It's been a while since the last time I wrote, and I don't know where to start. I have so much to tell and I'm afraid I'm gonna miss something important. But I probably will, so I better just start writing. After a month working for Franklin, I finally started my trip, my journey. During my last days at Maryland, I bought a one-way flight ticket to New Orleans, in order to volunteer there. Buying the flight ticket was pretty much everything I did about N.O.

dead body inside

A week after, I found myself landing on N.O Land, not knowing anything about the city, where I was going or where I was gonna spend the night. The hour was about 6 pm when I went out thru the airport doors, thinking whether to turn left or to the right. I guess the warm weather made me feel at home so I was calmed and relaxed, following the signs to the ground transportation. I got to this boutique, with no one in it, trying to read some papers hanging on the wall, without great success I must add, until I saw a backpacker entered the room with a bandana on his head. "Where are you headin' to?" I asked. "The Common Ground Relief," he answered. "I'm coming with you!" I replied. At the Airport we met John from California, who had been in N.O before, and was waiting for his friend to pick him up. He offered us a ride to the "Common Ground" site, and a few minutes after, I found myself standing in front of an old GMC vehicle, drawn with peace and love, but the inside was much more interesting. John's lovely friend had removed the benches from the back of the car and put in an iMac computer, a closet and a bed. Forget about "pimp my ride". That was the coolest car I've ever seen, and she did that by herself! So we took a ride sitting on the floor talking about god knows what, and after a long forty mins, we finally arrived.

Apparently, she dropped us off at the wrong spot. The place that we left the van at was the old site of the common ground, while the new one was about 7 blocks away. I will use this space to mention I have a HUGE bag. So we found ourselves, two strangers from two different countries (Mike was from Massachusetts), speaking two different languages, walking in a ghost city in the middle of the night towards a place we think we're going to. Fortunately, we were actually going to the right direction and we got there after an exhausting 30 minutes of walking.

I couldn't think of a better first impression. When we got there, a band was playing jazz, and dozens of volunteers were dancing to the music they were producing. Everybody was so smiley, so happy (so hippy) - that was perfect. I felt at home right away. New Yorker Ian was welcoming us, introducing us to our new accommodation, and giving us a short speech about what this place is all about (or: where the hell are we).

violin

After I got rid of my fat-ass bag, I went out and started to get to know the people. I've been in America for two months already and I can tell that in this place I've met some of the best people I've met in my whole life. I have so many new friends, friends that I connected with really fast, friends that I love. We have a lot of artists, writers, journalists, photographers. Lots of college students who devoted their spring break to help and volunteer, while their friends are getting drunk in Mexico and Florida. So many good people, interesting people. I've heard so many opinions and perspectives of people. I learned here in a week what I didn't learn in three and a half years in the army. And that's just the volunteers. I learned so much from the people of N.O about pain, belief and hope. Seeing a 54-year-old trying to hide a tear, after such a long time must change something in anyone. I met Alice from Chicago on my second day, who took me to a demonstration in the city and a march along the bridge where people were left to die. Alice is a journalist for the "Revolution" newspaper, and one of the most interesting people I've met. People are so much more beautiful here. Once you get to know them, and see the passion in their eyes. The passion to change, the passion to do the right thing. At the march, we were selling the newspaper to people, saying a few words about it. There I got to know the people of the city, the pain of those poor people, and how they keep believing. After you see what happened and how they got treated, you realize how amazing it is.

The work that we do is mostly gutting houses. We get into a flooded house (which is almost every house in N.O) and we start to remove everything from the inside. You enter a house and you see everything, ruined. You can't stop yourself from thinking about your house, and all the stuff in it, ruined. The carpets, the TV, the beds, the tables, the playstation, the photo albums, books, cds, cellphones, everything is still there. All the houses here are built from wood so the houses got lots of mold in them, that we need to take care of. The most difficult place to be in was the "Martin Luther King School". They had a big music room, and all the instruments inside were ruined. I can't describe how hard it is to throw a violin to the garbage.

violin

But New Orleans is not all about pain and misery. I'm sitting outside the cathedral. An old black man is sitting on a bench, singing a soul song to the sky, occasionally playing with his harmonica. An Asian guy memorizes the moment thru his huge telescope camera, a Chinese girl sits on the sidewalk playing the violin while a black girl behind her dances to Jazz music only she can hear. Two minutes after, the magic is still in the air, the rest are gone. This is the soul of New Orleans and it's everywhere. In the decorated buildings of the French Quarter, in the bicycle riders all over the streets, the people folding their clothes in the laundry room, the protest banners on the shirts hanging on the windows of bourbon street, the Jazz music coming out of every street corner, the volunteers who leave their families, work and school to help poor people build their houses. The magic of New Orleans I will never forget. My New Orleans.

revised by Grace Liu