We drove to New Orleans on Halloween. That night, we walked down Bourbon Street, to the Frenchman. It was a Wednesday night, but the streets were packed. We talked with people on our way, bought some pastries at a coffee shop, and we lost half of our crew in the crowds.
Eventually, we found a street band and danced for a while. Much later, we got back to the Hands On building, and went to bed.
The inspirational music started blaring around 7:30am. I was up, drinking my coffee and forcing down some breakfast. Breakfast was a series of “what happened to you?” conversations. And all smiles.
We’d signed up for our projects the night before. I chose to visit the Lazarus Project, a transitional living home for people living with HIV/AIDS. Our team leader gave us a quick overview of what we’d do – she figured some games and talking.
We were introduced to the staff manager, Rosetta. I found out later that she was living in New Orleans before Katrina, and she had returned to work at the Lazarus Project. Most of her family did not return. She said her neighborhood was a ghost town.
Later in the day, she saw that the corner the volunteers and a few residents were sitting in seemed dingy, so she walked up with some brooms and bleach to clean it. Her focus was always on what would make the residents feel taken care of.
I spent most of my day talking with a shrimp fisher named D. He was tall, maybe 6’2″, and in a wheelchair from a series of strokes. I don’t know very much about the illnesses that strike people with AIDS, but strokes seemed common among the residents. Three of the people I spoke with seemed like they were under 50, and had experienced multiple, paralyzing strokes.
D took more than an hour to warm up to me. We sat with a group, chatted about the weather, Oregon and TV. When it got hotter outside, a few people left to go watch some TV in the air conditioning, or just to nap. D and I stayed outside, and ended up talking for a long time about his family, his house and in a round-about way, the last year of medical problems he’d experienced.
Somehow, we started telling jokes. He knew a ton of cajun jokes, and some generally dirty jokes. After I told him that I had chickens, he taught me a children’s rhyme:
I dropped a dollar in the dirt
I asked the dollar if it hurt
The dollar didn’t say nothing
But wah wah wah
He’d known a guy who had trained a chicken to peck out the tune to that rhyme on a piano.
I don’t have any pictures from that day. I brought my camera, and I could have taken some shots of the garden being built, or Ms. Parker grilling up chicken, or the sweet, southern patio we sat on most of the day. Mostly, I would have liked a picture of D, laughing after I told an incredibly bad joke.