Tuesday, March 21, 2006

It’s enough to make your heart hurt

So I was in New Orleans this past weekend sleeping on a cot in a church. Actually the cot was pretty comfortable and there was this adorable kitty who kept on jumping on the cot to be petted. I came to New Orleans because of the new job. I’m giving training and technical assistance to organizations in New Orleans to help build leadership in the Asian community and ensure that Asians have a voice in the rebuilding process. The local organization taking the lead of all of that is the Vietnamese Catholic Church where we all slept.

Right now they should change the nickname of New Orleans from the Big Easy to the Big Hard. Because things are hard there. It's clear who are the haves and who are the have nots. The haves have the money and resources to get their insurance and FEMA checks and their Garden District mansions rebuilt. The haves have street lights and working stoplights and trash nicely piled instead of strewn all around their lawn. The have nots, aren’t living in New Orleans. It’s hard to live somewhere when you have nothing to live in. The have nots have inspectors and assessors who knock once on their doors and then leave so they can check off their tally that they TRIED to inspect the house but noone was there. The difference between the haves and the have nots is especially clear at night when certain neighborhoods have light and others are plunged into pitch darkness.

There are not many haves but many many, many have nots. The devastation is enormous. It’s surreal to drive down Interstate 10 to see an entire suburb, strip malls, streets, houses, a shell of itself. The outsides of the buildings are standing but if you look inside the windows that haven’t been boarded up, you’ll see the mildewed walls with the sheetrock blown off and the wooden rafters rotting. You’ll see all the freeway signs leaning on each other. You’ll see garbage on the median because FEMA only cleans up Katrina related trash. If you came back and gutted your house for remodeling, they ain’t picking up THAT trash.

You know what’s also hard? City planning. Especially city planning that doesn’t want to think about people. I heard from folks that the initial planning took into account only environmental issues. While I think the environment is important, those decisions result in whole neighborhoods being told they should just be turned into wetlands. WTF. Whose fault was it that a housing development was built there in the first place?

Just so you know, things get harder when you ignore your low wage workers. When poor folks can’t come back to the city, it means that awesome 24 hour gumbo joints close at 8:00pm. It means that crepe restaurants aren’t open for lunch.

But for those wondering, the food is still excellent. The Trolley Stop makes some amazing dirty rice and gumbo. Café du Monde still makes its famous beignets with a mountain of powdered sugar. And the crawfish that was boiled in a pot in the church parking lot tasted like it should.


Stef said...

This is a good post. I'd love to hear more about your experiences. Thanks for sharing some of the real picture, versus what we see on the news.

Demetrius said...

Appropriate title, and an amazing post. I also love the media attention being directed towards those college students spending their spring break in New Orleans assisting those less fortunate.

Brunette said...

Thank you for what you did in New Orleans.

There was so much hurt and devastation in the poorer areas of the city, it's hard to know where to even begin to repair. But as petty as it might sound, I'm so happy to hear that Cafe du Monde and their beignets (I think that was my first solid food!) are still around. Food and culinary traditions have been such an integral part of life in NO for so long, and I'm glad that the people at least have something familiar and normal in the middle of all the chaos.