Thursday, August 18

Expressing New Orleans

This week, my team and I have been reading something a little different than normal. Poetry. Local Poetry. This is a severe deviation from the usual prose and literature: mostly we read books like “Flat Broke: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform” or “Restoring At Risk Communities”. What we read this week had absolutely nothing to do with social justice, racial reconciliation, personal discipleship and it wasn’t topical at all. “Red Beans and Ricely Yours” by Mona Lisa Saloy, put simply, was one woman’s poetic expression of New Orleans. Some of them are pretty peculiar. She has several pages of New Orleans haikus. Here is a bit from my favorite poem: “Land of Creoles, Cajuns, Black Indians, cawains, mudbugs, catfish and bayou crooners…Meridian of courtbouillon and hushpuppies, gumbo and deathless days, everyday hallelujahs, crawfish bisque, praying in tongues, novenas and graveyard gifts of lilies, silver dimes and bamboula…. Confines of Thibodaux, Tchoupitoulas, Houma, and Louisiana Red in wingtips… Nativeland of jive and jambalaya, the Crescent City- the city care forgot and remembered, ‘for true’
After reading this book, Irvin gave us an assignment. He asked us to come up with an expression of New Orleans using whatever means we wanted to. Words, Song, Dance, Paint. Whatever. This, my friends, was a daunting task. How can I, someone who has only been here for seven months and hardly left Hollygrove, express one of the oldest and most culturally rich cities in the United States? I might not be able to sufficiently express my hometown of Tacoma and I’ve lived there my entire life. How am I supposed to do this??? I watched my teammates begin their expressions and got even more intimidated by the undertaking. Out of nowhere I remembered something from our training that Caz Todd said to us. I could by no means quote her, but it was about how our experience in the city and what we do with it is just as important as the city’s history or culture. History and culture are null without personal experience. So true! Its kind of the reason we love or hate different places. So I decided that, rather than express a city I know very little about, I would express my so-far-short experience in a city that I’m very glad to call myself a part of.
I ended up making a 3D representation of my experience in New Orleans. In true “starchild” fashion, it is completely chaotic. Its centered around a recreation of our team photo, the one that’s featured on the Mission Year website. Except, instead of us posing in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, I chose photos that really showed our personalities. Adam’s picture is of him pouting with an empty jar of dulce de leche. Katye is in a dress, posing in front of the biggest sunflower in Hollygrove. Marcos is smiling happily with a guitar. And of course, I’m wearing crazy sunglasses and “pullin out the guns” AKA doing the only dance move I know. Naturally, there is also a picture of Irvin, popping out of the side, the way he pops in and out of our daily lives.
Its got pictures of our neighbors, friends and coworkers too. Ms Evelyn, the Jarvains, the Aronins, Quanita, Keith, Shekiel, the Browns, Ebony, Jada, Chantel, Mr Earl, Inaya, Anthonika and Duane. I couldn’t even fit everybody I knew in the box. Not even close.
Just like Hollygrove, my expression has rows of shotgun houses. These historic houses were completely new to me when I came here. I’m fairly certain that they are exclusive to the south, as they were created to house slaves. they are Very hollygrove.
And then there is everything else. The part that makes it messy. The part that makes it personal. I felt that no expression of my experience would be complete without our Team Covenant. The creation of this awesome/horrible document is a memory that I’d much rather not think about every again. After three or four tries and nine or ten hours of arguing, we finally came up with something that we are all proud to have committed to. The scripture references we used to create our covenant are on the clouds, hanging in my box. Also…. I tore it up and glued in my favorite parts. Among other things I tore up and glued in? The silliest quotes that have been said all year. Each one carries with it a good memory and a good laugh. Inside this box of memories is also a bunch of inside jokes, like the Parable of the Anti-Light Box, Geoffrey the Spaceman whom we found in my hair, the Fantastic Four and a mysterious giraffe that somehow made it into our team photo.
I could never completely capture my Mission Year experience in a 8 x 12 x 18 inch box. I couldn’t even describe all of it in a blog! But I’m feel like this got pretty close. The only big thing that’s missing….. the next four months!

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