Monday, March 3, 2008

First Day in NOLA: Impressions

We visited downtown New Orleans today. It seemed truly normal, almost as if nothing had happened. There were a few places where you could see hurricane or water damage, but all-in-all the city itself is really quite alright. The moment you begin to leave, though, you see what Katrina did that our government was not willing to even attempt to undo.

The houses are largely gutted, empty, boarded up, full of holes and marked with those distinct spray painted X's showing that each house has been searched. Directly above the X is the date the house was searched. To the right of the X are any details--dead dog or cat found. To the left of the X is the initials of the team that searched the house. To the bottom of the X is the number of bodies found inside. Most of the houses have 0 beneath the X--most of those houses have already been cleared away. But every now and then there will be a 1, and you think about what that means and you are suddenly overwhelmed with sadness, helplessness, anger. Sadness because you know that most likely the person inside was too old or poor or disabled to get out. You know that they probably died alone, afraid in the dark and that they were probably found weeks later beneath their overturned refrigerator or their bed or maybe even in their front yard beneath a mound of rubble. Helplessness because you too are a human who is ultimately susceptible to the forces of nature and the carelessness of other humans. Anger because these people are still waiting, still waiting after all this death and loss and destruction to get help.

You may not know this, but I find this time line particularly helpful in establishing what really went on after Katrina and what is still going on:
--Five days after Katrina the Canadian Mounted Police showed up to help despite being told that they were not needed
--Five or so days after Katrina FEMA decided to take a liesurely stroll in NOLA and much to their surprise there actually was a catastrophe and there were actually people who actually needed food and water and who were actually dying
--Meanwhile, the Germans are rolling in with their engineers to find a way to pump water out of places like the Lower 9th Ward
--Two weeks after Katrina President George Motherfucker Bush decides to visit, but don't be alarmed--it was only for the photo-op and he was safely escorted through the decimated city on a tank

My reaction to this timeline is beyond words. It makes my chest tighten up, I get a lump in my throat, and I wish terrible things on this administration and its big-eared puppet. I am absolutely irate. I am standing in a city that looks like Pompeii TWO AND ONE HALF YEARS after the fact and there are still piles of rubble laying by the streets? There are still people living in FEMA's formadehyde-laden trailers or, if certain displaced persons do not happen to have property of their own (think apartment dwellers), living in TENTS underneath a bridge in the middle of the city? There are still innumerable houses that either need to be demolished or rehabilitated? This whole scenario is absurd. I am not okay with this. I am not okay with the fact that college students are the primary people responsible for rebuilding this magnificent city. Do I mind coming down here to help? Absolutely fucking not. I have been so blessed in my own life that not to give back would be the most shameful thing I can think of at the moment. But for the government to abandon this place--no, not even abandon because they weren't here long enough to really be able to abandon it--and to leave these people to the willingness or unwillingness of volunteers is so sickening and so utterly abysmally depressing that I am considering becoming an expat and wishing America farewell.

No comments: