The Gospel Tent

Trip Start May 02, 2007
Trip End Jul 03, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Wow, what a jam-packed trip. Jam-packed as in an overwhelming amount of fried food, sun, humidity and drinking. Much thanks to Milli and Reece who are terrific tour guides, and Elizabeth for an amazing dinner.

I'm glad I have 2 days back in San Francisco before I head out to London - I will need every second to recover, especially my heart and my liver! New Orleans was not as I expected it to be. I think that the drunk frat-boy quotient was definitely filled in the Jazz Fest daytime festival, but for the most part i found the people i encountered in New Orleans to be quite pleasant and friendly. We took a trip to a lot of the hurricane devastated areas which was really eye opening - not so much in terms of the damage done to houses, neighborhoods and communities, but more so the policy and political issues that still exist. It's been over a year and a half, and there are still vast communities that are physically devastated. Each house in the flooded areas has a spray painted marking on it - a circle cut into 4 quadrants which includes the number of dead found in the house, the date of the search, and the group who performed the search. These searches were done in boats weeks after the hurricane hit. Most of these symbols are still on the houses, whether or not they are inhabited (most are not). It feels really strange to me to be able to see a body count on a given street just by walking down it and counting numbers. I guess if you live here you get used to it? More surprising to me was the lack of rebuilding which has occurred. Certain areas are low lying and at risk for the same thing happening again. Do you spend the money to rebuild the entire electrical and plumbing (sewage) infrastructure, rebuild the houses and do the toxic cleanup required? The answer seems to be no. Of course the majority of the lower lying areas were populated by people of color. In the context of this country it makes perfect sense. Lower lying land with a flood risk is cheaper. Cheaper land is bought by people with lower incomes. These people tend to not be white. It's not racist per se although the root of the pay and financial inequity may very well be. So the politicians seem to be struggling with writing off entire communities of thousands of African American people which will never be rebuilt. Then you have the sole person who comes and rebuilds amidst a community of ruins. We saw a lot of that. Then there are neighborhoods which should be rebuilt (risk of additional flooding is low) but there seems to be no one leading that effort. These are prime projects for federal funding - large amounts of job creation, money feeding back into the local economy, a circle of economic success. Capital and machinery are required though to make this happen - skilled labor training as well. The federal government is not making a move to do so, and the local government has no money to make it happen. It is SHOCKING how much has not been rebuilt still, almost 2 years later.

The Jazz Fest itself was a mixed bag. I really enjoyed the groups I went to see at night - Kermit at Vaughan's and Johny Sketch and the Dirty Notes at the Maple Leaf. Fantastic. The daytime festival at the fairgrounds was a bit too much for me. I spent a lot of time in the gospel tent and aside from stifling heat today was really inspired by the music - all of the baptist gospel choirs from various states - and then to top it off Grammy winner, Irma Thomas. I may not be a religious person, but could completely appreciate the faith and love and self-understanding they were preaching. Then Stephen Marley (Bob's son) came on - and spoke the words to a song I have heard at least a few hundred times: Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. And I decided that would be the theme of my trip to Africa.

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