“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” After spending 5 years in Seattle, Washington I decided that it was time to leave in 2005 and return to my home town of New Orleans. I missed my family, the southern hospitality, cultural aesthetics and most notably the cuisine. On August 29, 2005 that decision would be pre-empted because of a hurricane that would change the physical and emotional makeup of The Gulf Coast region.
The decision to stay home after hearing that Hurricane Katrina was downgraded to a category three storm didn’t seem like a big deal for my parents and other local residents. Over the years many storms had threatened the city and most turned out to be false alarms. I remember speaking to my mother the morning after the eye of the storm had passed. She was delightfully in good spirits saying that Hurricane Katrina was over and that everything was ok and back to normal.
Approximately, two hours later she called in a panicked voice saying, “we have to get out of here” and then the phone hung up. I was at work at the time and couldn’t concentrate due to worry and concern to what exactly was going on. Eventually I found out that the levees had breached sending overwhelming storm surges into the city and surrounding parishes.
A few hours later, my mother phoned to say her and my dad had made it to Baton Rouge but there was no power and it was time to move to another location. My parents decided to head for Houston, Texas to stay with some relatives and it would be several months before any chance of returning to New Orleans was possible.
Over the course of the next several months I would send clothes, care packages and other necessities to my parents. My coworkers and friends would also pitch in as much as possible and I am internally grateful for these amazing levels of generosity. My first visit to my parents in Houston was a very somber one I could see the look of uncertainty and despair in their eyes. We all returned to New Orleans for the first time in October 2005 feeling as if the soul of New Orleans had disappeared.
As we drove by the superdome on the way home I felt complete uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. I recalled the horrifying images of hopeless faces, heat exhaustion, hunger and mental anguish that were broadcasted on the news and in various media outlets showing residents waiting to be rescued out of the city. I could not believe what I was seeing with my own eyes the devastating effects of a hurricane on the city known as the Big Easy now seen as a lifeless ghost town.
I slowly begin to hear accounts from family and friends about personal experiences during and dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Each had a different perspective but one thing is certain everyone is grateful to be alive. The financial and material loss of the hurricane is quite obvious but the emotional toll is still proving its devastating impact. Recently, I heard an account of a police officer who watched his partner commit suicide right in front of him 5 days after surviving all of the mayhem in the city after the hurricane.
He has struggled with closure every since and until now has not been able to speak about seeing his partner take his own life. He described a partner who was like a brother and the look of regret he saw on his partner’s face once he realized what he had done as he took his last breath. The troubling decision of this unfortunate incident has left a wife and children completely devastated with many unanswered questions.
Psychological trauma or post traumatic stress syndrome is a serious side effect of an emotional breakdown after experiencing significant tragedy or loss in one’s life. There are a lot of people walking around the city of New Orleans completely lost struggling to pick up the pieces of a former life filled with happiness and abundance now marred by destitution and a lack of trust in the many powers that be.
Every time someone asks the casual question, “Where am I from?” I have to wonder what will be the reaction to my response. When I say that I am from New Orleans I am met with sympathy, a sweet warm embrace or disdain due to a preconceived notion that people from the city are bad because of x, y, or z reasons. The staggering crime rate, increased violence and murders have also shed a negative light on a city still fighting to recover. Currently, New Orleans and Louisiana itself is faced with ongoing scandals of corruption in local and state government challenging many aspects of the rebuilding efforts.
I love New Orleans and can never speak ill of a place where I was reared in the early stages of my growth, development and education. The city is also the nucleus of my well being because it’s where my parents, family and childhood friends are. I have traveled and lived in many different places but there is no place like New Orleans in its culture of friendliness and acceptance in showing a good time to anyone who chooses to visit or permanently reside in the city.
My parents are still living in New Orleans in the same home that I grew up in. There was minimal damage to the roof and other small inconveniences still remain but overall the house is back to its Pre-Katrina self. My parents are very fortunate but the day to day reality of living in the city is still not a heartwarming feeling.
The stress of dealing with the failed promises of insurance companies, the politics of government, uncertain job markets and failing public school systems are still open wounds impeding the healing of the city. There is a long road to recovery for New Orleans but it is resilient and determined to return to its best despite the odds currently placed against it.
The famous colloquial expression of New Orleans is, “Laissez les bons temps rouler”and the good times will surely roll again. The fun, loving and celebrative spirit of New Orleans is deeply rooted in the hearts of residents who haven’t lost hope in the revitalization of The Big Easy.