Flight was at 6am. We left at 4:30 am for LGA. The flight seemed to go by rather quickly. We arrive and I find myself lost for words. It is hard to explain what it is like down here. The first glimpses are surreal. Images my imagination could not have conjured up. I don’t know what my expectations were, but I am incredulous at the seemingly stopped time that has occurred. Signs on abandoned schools still read, “registration begins August 11, 2005” Houses are gutted and you see visible water lines. There are few signs of life. As we get closer to the Emergency Community where we plan to stay for the week, life begins to emerge. We are greeted by questions and requests for us to bring a plate of food out with us. I am in awe and feel my eyes wide open.
We are taken on a tour of the center and meet several children who we are told have been waiting anxiously for the clowns to arrive. We quickly prepare for our first show. Which goes somewhat like an experiment. Deven and I are jumping in and finding our clown legs. The children, we realize, will be in the show whether we planned for it or not! They jump up, jump in, and ask to help, shout out, and call for our attention. It is an unreal, exciting adventure. The subsequent workshop is organized chaos. The kids are wild over the different “toys” Devil sticks, spinning plates, juggling. We are hoping to work with them several times this week.
Staying in a tent in an abandoned church to keep out the termites that live in the connected lumberyard. I have a small clip light on my keychain. I use it to pen these thoughts.
The school was boarded up. Sign read “registration 8/11/2005”
Deven said, “frozen in time”.
I say lost.
Lost in time
I wonder how the children would tell the story.
Children who say, “Real clowns have noses that squeak”
Reminding us that imagination still works!
I guess I could be a real clown if I only had a nose that “squeaked”.
We’ll work with the kids again at this emergency community.
They are teaching me to be patient while they learn to juggle.
As the adults become patience as all of us re-learn how to play.
June 19th, 2007
Awoke on a flattened air mattress that must have found a hole during the night or somewhere in between on our travels. Neck cramp from the hardness of the cement floor. Surprisingly I just have one bug bite that doesn’t much bother me yet. Mike the carpenter and volunteer here found us another air mattress and will blow it up for us later. He has been here for two months. He told us parts of his story. His best pal is a pit bull who thinks of bugs as playmates and won’t harm them, was rescued as a helpless pup drowning in the aftermath of Katrina. He told us how he had to leave for ten months to get away from it all for a while. The stench of rot, death, and sickness became too much to carry. He had no electricity for one month and the streets were lined with refrigerators filled with decay. Mold and rot from the heat and the decay of what was left behind. I cannot fathom. I can listen, I can hold, but I can never really know.
June 20th, 2007
We enter a school in Chalmette void of common “creature comforts and necessities” like toilet paper and general cleanliness. I wonder how a child can learn to have respect for their place of learning when it does not offer them a feeling of safety and openness. I am appalled at the way the children are shamed and talked down to. Amazed that “communication” is attempted through a microphone, speakers, and a broom handle pounded threateningly on a cafeteria table. I feel threatened. I feel stilted.
I cannot image how the children experience this. Yet they are some of the most talented, driven students I have had the pleasure of working with. Today we assisted Meret, an amazing circus arts teacher, in a summer camp program in Chalmette. Under “normal” daily circumstances Meret teaches these classes by herself. 30 kids in this chaotic environment by herself, she is amazing, but no one is equipped to do more than manage the chaos in such an environment. Our presence allowed Merret to give the kids more personalized attention. Several students were even up on stilts. And to there own amazement took off.
One young lady at the end of the second day was walking the halls of the school unassisted on her stilts. She brought her mother back after class and begged us “tell her what I did” She broke into a huge grin as Merret complimented her ability and most importantly her courage and as she walked out she said to her mother “I walked on stilts”. Her mother replied, “I know, I am so proud of you”. It was a moment I will treasure.
Meret reminds us that to them this chaotic environment is actually a calm refuge and that is a big reason to continue this work. To create a place for trial and error, for failure and success, and especially for play. That and a hug from a little girl in a parking lot outside of a mobile library in Mississippi where we had just performed. She arrived after our performance, as we were packing up. We were total strangers to her, but she reached out anyway running to Deven with a hug before continuing on into the library to do some artwork.
June 21st, 2007
Beauty and terror. I am always reminded how one doesn’t exist, cannot exist without the other. Here that paradox is so visible. These children are courageous and resilient. Which begs the question how can resiliency be maintained? Or even developed? Meret runs this circus arts class. She used to have a school that was lost. Destroyed. As was her home. For two years she has lived in a trailer on her property with her husband.
Everyone here has been touched. Yet, there is so much faith here in continuing. Unafraid of the leaps that have been made, the decisions to be here in the moment. Alive with whatever comes next. We ran tonight in a glorious city park. Swans gathered on the water and these magnificent draping trees greeted us at every turn. It feels far away from the Emergency Community in which we have been staying. It reminds me that tourists that will come to visit New Orleans will likely only see the French Quarter. Bourbon Street. They might not even see this lovely park let alone the destruction in the 9th ward. When we return it will be important to share all of it.