Last week I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans to volunteer with Habitat For Humanity. My company created a policy in response to Hurricane Katrina that allowed me to take five days paid leave to perform the service. I talked my mother into going with me. I felt that the trip was a good use of my time and money. In addition to my service, Habitat For Humanity will receive $500 from my company since I volunteered for more than 25 hours this calendar year. Very cool.
The biggest surprise to me was that most houses in the 9th ward of New Orleans still had spray paint from when search and rescue teams went door-to-door one year ago. Most houses in the 9th Ward were deserted, which makes sense since they still don't have electricity, along with 40% of New Orleans. Approximately 50% of the city's residents have not returned since the Hurricane. Parts of the city reminded me of Detroit, and parts reminded me of Bangkok. Neither comparison is very flattering.
My mother painted all week since she didn't want to be in the direct sunlight. Inside was still very hot -- especially very humid -- but temperatures were typically only 90 degrees, and it was often overcast. Day 1 was manual labor for me, primarily positioning interior and exterior walls to be nailed in. Days 2 and 3 I used a circular saw to cut boards for framing and roofing. Days 4 and 5 I painted and sanded. It was a good variety, and I felt I contributed each day.
The French Quarter wasn't hit quite so hard, but the tourism industry has still been hard hit. The first two restaurants we tried to go to based off of Citysearch.com recommendations were closed, so we ended up taking recommendations from our concierge. Remoulade had good gumbo and stuffed crab. Bourbon Street was nasty, with signs for "Topless and Bottomless" dancers. Royal Street is much nicer, and Jackson Square was very nice.