My Alternative Spring Break Experience: Lastly, Part Four

ASB Day 5 (February 17th, 2016): Idiosyncrasies.

Work, work, work.

By day five, we had all become quite comfortable with the tasks we were assigned, so the build process was substantially more efficient than earlier days. I switched tasks again today and tried siding for the first time – most members of the team had now been doing this for three days. I had an exceptional teacher to help guide me through the process (Thank you, JW), so I, once again, found myself growing accustomed to this new duty fairly quickly.  This trip has been so full of firsts, it is almost conventional now.

Interacting with the people around me today made me realize how intricate, multifaceted and complex individuals are. It is an almost inevitable idiosyncrasy of human nature to create perceptions, expectations and impressions of people based on a first interaction. What makes individuals remarkable, though, is our ability to create subsequent conversations and interactions that push those initial beliefs towards entirely unexpected directions. My team members in NOLA are a testament to how enigmatic and undefinable human disposition is.

Today also strengthened my tenacious belief that every individual has the immense potential to be a leader, an innovator and a change-maker. The spark to ignite this potential can be as simple as words of encouragement and appreciation from those around you; knowing that someone has unfaltering faith in your abilities is strange, uplifting and incredible all at once.

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A memorable part of today was meeting Rose, the future homeowner of the house we were working on. Rose was enthusiastic, expressive and honest in her dialogue with us – I felt like lifetimes could go by in conversation, and she would still have more stories and anecdotes to share. The most striking part of our conversation was hearing her speak about the personal adversities she experienced during Hurricane Katrina and throughout the days, weeks and months that followed. I cannot imagine how terrifying and agonizing it must be to try find safety while your home is engulfed in destruction and communication with loved ones is suspended.  It is one thing to learn about a catastrophe by walking through museums and watching news reports, but quite another to listen to someone who has lived through it. Conversations like these bolster the perpetual perplexity I experience when people use death tolls and loss of material resources as measures of the impact of a disaster on humanity; this mentality is toxic – human life is not as infinitesimal as a statistic. Every life lost is a person who loved and lived and experienced, entirely unquantifiable.

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ASB Day 6 (February 18th, 2016): Transformative

Today was our last day at the build site, and I have never dreaded the end of a day this much. We continued siding and caulking the outside of the house, working more efficiently than ever. Rose was on site today again, speaking to us with the same infectious energy and convivial spirit as before. She brought along the most heavenly doughnuts to share with us, and once again I was amazed by the wonderful hospitality of the people of NOLA. There is something indescribable about the warmth of this city.

At the end of the day, we took a few minutes admire all that we had accomplished during our four days at the build site: we had managed to paint the entire interior of the house, finished siding the back, the sides and half of the front, caulked all the windows and boards, and started working on painting the exterior. I felt proud and content but mostly wistful as we said our goodbyes at the build site.

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I took some time today to think about the last six days collectively, and realized that the most memorable aspects of my trip were the interactions I had with local residents and my team members. A common theme that resonated in all my conversations with residents was their love and admiration for New Orleans. Even individuals like Rose and Mr. Erwin, who have faced constant strife, neglect and disappointment at the hands of unjust institutional, social and political systems, exude undeniable affection and pride for their city. I cannot imagine a deeper attestation of loyalty than that. The people we met in NOLA are living testament to how inaccurate, problematic and distorted our stereotypes of the American South are. There is a prevalent perception among outsiders that the poverty rampant in low-income neighbourhoods within Southern states breeds evil, immorality and deviance within these communities. This idea is entirely illogical because evil and immorality are qualities of individuals, while poverty is a broad, systemic societal issue. Not only that, those to blame for the perpetuation of impoverishment in communities like the Lower Ninth Ward are the ones in unjust positions of power, living extravagantly without any taint on their moral or ethical character. It is irrational and absurd to be holding a marginalized group of people accountable for the reprehensible actions of their oppressors.

Reflecting back, I don’t think I will ever be able to find words that can do justice to my overall reflections, thoughts and experiences during ASB NOLA; this trip has been transformative in ways I am still grasping to understand. I would, however, like to convey my deepest appreciation for the 37 other individuals who shared this experience with me. I was inspired, again and again, by your intelligence, kindness and unfaltering motivation, but perhaps most eminently by your genuine efforts in taking active steps towards eliminating the apparent injustices we witnessed.

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Always,

Maham

**All images courtesy of Jordan Coop and Shannon Adams

 

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