Day 7: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 -- Work Day 2
Cyndi B. -- Today our group, led by Leona D. and Jon T., went to Chalmette in the St. Bernard Parish of New Orleans. This area is southcoast of the Mississippi River and was the area most directly affected by the breach after the hurricane in 2005. our mission, or task, was to plant a special type of marsh grass back into the still damaged areas of the marsh. The marsh is important to the habitat of the marine life and to the runoff of the Mississippi River. Throughout the last few days we have come to realize that many of the projects we are working on are built on multiple pyramid volunteer organizations. Our Volunteer coordinator for our project was Spring Gains, representing the American Wetland Conservation Corps. In addition an important observation that we have made is that many of the volunteers are people who have been directly affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. On today's project, I spoke with Sian Gaines, Spring's twin sister, about where they were from. She shared with me that they were from New Orleans and that their home was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and since then they had purchased a home damaged by the hurricane and lived in it while doing the renovations.. Eager to tell his story was another volunteer John, age 20. His family of five live in a FEMA trailer for four with several pets for 2 1/2 years. They restored their home by themselves and just moved in 7 months ago. To remind him of his journey, John wears a tattoo on his upper back with the "X" that was marked on his house. The "X"s were left by search and rescue teams after the storm. The "X"s identified such things as hazards and survivors. This was quite moving to me. We share these stories with each other to and from work sites, with other Camp Restore Volunteers and each other at worship every night.
Now, about the dirty work. It was amazing! We arrived at the marsh with another group from NY that was staying at Camp Restore. The worksite team gave instructions and we all piled into small pontoon boats and we went all of 20 feet from the boat launch to the edge of the established marsh grass. As we began exiting the boats, we discovered that the six inches of mud we'd been told about was nothing compared to the mud we stepped into that quickly filled our 8 inch boots that filled with mud and better served as anchors. I was still onboard my boat when I saw Jon trying to help Tori get her boot unstuck from the mud. At that moment I was scared, but I had confidence and faith that we were here to do God's work and as long as we followed the instructions guidance of our leaders, we would be alright. We determined at that point that we should skip the useless boots and once we got them out of the mud, they all went back in the boat. Just a note to keep in mind, this is the same mud, thick and sludge-like, that was pushed north and west by the storm and flooded the homes throughout New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
We planted the grass plugs and throughout the time my fear disappeared and I experienced such fun and joy. We eventually figured out how to trudge through the mud (using a rocking, rather than a walking motion) or even to swim through the top of it (more like dog paddling / crawling). As a matter of fact, Eli M. loves to talk about his "swan lake" ballet that he performed in the marsh. We weren't there a long time--we worked too quickly and efficiently--but I experienced so much that touched my heart, the sharing of stories, the Cajun Jambalaya prepared by Mr. Wade, and the beauty of the marsh that God called us to help him re-establish.