I’m sure when he (a black man) first pulled up to ask what they were doing, a group of white and Latino people working on his land, they probably acted like he was the one who is crazy.  He ordered them to move the garden asap. Now he’s crazy too, though.  First of all, she did him a favor really because the land was very much not taken care of before they made their mistake, so he really won out on that end of the spectrum.  However, he ordered her to move the land, but was threatening to charge her with trespass that morning (not us, her, lol–we 15 were not going to jail over voluntarism.  No. indeed.).  Well, sir, she can’t move the dang garden by osmosis.  We had to be on the property to uproot it all.  Once we, the sane and calm and unbiased black people, explained that to him and the police, though, he exhaled, still a little tightly wound, but just said it needed to be gone by the next day.

So my group of 15 had the task of moving a sign that had been cemented in the ground, uprooting a fence, clearing the land on the property that actually was for them (and by clearing I mean moving loads and loads of vines and trash), preparing it for soil, digging up and moving the soil from the original garden, and finally, moving and replanting the crops. It was very hard work, let me tell you, and the project leader was more like an overseer or slave master than a volunteer coordinator. She was barking orders at us and showed little to no appreciation even though we did in 5 hours what took weeks.  I think I knew it was a wrap when she asked us to relieve the Dillard students who had only been there for an hour compared to our four, and wanted us to stop planting to start back digging.  Oh, and did I mention she had stopped working because some students from Princeton had come to interview her for a study they’re doing about farming and community gardens.  Did I mention that the owner of the land of the first garden is attempting to sell it to a mechanic shop (we found that out from a neighbor)?  So… if that happens, surely the garden will not survive behind that. We left feeling borderline defeated and wondering if we had wasted a day.

The bright side of things is that the whole group felt some kinda way after leaving so we decided to unwind at a nearby daiquiri shop, where we played some New Orleans classics (so classic that the owner of the shop turned the music up louder and customers were coming in bobbing their heads–woot woot for the DJ (me)) for a friend who had never been to New Orleans, had Jello shots, played pool, and of course, drank daiquiris.  The girls left there and went to a nail salon.  We keep it pretty, yanno.  We have no idea what the guys were up to.  Later, we went to the Quarter, ate heartily, then looked at all the Halloween costumes on Bourbon St.  It was a great night.

Sunday was a totally different experience, however. We went to the Lower 9th Ward, which is one of the most affected parts of the city because it’s near the levees. When we arrived at the Lower 9th Ward Village (which I plan to feature this Friday), we were all wary, ready to leave the project, straight throw the deuces, as soon as we were done with our assignment. Turns out we stayed 2 hours longer than the project was supposed to be. The morning started with an inspirational introduction from the Village CEO Mac McClendon, who started the community center to help his neighborhood after losing all his material things, including a house he had spent months renovating with his own hands. He explained to us what he went through during the storm and its aftermath, looking for his family, dealing with the smell of death when he returned, finding out that silence is a deafening sound. He said that hearing a car was a treat because there were literally no sounds—no birds chirping, no dogs barking, no crickets chirping, nothing. Out of hopelessness, he found his purpose in life and now, he’s running this center, still rebuilding his own life, but giving to his neighbors. Because there’s a law saying that if the grass is over 18 inches, a lot can be seized, we spent our morning cutting grass and weeds. Although the project wasn’t as “glamorous” as creating a garden, we felt like we had become a part of this community. After we were done, we spent two hours talking to Mr. McClendon about his life and experiences, with his younger brother who is the Program Director at the center, and with a couple of elderly residents who just wanted to pick our brains and get us thinking. We didn’t want to go, but we had to so that we could get home.  Here’s a link to a clip of the convo we had with Mr. McClendon.

The difference between those two projects illustrates the true meaning of community building—we volunteer, but why? To do good, yes, but more importantly, to build and restore communities. When I go back to New Orleans again to work, I’ll definitely be going back to see what my new friends at the Lower 9th Ward Village need. I won’t give up on helping other parts of the city, but I definitely want to dedicate at least part of my time to the ongoing efforts in the Lower 9th Ward.  I hope that next time you will come with us. 🙂  Here are links to the pictures.  Oh the memories.

Ranada’s Reads and Reels FB Photo Album

J Photo Group’s Flickr Album

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It’s time for Halloween and my volunteer trip!

It’s time for Halloween and my volunteer trip!

I have no costume for myself as of yet, but I hope you like my “spooky” look on my blog.

I hope to have an AWESOME time this Halloween weekend.  I’m going to New Orleans to volunteer, and I am too excited.  New Orleans is my fave fave fave city, so I’m happy to have the chance to pitch in and do my part.  I hope to do this again next year.

There’s alot on my mind in terms of politics, relationships, fashion, and much more, but it’s not in sharable format.  So until I can make some sense of all this hodgepodge in my head…

Here’s a video about Post-Katrina Lower 9th Ward, where I’ll be working Sunday morning.

And here’s one of my fave party songs, which is from New Orleans.  I’ve been dancing to this mug for YEARS.  Some songs are just classics. 🙂

36 Things for the Single Ladies

36 Things for the Single Ladies

Today, I read this post, which was a result of a blogger stumbling across this list.  Every leader should know how to be a good follower, right?  Well, I’m following suit and sharing what I’ve done in this list (by bold type). To all you single gals (and guys) out there, how much of this list have you conquered?  **I think it’s important to note that at some point, you have to consciously enjoy/bask in/take advantage of being single.  Time and place for everything. Don’t look back one day and wish you had seen the benefits of being single.**  Now that that is said, do you think anything is missing from this list?

36 Things Every Single Girl Must Do Before She Settles Down

**To Build Your Confidence**

1. Go to a movie alone. [I am a movie fanatic. I’ll probably always do this from time to time!]

2. Lift weights. [Now ask me when the last time I lifted weights was, and you may think I need to unbold this one.]

3. Try surfing, water-skiing, or some activity you don’t already know how to do. Could be riding a bicycle. [Wouldn’t everyone logically be able to bold this one? I mean, the first time you did any activity, you didn’t know what you were doing yet, right?]

4. Take out the trash, set a mousetrap, do your taxes, build a bookcase. [I’m good on the mousetrap…]

5. Live alone, or at least move apartments in NYC without the help of family.

6. Train for (and finish) a huge physical test like a half-marathon. [Does playing coed softball count?]

7. Go to a scary doctor’s appointment by yourself. [I’ve done this, and it was because I was too proud to ask someone to come with me and hold my hand.  Luckily, one of my friends had the graciousness to surprise me and be there when I got back to the lobby leaking tears.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing this just for the sake of it.  There’s nothing wrong with single folk asking their friends or family for support.]

8. Quit your job.

9. Fly to a foreign country by yourself. [I wasn’t by myself technically, but I was with a group of people I didn’t know, so I’m counting this one.]

10. Learn to stand up for yourself.

**To Be Able to Look Back and Say “I Had Fun”**

11. Witness something once-in-a-lifetime, like Jokulsarlon, a lake next to a melting glacier in Iceland. [errr… I mean, I don’t really remember so I’ll go with no?]

12. Revel in being able to watch all the TV you want.

13. Get drunk during the day, just because you can. Attend Santacon, the convention for santas, or similar. [I’ve never gotten drunk in the daytime, but how ladylike is that? I’ve had drinks during the day, though.]

14. Go on a date with someone who actually makes you nervous. [:)]

15. Go out with an older man who takes you somewhere nice and makes you feel like a million bucks.

16. Go out with a guy who makes you laugh ‘til it hurts.

**To Get Perspective**

17. Be a good wingwoman. It’s not always about you.

18. Chill with your widowed and single grandma. She knows “alone”! [Since my grandfather passed last year, this one isn’t so lighthearted for me as it comes across in the wording.  Don’t know how I feel about this one, but yes, I’ve spent quality time with her since then.]

19. Volunteer. [Y’all know I do plenty of this.  But lemme tell you why I think giving your time to someone who needs it is a huge one.  It’s good for you and your soul, and it’s good practice in sacrifice (which I hear is, in moderation, necessary for healthy, long-lasting relationship).]

**To Make You Appreciate the Next Guy**

20. Do at least one Valentine’s Day alone. […I mean, ok. I can’t say this was necessarily on purpose, but I’m pretty comfortable with giving myself, my family, and my friends love on Love Day.]

21. Attend a wedding (or 15) alone.

22. Date the creeps. You’ll really value the nice guys afterward. [This was not by choice though. Again, wouldn’t recommend anyone do this on purpose… C’mon now.]

**To Make You Feel Sexy and Attractive**

23. Buy yourself some flowers.

24. Invest in a LBD (little black dress) and some sexy stilettos.

25. Sit at a bar by yourself and drink a martini. Cool. [I have a sneaking suspicion that I have done this. But since I can’t recall a specific time, I’ll leave it.]

26. Buy something frivolous and expensive that you LOVE wearing.

**To Make the Most of Your Free Time**

27. Finish all your schooling if you can. [I’m bolding this, not because I’m “finished” but because I already have 4 degrees so if I decided I were done, who would question me? I’m not convinced I’m done though. I absolutely love learning.]

28. Throw yourself into something time-consuming, like learning a foreign language. You may not have time to do this again until you retire and the kids are off to college. [I could write a whole blog post about all the time-consuming stuff I’ve delved into. Anything that’s worth doing probably isn’t all that quick, right?]

**To Make Yourself a Better Partner in the Future**

29. Make a list of all your faults. [I’d like to refer to them as my areas for improvement. I also listed my assets. Focus on positivity.]

30. Learn to cook well. [And bake too.]

31. Get some hobbies. Something’s gotta keep you occupied—plus it’ll make you seem interesting. [Reading, playing softball, going to the movies, crocheting, blogging, etc.]

32. Let your married friends edit your online dating profile. [If I had an online dating profile, I’d probably do this.]

33. Get your finances in order. [This isn’t a concrete thing. They’ve been in order before. Headed back in that direction now.]

**To Appreciate Being Single**

34. Babysit someone’s baby for an hour. [Hey, I have 2 nieces and 7 nephews, so…]

35. Help a friend through her divorce or a bad break-up.

36. Host a girls-only night. I think some coupled-up women forget how much we need each other. [I’ve done girls-only nights, days, trips–who doesn’t like hanging with the homies?]

**Things not on this list but on Nada Dee’s list**

37. Road-trip alone. I think this is a true test of how comfy you are with yourself.  I’ve taken myself places just because I wanted to be unencumbered by anyone else’s schedules, timelines, and desires.  Great way to sort out thoughts too.

38. Maintain a roster. I know several people who believe that once they meet someone, they must devote all their time and attention to that person, even before any semblance of a conversation about exclusivity occurs.  To each her own, but as my mom told me as a youngin learning the dating ropes, until you’re married, you’re single.  So without established boundaries, I never assumed that I should behave like I’m in a committed relationship.  Have some fun, meet new people, enjoy getting to know them, and really make an educated decision about who you want to pursue something deeper with.

39. Create a vision board. Where are you going in life? What do you want? Can you really merge your life with someone else’s if you don’t really know the value of yours? Sit down, write down all your dreams and short-term and long-term goals, then make it plain by creating a board that you can hang up and look at regularly, reminding you of what you need to be working on to achieve your heart’s desires.

40. Romance yourself. I dunno what your idea of romance is, but whatever it is, do it for yourself.  Go get a massage, make yourself bubble baths, light candles during a self-prepared dinner, sleep in something that makes you feel good about yourself, etc.

What else should singles do before they settle down?  Any other ideas?