Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reaching the End of an AMAZING Adventure

I have reached the end of an amazing adventure. I have learned so much about South, about people, about the Civil Rights Era, about current racial relations, and about myself.

There is something quite lovely about traveling-- getting outside of your familiar environment. And for me, there is something very special about traveling by bicycle. If I had been doing this trip by car, I really do not think that I would have met the people I met, or had the kind of experiences I had on the road.

Also, there was something quite empowering for me in doing this trip by myself. When I had a flat, I fixed it. If I went the wrong way, I turned around. When someone came up to talk to me or offer me help in any way, it was my intuition that I relied on to keep talking to them or accept their help.

So I did do this trip on my own, but I absolutely relied on the kindness and generosity of others. I have so many people to thank-- from people who welcomed me into their homes to librarians who let me use their computers and led me to information about their town, to strangers who bought me breakfast at diners, to drivers for giving me lots of space on the road, to principals and teachers who welcomed me into their schools. And there are so many other people too. Thanks everyone!

Right now I am in Silver Spring, Maryland visiting my Mom and Dad. And later this week I'm going to Boston to visit my Aunt Lorraine and my grandmother, Mima. I will be coming back to Seattle on May 1, and I'm looking forward to catching up with friends and with students too!

When I am back in Seattle I plan to do a lot more writing about this trip-- particularly about my experience learning about the Civil Rights Era and current racial relations in the South. I am pretty grateful to the Seattle School District not only for the time to take this trip and others this school year, but also for the time ahead to write about my experiences. I will be coming back to teach for the District in the fall of this year.

Is this the last posting? Nah. Just the last one for a couple of weeks. Till then--all the best, Dear Reader!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

It's All About the Music Here in New Orleans

Evan Christopher and his band played inside at the Jazz National Historic Park at the French Quarter Festival today.
Wow! I am still hearing jazz in my head after spending a day celebrating musicians and music here in New Orleans. Remember how I told you that I was working in Habitat for Humanity Musicians' Village in the Upper 9th Ward? Well musicians are actually going to be living in Musician's Village. Two very great ones received keys to their brand new home (a duplex) today. The house that was dedicated today is only three doors down from the one I was working on.

What a very touching ceremony it was today in Musicians' Village. Speakers included Congressman William Jefferson, the director of Habitat for Humanity, and the musicians who will be living in the house. Volunteers and sponsors were thanked, and people-- especially the congressman, talked at length about the levee system. He made a very clear point that it was not the hurricane that damaged the city--- it was the faulty levee system. Levees are the man-made structures all along the Mississippi River and along the canals here in the city to keep the city from flood. Well, when Hurricane Katrina came, the levees were not strong enough to keep the water out-- and that is what caused the damage-- the flooding. Imagine having four feet of water in your house. Yikes! Levees were to be maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, but most people agree that the maintenance of the levees was poor at best, and now billions of dollars has gone to repairing them.

After the ceremony Todd, another Habitat volunteer and I went over to the French Quarter to listen to music, music, music. Specifically: jazz, jazz, jazz. Ah! I have an appreciation for jazz now more than I ever have. It's a genre of music developed in New Orleans. And there were many stages of music with many bands playing on each one. My favorite band playing today was Evan Christopher's Jazz Traditions Project at the Jazz National Historic Park. Good Stuff.

I've had such a fantastic time here. One of my favorite writers, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Toni Morrison spoke at Tulane University here on Tuesday night. I learned so much about the writing process by listening to her speak. She read parts of the endings of several of her books and answered questions from the audience.

New Orleans is a great town and I am so happy to have ended my trip here. Contrary to what dozens if not hundreds of people told me coming out here-- I feel just as safe in this city as I do in Seattle and again-- I encourage anyone and everyone to come down here and experience the town for yourself. It is indeed a city like no other.

On Monday I will be taking off from New Orleans to go back to Maryland. I went to a bike shop today and they're shipping my bike off back to Seattle-- so I guess the bike trip is officially over. What a trip -- I have had such an amazing experience! It is the kind of trip, I am sure, that I will be thinking about for years to come. When I am back in Seattle, I will be spending my time writing much more about my experience down South.

But for now, time for bed. I'll be dreaming with tunes in my head, I am sure. All the best, Dear Reader!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Making a lot of Progress in Musician's Village

The blue house in Musican's Village. This is how it was left today. Great work guys!
My Goodness, Dear Reader. Just this morning we put tarp up on the entire roof! Tomorrow and Saturday we will put up the shingles. It has just amazed me how much progress we've made here on the blue house in Habitat for Humanity Musicians' Village.

So not only does it feel good to be here-- knowing that I'm helping out a bit on the house-- but it's also felt so good to make so much progress in such a short amount of time. With the combination of skilled labor and the rest of us (that is to say, we started out on Monday quite unskilled), working with people from many backgrounds and every part of the country has felt GREAT. Yay Habitat! I encourage anyone who is able to come here and see for yourself both the heartache left after the flood and the hope in rebuilding that remains. I just wish that the kind of progress and moving forward that we feel as volunteers could be felt by all of the people here who lost their homes in the flood. The progress made on rebuilding for many people here has been VERY slow.

What else have I been doing in New Orleans? I've taken it easy in the afternoons by strolling around on the bike and hanging out at a great cafe close to the Mississippi River in the French Quarter called Cafe Du Monde. I think it's pretty cool that a business has been around for well over a hundred years. It's open 24 hours a day, just like many restaurants and cafes here in New Orleans. Not that I need a place to be open 24 hours. I'm so sleepy after working on the house during the day that I go to sleep at 10pm. I've also been riding around the French Quarter listening to musicians playing in the street. This is a place like no other.

This weekend I will go to the French Quarter Festival. It'll be fun I'm sure, and I hope to enjoy it with some new friends that I've made by volunteering this week.

All the best, Dear Reader!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Making it into Town and Getting Started with Habitat for Humanity

This is the house I worked on today and yesterday.

This is a house that is typical of most in the area surrounding the Habitat for Humanity's Musician Village.

Hey Dear Reader! I made it! I got here to New Orleans on Easter Sunday, just as planned. On the way into town I heard that there was an Easter Parade right in the part of town where I am staying -- but alas, I missed that parade due to getting a flat. Oh well. There were so many things that went my way on Easter Sunday that I can't really complain about missing a parade.

(There are so many parades and festivals in New Orleans that the telephone wires that line the streets have beads dangling off of them! Also, there are permanant parade parking signs on the streets. That really cracked me up as I got into town.)

So, on Sunday I crossed over the Mississippi one more time to get into New Orleans. That was a bit tricky, and I was relieved after it was over. Then, top my delight, the sun came out and there was a bike path along the levee all the way into New Orleans. I must have ridden that path for 20 miles before getting off and going into the city.

The part of town I got into looked pretty good. Some of the homes I saw were HUGE and magnificant. But the roads were horrible, which is why I got a flat. I'm told that the roads are as bad as they are here becuase the water table is so high. That is also why all the caskets in a cemetery are buried above ground. In any case, I found my hostel and took myself out to dinner to congratulate myself on 1,500 miles well travelled.

Yesterday morning I got up late-- but thanks to roommate Lee not too late-- and headed over by bike to the Habitat for Humanity Musicians' Village in the upper 9th ward. Nothing prepared me for the kind of destruction I saw heading into the 9th ward. The flooding due to Hurricane Katrina brought so much devastation to this area and to the Gulf Coast. I'll be there all week working on a house with volunteers from all over the country who have come to help out the devastated area. Over the course of the week I'll write about volunteering and I will share pictures with you.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Day Away From New Orleans

Passing through more of Cajun county on the way to New Orleans.
Bonjour, Dear Reader, I'm writing you from Thibodaux (pronounced Ti-bo-dough), Louisiana. I was really surprised that the library was open here, for it is the Easter holiday weekend, and I am in southern Louisiana, which takes Easter pretty seriously. Yesterday, Good Friday, the libraries, schools, banks, and most stores were closed. SO I was surprised that today things would be open. Tomorrow everything will be closed again. I will have to make sure to get all the trail mix I need to make it to New Orleans.

Last night I stayed in the backyard of a VERY friendly household just west of Donner. This morning I was sent on my way with freshly and beautifully painted Easter eggs. Too beautiful to eat!

The last couple of days have been great, though the weather has turned VERY cold-- almost as cold as it was getting into Plains, GA in February. I am starting to wish that I hadn't send back my tights and fleece jacket. I will be okay, I'm sure. I think tonight I will stay in a motel, though, as it will be getting down to the mid-thirties overnight.

It is hard to believe that I am merely 50 miles from New Orleans. I will get there tomorrow and volunteer from Monday through Saturday with Habitat for Humanity, to help rebuild homes destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. I look forward to telling you all about it, Dear Reader.

Take care, and happy Easter to all who celebrate the holiday!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cajun Country: Woodvale Elementary and Cajun Dancing

Ms. Labbit's class at Woodvale Elementary
Not in the same place, Dear Reader, just in the same city-- Lafayette, Louisiana. Oh how different life is in southern Louisiana. I feel like as soon as I got into crossed over the Atchafalaya Basin into Cajun country everything changed. The music, the people, the food, the accents, and the language.

Let's start with language: Here in Cajun county people speak a dialect of French known as Cajun French. When speaking English, the accent sounds like a cross between a Southern accent and a French accent. (That's the best way I have found to describe the accent.) Why French? It is because back in 1699 the French claimed this land as a colony. Cajuns can trace their heritage back to when the British expelled the French Acadians from Nova Scotia centuries ago.

Now onto the food. I have not yet been brave enough to try it, but I am looking forward to a meal of boiled crawfish. Everyone eats it, and I'm due to take a taste. I have already tried boudin and crackilin. Thanks to the kids at Woodvale Elementary and their teacher Mrs. Labit, I got to have fried alligator at Woodvale Elementary. It really did taste like chicken.

Speaking of Woodvale, I had a great time with some very lovely third graders. Next year they will take part in a French immersion program that all fourth graders have there at the school. French immersion programs are common in most parishes in southern Louisiana. The schools did not always have French classes. In the early to mid 1900's speaking French was looked down upon here and because of that, the language was almost lost. Now it seems to be savored.

Ah! And the music! Wow, well, I got to stay in clearly the BEST place in Lafayette, the Blue Moon Saloon and Hostel. It was so much fun. I especially enjoyed the Cajun jam on Wednesday night. People came streaming onto the back porch at the Blue Moon with fiddles, accordions, guitars, and other instruments. I was told that some of the very best players were there and thanks to another visitor at the Blue Moon, I even learned how to dance to Cajun music. Thanks Kay!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Not Just Passing through Lafayette... Passover in Lafayette

Here's a little drawing of a seder plate :)
Hello Dear Reader. I made it to Cajun Country! Wahoo! More on that in the next entry after I visit Woodvale Elementary School tomorrow and spend some more time in Lafayette learning a bit more about what it means to be Cajun. Then I'll be telling you all about it, Dear Reader.

But onto this entry... what a magnificant time of year it is... Easter is coming up very soon-- this coming Sunday-- and for Jewish folks like myself, Passover started last night with a Seder (pronounced SAY-der) and will last for eight days.

I got to Lafayette last night-- JUST in time to take a shower and change into my fancy clothes. (HA. That would be my one pair of pants and my button down shirt.) I took a cab over to the synagogue and I was almost just in time (that is to say-- a little late) for the beginning of the Seder. During the Seder special foods are eaten while the story of the Exodus is told in a way that can be understood in today's world. It was so wonderful to be a part of something so familiar in Lafayette that I have been a part of every year of my life. Tonight I got to go to a second Seder at a LOVELY home here in Lafayette.

Unlike the Seattle area, most everyone here-- students and adults-- has the day off for Good Friday this Friday. I'll have to remember to stack up on supplies as I'll be heading to New Orleans. I hope to get there by Easter Sunday.

Today I did just a little teeny weeny bit of site seeing at the Acadian Cultural Center National Historic Site. Cajun culture is FASCINATING. The rest of the day was spent doing some stocking up: a new book to read, bike shop supplies, etc. I am happy to report that I have two brand new tires on my wheels. After 1,350 miles, it was time. Whew! What a relief! I'd gotten SUPER fast at changing flat tires. That should tell you how often I was getting them.

Cheers, Dear Reader!