New Orleans: Proud to Call it Home
I am sitting at my favorite coffee shop on Magazine St. on a beautiful Sat. morning. It's around 8:30 or so, and signs of a new day are happening. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be doing this. I would have preferred to stay in Mali the full 10 months with no return trips to the states, but alas circumstances beyond my control prevented that. I am very glad I came back, even if for a short period.
New Orleans is the same, but different at the same time. As I stipulated in my previous post, my old neighborhood is fine. My old house in the Lower Garden District suffered moderate damage to the roof due to wind, and the subsequent rain caused some water damage. My roommate Jason, a Surgery resident at Charity Hospital, decided to stick out the hurricane with his dog, and had a hell of an experience. Water leaked in the house, a fire next door that burnt down 4 houses and yet spared ours, gangs of thugs looting, dead bodies floating on Claiborne, national guard troops everywhere: experiences that were not for the lighthearted. Well, I visited my old house, and it does not look the same. We have this huge magnolia tree in the front yard that survived, this peace of shit tin structure in back that is still there as well. The house is an absolute mess: 1 part Jason, 10 parts the 10 Hondurans hired by our landlords to fix up the place. I left some big ticket items there (couches, TV, electronics, my awesome bed, etc.) that are somewhere in the pile of shit that is my former house of 6 years. My bed is missing, but the box springs are still there, and someone is sleeping only on that. Turns out that the Hondurans decided to "guard" our stuff next door after they were kicked out of our house after setting a fire that destroyed half of our kitched!!! My bed, my roommates computer, half of our kitchen appliances were next door. We ended up catching them red handed and made them take it back. Whatever problems I had with my Spanish recently suddenly improved dramatically, as I was rather emphatic in my threats to call Immigration and the police. But, it eventually got resolved. Shortly thereafter, my old landlords laid it on us that they were going to start renovating the place on Monday, and we had to remove all of our stuff before that. Well, with no available storage facilities for 500 miles (no joke here!!) I decided to take only my bed and one of my couches, and leave the rest to whomever wanted them. I had some decent stuff, it is just a shame I had to get rid of it. Oh well, c'est la vie.
My cousin's house in Mid-City is a different story. The drive over there revealed a part of the city that is very slow in recovery. Few cars on the roads, mounds of debris festering on the tree lawns, huge Oak trees lying on their sides. Entire streets were sectioned off with Yellow tape, forbidding people from entering. My cousin's house itself still has no power, no water, no gas. The house is officially described as a raised double shot gun (i.e. the main living quarters are upstairs and 2 different families can live on either side of each other). It was freezing when I walked in. A few of my belongings were on the floor right by the door: 2 stacks of public health and medical school notes, 3 stacks of review books, a dictionary set and my favorite leather satchel. Of those belongings, only the dictionary and leather satchel are things I really wanted: I never got around to recycling the notes before I left. As far as the books, they were (and still are) a part of a grand scheme to make some money when I returned, as I was going to sell them to some unsuspecting underclassmen. What about my anatomy books (Netter, Rohen), my Medicine textbooks (Cecil's), and my other books?? And my keepsakes? My dress-up clothes? My pictures? A brief walk to the stairs that lead to the basement would reveal the answer.
I donned a mask and gloves, picked up a flashlight, and descended to the unknown. The smell of mold was evident still, even with the sheet rock peeled back to reveal the skeleton of the house. Piles of garbage were everywhere. I saw about 10 black garbage bags on shelves. I knew those had to be mine. I picked up each one and started the process: A bag of crappy t-shirts I was going to donate anyway; a few sweaters that are now multi-colored from bleach cleaning; pictures in small, black binders that are stuck together, but have a cool, psychadelic rainbow ring around them; a bunch of soggy files that I now must throw away. There was also a table with a tarp over it that revealed even more stuff, all of it not really essential: linens, school supplies from my old desk, random crap from my dresser, and a large storage container with my nice clothes (suits, dress shirts, etc). There was also another large box with a label on it that said "donate." That seemed to be the general theme of my rescue operation: things I wanted are gone, things I was going to give away are still there. It is a shame, but c'est la vie.
I guess the biggest thing I have garnered from my trip home is that New Orleans will never be exactly the same as it was before the bitch that broke the levees. Invariably, it will be a smaller city. Plans are in the works to make part of the areas with the most flooding parks and buffer zones from the river and lake. The poor and disenfranchised who were forced to evacuate and who are now living in other cities on money from a different government agency than before may never come back. A quote I read in The Times-Picayune a few days ago summed up the demographics here rather well: "The majority has become the minority, and the minority has become the majority." Before the hurricane, New Orleans was 67% African American. Now, it is only about 20%. Will the cool, funky culture ever return? Will the politicians get off their asses and forget about their cronies and start thinking about the real people this thing affected? Will Craiger stay here for residency? Only time will tell. For now, we must band together as New Orleanians and work to make this city better.