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Stories from the Ninth Ward Day 2: KU Engineers Without Borders Help Rebuild New Orleans

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

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Editor's Note: Seven students from the University of Kansas chapter of Engineers Without Borders are spending their spring break in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward working with the group Historic Green to rebuild the area in a way that preserves its history while creating a sustainable future. Each day, one of the students is sending a recap of their journey. These are their stories.

Day 2

Sunday morning, we woke up around 6:30 a.m. to catch a hot shower.  I had forgotten to bring a sleeping bag or pillow, so it was a bare mattress for me. But that's OK – it was all part of the adventure! After a quick breakfast at Snappy Mart, we took off for the Historic Green headquarters.  Unfortunately, our turnoff was blocked by a row of police sedans and a murder scene, so it took a little while to find a detour.  A blue-capped police officer sporting a yellow raincoat and a cigarette waved his hand somewhat in the right direction. ...

One of the houses being rebuilt

After about a half-hour, we arrived at volunteer check-in in the Historic Green warehouse (they call it "The Village").  When I stepped out of the car and promptly into a puddle, I noticed something: New Orleans is wet.  It's just a wet place in general.  A constant drizzle permeated everything, and most houses in sight were almost completely run-down. Even the air seemed to be coated in a thin layer of mud – and a scent of crawfish.  Curt, the project captain, met up with us at the check-in counter, and we headed off to our first site.  I was so excited! I really wanted to see what Historic Green was all about, and to find out what we could do for the suffering community of the Lower Ninth Ward.

During the morning we pulled nails from a deconstructed house and saved the boards to be re-used.  These boards are not only preserved for their historic value but also because it is some of the strongest wood available, much better than even today’s standards.  It saves money and increases the value of any homes that use this wood for reconstruction.  It seems like hard labor, but it was a nice day and was oddly relaxing.

In the afternoon, we met Bill Robinson.  Bill, with a three-pocket tool belt, two holstered foam guns and a chili-pepper headband, was a master at insulating.  Particularly in moist climates.  We spent the rest of the day enjoying his lively personality and practical advice.  Curt helped out too, demonstrating how crappy the old insulation was.  “Hold out your hand” he told Mary, placing in it a chunk of foamy insulation. “You feel how wet that is? This stuff just absorbs moisture.  You see how it has that yellow-green color?  That's mold.  Now wash your hands.”

James Iliff; freshman; architectural engineering; Topeka, Kan.

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