Fat Tuesday and the Affects of Katrina

war_54Because today is Mardi Gras (FatTuesday), work was canceled because local roads are closed down for dozens of parades in the shoreline communities. We got up at 6 am, ate breakfast together and then split in two. Half of us went to volunteer with a Katrina outreach ministry (soup kitchen) in Gulfport, the next city to our West. (We will tell you their story later as we have not yet met up with them.) The other half of us left early to drive into New Orleans to see celebrations there. On the way we witnessed great natural damage. Millions of trees are cut in half or completely knocked down. The palm trees that once filled the area were mostly knocked down and are being replaced only very gradually. Roads have very few signs and only the most essential stoplights have been replaced. There is also an incredible amount of trash along the highways. Demolition and roads themselves have higher priority; although, we did notice some clean-up on our way home. We arrived downtown on Canal Street before 9 am, having parked in a cramped multi-story garage who's basement was still flooded from Katrina. We walked a couple blocks to find ourselves near the Sheraton hotel that became the government nerve center during recovery immediately following Katrina. We got our places along the parade route – they have many parades during the five days leading up to Mardi Gras. Those along Canal Street are "family friendly" and many children were there with their parents and loved ones. We stood with thousands of people who could not escape the hurricane's path, and they were eager to celebrate. This morning's Zulu parade is one of the best. It is the most fun and joyful parade I have ever experienced! It was so interactive with people throwing beads, stuffed animals and other toys from the floats. We were catching them for the kids around us, and if you were very lucky, you got a golden coconut! Each of us went away with at least 20 strands of shiny green, purple and golden beads. The parade went on for over two hours. Afterwards we ventured part-way down Bourbon Street (still rather tame at a sober 1 pm) for lunch at well-known Creole restaurant. We had Gumbo, Jambalaya, Crawfish Etoufee and iced tea. We walked down to see the great Mississippi River with its cargo ships guarded by armed Coast Guard tug boats. Saint Peter's Cathedral stands there on grand Lafayette Park majestically offering hope to the people of New Orleans. Walking back to the car by a different route, we saw some of the old architecture of this beautiful and cultured city. We drove through an hour of dense traffic and then got off Interstate 10 forty miles early to drive US-90 through the devastated shoreline neighborhoods of Pass Christian, Gulfport and Biloxi. Evidence of people's homes and lives stiIl litters the woods there. It was sad to see one foundation after another without a home and the devastated trees and foliage. After some time, we also began to notice something really shocking... The wildlife... it's been decimated. You only see or hear birds now and then. While the animal world will bounce back eventually, their absence makes for an erie silence. At one point we walked the beach. Kitchen floor tiles and a power-strip were among the debris that continues to wash up on shore. Many of the homes washed away were quite luxurious and have already been rebuilt. However, it may be decades before the shoreline resumes its grandeur. Over southern dinner, we reflected on the love of God in our lives, the meaning of Habitat For Humanity's "Economy of Jesus" and the "Theology of the Hammer." It is a great privilege to be here and we look forward to helping people rebuild their lives in the morning, one nail and board at a time. Upon returning "home," I read on a bulletin board that the holiday colors have meaning. Purple is for justice; green is for faith, and gold is for power. What perfect, Divine gifts these are for our new friends here on the Gulf Coast. May God's justice, faith and loving power be with you... Happy Mardi Gras!