The NOLA trip was a week without anything extra, or superficial. It seemed to be a week that functioned without the fast pace of machinery, and was stripped of the small performances of daily life. The interactions with my peers and teachers were raw and genuine, we spoke honestly and kindly to one another. We had talks over the clogged sink, ones that thrived and swelled even as dirty dishes piled high. We did Habitat for Humanity work that everyone participated in gladly, not for any personal reason but because of an urge and drive to help. There was, in everyone, a true eagerness to learn and better our own understandings, like during the art tour and the Hidden History tour. We were living without computers and heavy phone time, we took short showers, every lunch we had the pb & js we homemade for each other, and we had real conversations on the porch every day, watching the sun rise and fall. It was a joyous week of sincerity and indulging our own inner urges to do well and better ourselves. Although I ate some excessively sugary beignets and a po’boy sandwich filled with french fries, the food was where the extravagance ended, and I will always remember how it felt to live a completely pure week in New Orleans.
In New Orleans, so many of the people we met --like Mr. Odums with his incredible art, or Mr. Waters with the Hidden History tours-- seemed to have built their lives around confronting “the fire of human cruelty” that Baldwin was talking about and doing something meaningful about it. And I think that’s kind of what we did, too, in a small, brief way-- by watching the Spike Lee film, seeing those white supremacist statues, seeing the abandoned buildings of the Lower Ninth Ward, visiting the Whitney plantation, and helping (a little bit) to organize that warehouse and build that house. By March of this year, I’d become sick of the news. I wasn’t even feeling angry anymore; I didn’t want to invest much emotion in a situation that I felt I had little control over. I think one of the things I brought back with me from the trip was a reminder of how to face a dark situation honestly and emotionally while maintaining a sense of hope. I felt really inspired by the people who spoke to us and the places we visited. And of course, I’m grateful that I had the chance to spend more time getting to know you all even better. You guys are the best.
After an hour and a half of sitting on the sidewalk and watching the streets crowd as the sky went dark, I don’t think I could have prepared myself to feel that rush of genuine and overwhelming emotion when we began to listen to the musicians of Preservation Hall. That hour long performance served as a reminder of the more wholesome and beautiful things in life. As a whole, the trip was structured to be something entirely pure. The mixture of community service, short walks in the perfect Louisiana weather, and informative but grounding educational tours and experiences gave this trip more meaning than I had anticipated. The opportunity to room with so many wonderful people that I had never really had the opportunity to engage with outside of an academic setting was amazing, and I most definitely became closer with many of my friends because of it.