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From reputation, New Orleans boasts such delirious energy and deep-rooted culture that, coming in, I wasn’t sure whether I should prepare myself to be swept away in the madness or whether I should prepare for potential disappointment.

After three weeks here, although I have already experienced so many rich parts of the city I still feel I have only seen the tiniest of fractions of what is here to explore.  I get the sense that it is really not the city that must live up to any reputation but rather it is me who must rise to the challenge and squeeze everything I can out of my two months.

There is so much to do here — so many parades, so many nightclubs, so many places to eat, so many frankly amazing musicians — that it almost can be easier at times not to do anything.  The sheer number of options becomes paralyzing.  Like New York, New Orleans holds no qualms about leaving you behind if you can’t keep up, especially in the French Quarter, where Bourbon Street and Frenchman Street cram the sidewalks full of people and the clubs with high-energy live music.

Embarrassingly, I still have yet to attend a real live jazz concert or play somewhere myself — both things I promised myself I would do before I arrived.  I take some solace in the fact that I have nevertheless been witness to some great music because jazz and soul mix into the scenery of every other street corner.  Big brass bands will play within 100 feet of each other in certain spots, each one playing with such charisma and confidence that in any other setting they would command all the attention.  But in New Orleans, any one band joins the noise and chaos of the city the moment you walk away.

During the days, I’ve kept busy by working to help put on the kids cooking camp at the SoFAB museum (SoFAB meaning Southern Food And Beverage), which is a building near central city that is stuffed to the ceiling with historic pots, pans, pasta makers, and bbq grills.  In the back of the museum, however, we have a commercial kitchen which we use in the mornings to put on a half-day camp for 30 kids (7-11 years old) that involves cooking, history, and a lot of instruction-giving.

Each day the kids partake in craft activities, history and nutrition lessons (that’s my contribution), outdoor games (when there isn’t a tropical storm outside), and of course cooking a meal.  We decide the menu and the activities based on the theme the four other counselor’s and I come up with for the day and the week — an example would be a Disney week theme and a Ratatouille Tuesday. The lesson-planning and administering is a blast, and the kids run the gamut from adorable to insufferable (with the vast, vast majority falling closer to the former categorization).

One of the first lessons we teach the kids at camp is the acronym CHEFS, which stands for Clean, Helpful, Experiment, Friendship, and Safety.  But every time we introduce this idea, Jennie (Director of Education at the museum) unfailingly declares that her favorite letter is E — Experiment.  One of our main hopes in camp is that each kid find a way to embrace each experience as much as they dare (it’s not always that daring), whether that means participating in a game or trying some weird vegetable or fish dish we bring in to share.

Now that I’m settled into New Orleans and almost at the halfway mark through the program, I hope I too can embrace the spirit of E and learn to branch out a little more too.