Elisa’s Update 4/24/07

April 24th. Greeting from New Orleans! As many of you may already know, Southern Louisiana and Mississippi are still in a very nightmarish situation over one and a half years after the levees broke. The Lower 9th Ward, where we are staying and partnering with Emergency Communities (www.emergencycommunities.org), is in exceptionally bad condition. Only one to two houses on a block are inhabited while the rest remain in the condition they’ve been in since the flooding. No grocery stories have reopened, the eight o’clock curfew still remains, and military police are still present. Some people who weren’t addicts before are now smoking crack as means of escape. Still, the residents of the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans have hope, and envision a better future ahead.

So far, Gwen Rooker and I have performed in elementary schools, community centers, after school programs, and the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans. We held a parade in the Lower 9th Ward with the help of a local four-year old girl, her twenty-year old sister, and our new fiddle-playing friend, Mazy. Although most homes here still stand uninhabitable and empty, those residents who remain welcome our playful presence. They danced with us outside their homes until we continued on down the street.

The kids in the communities we visit laugh so hard during our shows that I’m pretty sure I lost some hearing. There’s one part of the show where Gwen makes a handkerchief disappear. The kids get so excited they shoot out of their chairs, telling her where they think the handkerchief went, and screaming with glee when she pulls it out of a child’s shirt collar.

Gwen and I have another five days to make the situation here a little brighter so you’ll see another email update from us. Until then I hope this email finds you healthy and in good spirits.

For many, life is still a struggle, with few positive outlets or happy distractions. At the Diamond FEMA Trailer Park, a mini-city seemingly in the middle of nowhere, kids leave the site each morning for school – a brief respite from claustrophobic living conditions. Once they return to the trailer park, there is nothing for them to do. Some kids aren’t even making it to school. One child told us, “I used to go to school. I liked school.” We heard similar words from a preschool-aged boy while clowning at a shelter provided by Common Ground Relief.

We performed our 30 minute clown show in elementary schools, community centers, a FEMA trailer park, and a hospital. The children laughed very hard at our act. Elisa and I do a dance competition. I play accordion while Elisa tries to move our luggage unsuccessfully. We sing a song together about bubblegum. Elisa makes friends with an invisible bird. She accidentally swallows the bird, so we call upon an audience member to become the doctor to help. For one little girl who had a hard time socializing, this became her opportunity to shine. We invent a magic telescope that lets you see fantastic things when you look through it. This encourages children to imagine funny, wonderful things. We also perform acrobatics, and at the end of the show, we call up a child from the audience to stand on Elisa’s shoulders while I spot them.

The kids in the communities we visit laugh so hard during our shows that I’m pretty sure I lost some hearing. There’s one part of the show where Gwen makes a handkerchief disappear. The kids get so excited they shoot out of their chairs, telling her where they think the handkerchief went, and screaming with glee when she pulls it out of a child’s shirt collar.

Elisa

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