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Nov. 17, 2009
New Orleans—Day 5
Eric's back with a few words on his final days in the Big Easy and wrapping up a week with In Good Company.

Well, we just finished our work here in New Orleans for In Good Company and I have to admit it—exhaustion's setting in. Five emotional days of home construction, garden building, partying through the wee hours and just generally running ourselves far past “E” each day have really put our bodies and minds to the test. As fatigued as we all are, though, everyone is in great spirits—a testament to the strength of our incredible group and their willingness to happily give 110% throughout each unforgettable day we are here.

Today, knowing that this would be the last day of true work in the Big Easy (New Orleans must have more nicknames per capita than any other U.S. city), there was definitely a focused feeling about the day. We had planned to work only a half day (more on that later) and since everyone had taken ownership of their respective projects, folks were not going to leave until their work was completed.

Volunteers swiftly rolled and brushed new coats of primer and paint on the weathered siding, giving the house a truly fresh look. Folks inside laid down finishing paint and attached light fixtures and doors as room after room was finished and closed off from the rest of the house. The entire place was a flurry of people working as hard as they could to make sure that the owner of the house, Ms. Alice Cousin, could move back in as soon as possible.

In the end, I’m sad to say, we didn't have enough time to finish the construction. But, our partners at Rebuilding Together New Orleans comforted us with the news that it was now likely Ms. Cousin and her two granddaughters would be back in their home before Thanksgiving. Pretty sweet.

The main reason we had only committed to a half day’s work at the Holly Grove house was that we wanted a full workforce to descend on a community garden being built in the Holy Cross district adjacent to the Ninth Ward.

The project is being managed by the Lower Ninth Ward Village, a community center whose mission is to empower community members to be self-sufficient and to sustain an equitable quality of life.

Before Katrina, the Lower Ninth contained numerous community and individually-owned gardens that provided fruits and vegetables for food and barter, and generally helped build strong bonds between members of the neighborhood, both young and old. Building a community garden can be a powerful and uniting force in a neighborhood trying to get back on its feet and hopefully it’s also a first step to recreating those important relationships.

Part of our IGC crew had been working there all week sifting soil, digging fencepost holes and drainage ditches, and generally sweating in the hot Louisiana sun and it was super satisfying to join up with them and see the garden progress so fast. I can’t wait to see pictures of the garden when it’s finally completed, as it looks like it will be an incredible oasis in a once-vibrant neighborhood that has truly gone through hell.

The day culminated with one of the most magical dinners I have ever experienced. In the cool New Orleans evening, we ate at picnic tables illuminated by the enchanting glow of white Christmas tree lights in the backyard space at the KK Projects.

Don’t know what the KK Projects are? Here's the deal: The KK Projects are a group of flood-damaged houses in the disenfranchised St. Roch neighborhood that have been purchased by artist Kirsha Kaechele and turned into galleries and installment spaces for use by local artists. It's hard to describe the Projects with my limited vocabulary and general lack of writing skills, but it is absolutely and truly amazing. All I will say is that Kirsha is a real visionary and she's changing the way we look at art and its relationship to its surroundings, as well as who can enjoy art and why.

If you're into art and haven't heard of Kirsha and her work, you will, as she's managed to create one of the most exciting gallery spaces in the nation.

Anyway, on this night, all sorts of locals, volunteers, and artists came together and had a wonderful dinner while listening to live avant-garde jazz behind one of the dilapidated structures. It was a surreal experience to sip wine and eat jambalaya and bread pudding in the center of a neighborhood known more for shootings and drugs than for people coming together and enjoying each other’s company and conversation. I wish I could recreate this experience on a nightly basis.

As evening turned to late night and folks began to trickle out of the backyard, some of us began to get that feeling you get nightly in this wonderful city—we might have to go out and see some more live music!

And we did.
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Office Life, r@nd0m, 2080

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We like getting our heart rates up, taking a big breath of fresh air, savoring delicious food. But we also love telling stories and here's where we type 'em up. (BTW, it works both ways; leave a comment—please and thank you.)

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