I go out the back door of my house on a sunny and mild Wednesday afternoon. In the middle of my tiny concrete courtyard, which is separated by a chainlink fence from the larger courtyard of my neighbors to the left, sits a deflated soccer ball.
I live in the Tremé, a largely lower-income neighborhood in New Orleans. About half of the houses on my block are blighted. A few were this way before Katrina; most were not. Nature has quietly reclaimed many of these unoccupied homes. Cat's claw, an astonishingly prolific tropical vine with brilliant yellow flowers, crawls over the roof of one house. An open front door of a house nearby reveals a jungle waiting inside.
The sound of gunshots is routine. Within days of my moving in last August, a man was shot dead in broad daylight half a block down. A Times-Picayune photographer snapped pictures of the man for a good ten minutes before an ambulance arrived. Since then, many more photographers and ambulances have come and gone.
Thirteen or so men from Central America live in the house next door to me. In the months following Hurricane Katrina, there was a great influx of Latin Americans into New Orleans. That November, the Gulf Coast Latin American Association estimated that 30,000 Latin Americans had come to the region in the few months following the storm, attracted by plentiful and well-paying construction jobs. Many of the men who live next door came around this time, yet they say the times of finding $150-a-day work are far gone.
I frequently hear my neighbors playing soccer: shouts, laughter, the clank of empty beer cans, the dull thud of someone kicking a dead ball. At some point during one of these games--perhaps days ago, perhaps a week ago--the soccer ball ended up on my side of the fence.
As I stand looking at the ball, Juan (I've used pseudonyms for everyone here), a thirty-something Honduran with a moustache and a piercing laugh, emerges from the house next door. Juan moved here several months after Katrina, and he, like the other men who live next door, came because he could make in a single day what it would take a week or more to make in his home country. Nearly all the men indicate they plan to return home after making enough money to open a business. But as in most cities right now, there's no money to be had.
For the past few months, I've often found Juan drunk. And when he's drunk, he likes to talk about little else aside from Honduras and its natural, as...