by
on May 23, 2012 on 5/23/12 from ,

NOLA: Orienting

About a week has passed. It feels like longer. New Orleans has captured my heart, from the slow southern drawl to the cheery hospitality, quirky boutiques, fusion of French, Spanish and Creole culture, strong grassroots activist community, soulful jazz exuding from every block, and warm summer-dress-and-sandals weather. Meeting everyone has been overwhelming and delightful. Orientation was a whirl of delicious catered lunches, yoga taught by Libby, lectures and discussions. We’re all studying various subjects at our respective universities—from women’s studies and sustainable development to global health, neuroscience, biology/pre-med and religion. I’m the only Mainer, but there are a few other Tufts students and lots from the Northeast.   By Day 1, we already formed a running group and have jogged next to street cars winding between grandiose mansions. Our hostel is in the Lower Garden District, the “SoHo” of the South, and a block away from Magazine Street. As exhausted as I am, every conversation has been so engaging; I find that running by the kitchen to make tea easily turns into a thirty minute conversation with someone new.The Cockroach: On the second night, I awoke at 2am to four other girls in my room shouting at another, Chelsea, to wake up, as a giant cockroach was about to munch on her face in the top bunk. Naturally, she launched herself off the bed. Naturally, I did the same. Jumping around on my toes as the other girls cowered in fear on the top bunk, this brings me to the one male in our group: Niv. I shuffled in my PJs, sporting my eye-mask on my head, to his room where he bravely agreed to kill the monster. Meanwhile, the other girls lost sight of the cockroach. I equipped Niv with a running sneaker in his left hand and Deet spray in his right (useless, I realize now) but it never reappeared. Believing Niv’s insistence that cockroaches hate light, I crawled into a safer bed farther from the window and we all slept with the lights on. To this day, it consumes my every thought lying in bed.For our first group dinner, we mingled at Sherrilynn’s (NOLA County Coordinator) home uptown, enjoying homecooked po-boys and gumbo and dairy-free ice cream (surprisingly delicious) and listening to a very pregnant Sherrilynn talk about her dissertation on the local management of traditional jazz music post-Katrina. She’s an incredible resource– providing us with maps, directions to all our case visit sites, endless lists of things to do and see, all the while supplementing our breakfasts with fresh fruit and charming us with “ya’ll” and her infectious enthusiasm.   Friday night we explored the French Quarter– the city’s cultural hub and oldest neighborhood. The cast-iron balconies from the 1800s next to colorfully-painted homes speak to the mix of architecture styles. Shops and art galleries line every block, as do solo artists and full jazz bands, and six of us sat down for an absolute feast of soul food. After consuming alligator and fried pickles, Arin and I split the “taste of soul” platter: file gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, greens, fried chicken, ribs, catfish strips and bread budding with praline. The exploring continued down Frenchmen Street, stopping to listen to jazz bands and peek into shops. The rest of the weekend was spent renting bikes, conquering Bourbon Street, and ‘splorin. Sunday morning I escaped for some solo time to recharge. I write this sipping a tea blend of lemongrass and rooibos leaves, mmmm. We dive into academics and case-visits this week. Our examination of New Orleans community health will be guided by three themes: the impact of race and class on health, the impact of migration of people and ideas on health, and the role of community mobilization and activism in stabilizing health care. Days will be jam-packed exploring the city with local anthropologists, community organizers, activists, and representatives from Tulane University’s School of Public Health. This city is so full of energy, of history, of tradition, and I love feeling a part of that.