|Only the stairs to the front entrance of a house remain from the passage of hurricane Katrina|
All four have been voluntarily living in temporary housing since last summer, on two lots of land bought by James for a few grands. The land is situated in the 9th Ward, the hardest-hit area by hurricane Katrina back in 2005.
|The hand-made shack in the foreground, and trailer in the background|
Why would four young, educated people with savings in the bank choose to live in such conditions?
"All four of us have lived in a community, and know the benefits of it", explains Chuck, 26.
I smile, remembering the moment when I first entered the shack, Chuck showing me the elevated mattress I would be sleeping on for the next two nights (I was couch surfing). As soon as we entered, Chuck frantically picked up a pair of folded jeans on the mattress, and examined the spot where there had previously been a tear: "I love living with a woman!", he exclaimed.
I should learn how to sew, I told myself.
|The shack has a bunk bed, two windows, a tiled roof, shelves, and a sofa chair|
For Chuck, avoiding these expenses is a thrill: "I think there's a sense of enjoyment when you find a way to be resourceful. It's like when you find a good deal online. It's the same thing: I find a way not to pay for rent, shoes, clothes, food. It's fun.".
Free shoes, clothes, and food are all found in one smelly, but treasure-laden place: the dumpster.
Practicing it as a daily activity, these young adults have become experts at dumpster diving. They know which dumpster to go to for sushi on Tuesdays; for untouched pizza any day of the week at 10:05 pm after the pizza shop closes at 10:00 pm; for clean, new clothes that somehow ended up in garbage bags; and for one day-old fruits and vegetables.
A dumpster is full of strawberries,
spinach, and bananas
|Chuck and Sarah enjoy still-hot pizza fresh out of the dumpster|
Tom, in particular, is motivated by a political ideology: "Not spending money is an objective of mine. I think governments do a lot of evil, life-destroying things that I don't want to contribute to through taxes".
All four 'neighbours' are acutely aware of the environmental impact (or lack of it) that their lifestyle induces. They collect rainwater in large cylinders, and use it for washing their clothes, bathing, and cooking.
"We don't use any electricity", says Chuck. "If everyone lived the way we did, we wouldn't need coal, gas, hydro-electric dams, etc.".
|Chuck is fishing for crabs in the Industrial Canal of New Orleans|
What about jobs? Is it feasible to have one step in the professional world, and the other in the dumpster?
"Absolutely", says Chuck, who aspires to become a mathematics teacher. "You just have to keep your professional and your personal lives separate. You have to show up to work looking good, smelling good, with a tie and a nice shirt. Then when you get home, you take it all off. You have to live a lie".
Tom is undecided. "I don't want to contribute to comfort and technology", he says. "And if 50% of jobs contribute to that, then that's 50% I don't have access to".
I was deeply inspired by these four individuals. It takes courage to live with minimal security, with no revenue, and in contradiction to societal and familial expectations. But they are young, smart, healthy, and in no hurry to satisfy anyone's expectations but their own.
Power to them.