Black shingles and heat should never be in contact. Include humidity in ninety degree weather, and you have produced a lovely combination. Repairing the roof of a dilapidated church is probably one of the least preferred jobs during the summertime in New Orleans. Professionals can complete a roof in a few days, but with untrained teenagers, it is a different scenario.
I dedicated a week of my summer to repairing the First Church of the Nazarene in New Orleans. The church was struck by Hurricane Katrina five years earlier. The exterior was a large, cream-colored building, with patches of rock and dirt where the sidewalk should have been and a roof with missing shingles. My friend and I were assigned to re-patch the ledge of the roof that enclosed the front porch. We knew we were not ideal for the job, since we were the skinniest and shortest girls in our group, but our weight and height would prevent us from collapsing on the ledge.
After climbing up, we started to peel the old shingles away. However, the difficult task was adding the new ones. The shingles had to be laid out on the roof and secured by nails. It was about noon that day and after five minutes of hammering, we were drenched in sweat. Working outside in humid weather only made the situation worse. The black shingles began to burn our knees. The nails conducted so much heat, making the nails hard to hold. Our shirts clung to our backs while we were wiping the sweat from our foreheads. We worked for no more than thirty minute shifts because of the weather and dehydration. The only thing we wanted at that moment was to feel the coolness of the air conditioned sanctuary.
After a short water break, I began to take in the scenery of the neighborhood. Many of the houses stood empty with the windows and doors unhinged and broken. The unemployed wandered the street, looking for something to pass the time. Codes were spray painted on the houses to designate the deaths and intensity of the destruction caused by the hurricane years ago. From the roof, it was as if I was looking down at an image found in novels and poems: a land of the un-living, full of destruction and hopelessness. An air of misery had extended throughout the city. Five years after the hurricane, people were still lost, unable to move on from the disaster. Little was done to motivate the community to deal with the situation and function once again.
After that week, I began to appreciate how much of a reality check the trip was for me. I took everything I had at home for granted—a place to eat, sleep, and come home to. The only thing I wanted to do at that point was to put all the effort I had to help the community thrive. However, our contribution to the church presented some stability to the neighborhood. Patching up the roof provided shelter during the rain. Repainting the walls of the church offered a sense of security and refuge for those in need of a home. Our service to the church was a little hope to the community in New Orleans that one day there will be life.
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