An oral piece by Manisha, as transcribed by Heather.
The scraper life came to me by mistake. The fates have it that our group, selected by random number generation, were doomed from the beginning with fake projects and fictitious characters. Group #2 faced an uphill battle of adversity and no-sayers. We were not to be deterred, however. Short of scrapers, and no house in sight to display our honed skills, we wandered around the desolate 9th ward. There was a train blocking our way so we had to detour via another route. Again, we were not letting this get in the way. Our rescue van stumbles upon an abandoned nursing home, and eager group #2 frolics out of the ran screaming, “scrapers to the rescue.” It was here, at this nursing home, that I first utilized this newfound tool.
It turns out that I am obsessed with OCDness. Some volunteers were flippant and disconnected with the project at hand, but not me. I was born to be a scraper. Every detail, every chip of paint, every fallen beam was mine to conquer. It turns out that my focus went entirely on a fence. At first glance, it is hard to justify spending an entire week on a fence. It called into question how the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, the group who organized this labor, organized their labor.
What is a fence? The painted fence is a symbolic figure in American culture. It separates your land, your safe place, from the rest of the world. A fence perhaps would be the last thing someone would fix, but it can provide so much more comfort and stability to those that live within its limits. It can be a step back towards normalcy. The repairs can get rid of the physical reminder of Katrina.
So I took my task seriously. My paint was to be perfect. By Wednesday, I was one with the fence; no one was going to come near this fence. My life and soul were being poured into a fence. The fence provided a means of solidarity: volunteer groups came together across the nation in solidarity, not to mention in beer and dancing. More importantly, the fence was a barter system for us. As the days went by, we were able to hear more stories from the family about their experiences with Katrina, and the struggles they have faced. The more stories I heard, the harder I scraped. The more I put into scraping, the more I came to understand how this was so much more than just a fence. This is the path to recovery.