All day as we worked, drivers honked, waved, blew kisses and yelled ‘thank you,’ as they made their way down the street. Marais Street in the Upper Ninth Ward is narrow and the houses are close together. Most are referred to as ‘shot-gun’ houses because they are only one room wide. As I looked beyond the peeling paint and boarded up doors and windows, I saw the decorative scrollwork on the eaves, remnants of better days. As we gutted the house, we saved the historic wood work to use in rebuilding.
Across the street from the house we were gutting was a sign pasted in a window declaring, “Proud to Be Home.” These signs, along with those that assert “I’ll Be Back,” are found all over town – evidence of the pride and determination of the city’s residents.
Initially when we were told the home was a rental, I felt resentful. Why should we help a landlord, I wondered? These feelings were dissipated when I learned FEMA trailers only went to people who owned land. Renters were evacuated to other parts of the country. They are a vital part of the workforce of a city that is rebuilding. Without rentals, they cannot return.
The woman who owned the property worked along side us all day and kept telling us how grateful she was.
As I cleared the yard behind the house, I uncovered lilies about to bloom – new life emerging from the contaminated soil.
All week I continually was humbled by the city’s gratitude. Shopkeepers, businesses that let us use their restrooms, and people we met on the streets effused their thanks. One evening after our days work as we sat on the gracious front porch of the grand home converted to our dormitory, a young woman paused during her jog and came up to the porch to convey her thanks. “My home didn’t receive much damage,” she told us. “However, it means so much to our city to have you here.”
“It is almost harder now,” one of the locals told us. “It has gone on so long and there is so much more to do.” A high percentage of the population suffers from some degree of depression and there is a high suicide rate. Those that have resources receive medical treatment and medication. If not, they cloister themselves in their FEMA trailers immobilized, while their damaged home sits relatively untouched.
Jean, who owns a praline business, summed up the feelings of many. “While the storm wrecked havoc on our city, it has brought us in contact with so many wonderful people – people like yourselves who will give up a week to restore our hope.”