Any traveler must know that the only true way to experience a new place is by seeing, feeling, touching, or tasting the area’s spirit. I have been to many national parks and to a few different cities across the nation, but the place I have visited with the most spirit is New Orleans, Louisiana. This city is one of the most crime infested and poverty stricken cities in the US and yet its people still love their city. They love their culture, and food, their music and their fun. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, people from different parts of America said the people of New Orleans were crazy for wanting to go back to their city. How could these people want to go back to an area that is full of crime and bound to flood again? I agreed with the majority of Americans when they said that those people should not want to go back. That is until I got a chance to experience New Orleans first hand. Those people do not understand the spirit of New Orleans.
You cannot call my trip to New Orleans just a vacation. It was an experience that I have never had before on a summer vacation. I went with my church to the 2009 ELCA National Youth Gathering. At this gathering there were 37,000 students from all over the country and Europe. They joined in New Orleans to celebrate their faith and to help give to this needy community. Some groups helped reestablish parks, while other groups helped to rebuild homes for families still living in FEMA trailers. My group helped the many children in New Orleans that fall behind the national average. We met and motivated those students by reading with them, and sharing our experiences. We also helped by bring much needed school supplies and building school desks. This was more than just a mission trip for me though. Every day was eye opening, bringing to light a world I don’t normally see in my small town in North Dakota.
On the streets live jazz bands and artists sold their amazing crafts. There were street performers who did anything to get your spare dollars, and tiny shops sold all sorts of wonderful objects. We walked through a full street market with food like alligator meat, crawfish, and other fresh seafood. Po-boys, red beans and rice, and jambalaya were some favorite meals among our group. We visited one of the oldest buildings in the French quarter that is now a museum full of history about the area. My favorite part was when we had the privilege to be able to sit in the Preservation Jazz Hall on Bourbon Street and listen to their band play. On one of our rides on a streetcar I had the chance to visit with a woman who had lived in New Orleans her whole life. She did not speak of New Orleans as if it were just the city where her home is; she spoke of New Orleans as her home. As if the whole city was the roof above her head.
The people of New Orleans welcomed us with open arms. They brought us in to see a side of their city many tourists don’t get to see. Although I love the wide-open plains of North Dakota, New Orleans was the greatest city I have ever been to. The people of the area give the city a life and a culture all its own. Even though this area is always vulnerable to flood, no amount of water could drown the New Orleans spirit.
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