2007 NOLA Trip Part 4: Despair and Hope

Boy, it’s been hard to get to this post. I’m visiting my folks in Springfield for a belated Christmas, but that’s not really the reason for my procrastination. I guess I just don’t want to dwell on “despair” (I shouldn’t have put that in the post title, I suppose).

When I was in New Orleans back in March 2006, six months had passed since Hurricane Katrina happened. To me, it looked like the hurricane had just hit the day before we got there. Some neighborhoods on high ground (like the French Quarter), got off easy, relatively speaking. Aside from a general lack of tourists, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong. Outside the Quarter, it was an entirely different story. There were countless destroyed homes, destroyed businesses, and just a sense of utter devastation.

Coming back in December 2007, a lot of things were growing back in the places that were hit hardest by Katrina. It was similar to visiting a field a while after it’s been burned up in a wildfire — signs of life amidst the destruction. But I could look at a nicely repaired, painted house, and without turning my head, just moving my eyes, I could see more destruction.

Much of the population of New Orleans has still not returned. Crime is a growing problem there. I talked to shopowners, one of which indicated he heard gunfire in the Upper 9th Ward, almost on a nightly basis. As Andy and I were driving on I-10 outside the city, I looked down below onto a city street and saw someone bent over a police car (I’d like to stress though, that I never felt in danger during any of my stay in New Orleans, either in 2006 or 2007).

Some of the longtime residents I spoke with are increasingly frustrated with Mayor Nagin, and the government in general. One of the shopowners I spoke with said he moved right next to the Interstate. If another storm like Katrina hits, he’ll just drive away, and leave his house to float away.

I initially resisted taking pictures of the destruction still evident. I felt like a weird kind of tourist, documenting the misfortunes of others. It didn’t feel right. But as I was hanging around the neighborhoods we were working in, I eventually started taking pictures anyways. I still don’t know how I feel about taking them, but here they are.

Basketball hoop near the house on Gallier

A recently completed Habitat house on Gallier. Behind, the wreck of an old house.

Some closed almost-built housing projects near the house on Gallier. Someone from Habitat told me no work has been done on them since Katrina.

Maria’s Market, which is directly across the street from the Gallier house.

A structure right behind the first two houses I worked on off of N Galvez

Andy and I drove around a bit, looking for some levees. We passed by a structure. I’m not sure what it’s purpose was — I think it might have been a bar, I don’t know…

A beer ad cutout right next to the warehouse

We also saw this sign near one of the levees.

It really is quite shocking to witness the effects of Katrina firsthand. Pictures and video can’t compare to driving through it.

So, that’s the “despair” of it.

So, where’s the hope? There are so many people who care about New Orleans. There are so many people who want it to live on.

Andy and I drove through a neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward, filled with pink houses. It was part of a program started by Brad Pitt here to try and rebuild the 9th.

Habitat for Humanity and Americorps continue to build houses for people displaced by Katrina.

I talked to a few people who only moved down to New Orleans in the last few months. People want New Orleans to live, and people want to live in New Orleans.

Andy and I left New Orleans directly from the worksite on Gallier on Saturday afternoon. There was a church flier on Andy’s windshield we saw as we were getting ready to go.

I’m not a religious person at all, but seeing that flier as we were getting ready to leave — it was an invitation to join a community, it was a sign of hope, it was something positive.

And the thing is, it’s really not that difficult for anyone to be part of something positive. If you have the time to volunteer, you can be a positive force for change.

Here’s a couple of songs which I feel are appropriate to share here:

Something optimistic:
Curtis Mayfield – I Plan To Stay A Believer

And a song with some of my all-time favorite lyrics:
De La Soul – Tread Water

The lyrics:
“Mr. Squirrel,” I said, “I’m sorry, but the problem can’t be solved
If there’s no one here to help and no one to get involved.”

I have one more installment planned: 2007 NOLA Trip Part 5: Picture Gumbo. This will just be a collection of pictures I took that didn’t fit elsewhere in my 2007 NOLA posts.