I was supposed to move to New Orleans on November 1, 2005 to escape the Western New York Winter and do my work in a warmer climate until Spring. The French Quarter is my favorite place in America and aside from Bourbon Street, it is probably the least American place in America. Well, we all know what happened: the worst disaster in American history, Hurricane Katrina, ripped through the city and the surrounding areas, displacing 1.2 million families. Million. Not hundred. Not thousand. Not hundred thousand. Million. Many of these people have nowhere to go. The poor. The elderly. They live in the rubble of their prior lives still without electricity and running water. Their homes, lives and jobs are gone. And aside from the loss felt when a lifetime of collected material items and investment are taken from you, many have lost more: A wife. A father. A sister. A neighbor. A pet. This ocean of loss is magnified further by the prolific insult that people outside the area think the crisis is over. The story barely registers a bleep in the national media, yet the Army Reservists I spoke with say the devastation is worse than what they saw in Iraq.
New Orleans is the cradle of the only uniquely American art forms- Jazz and Blues. There would be no Rock and Roll if the were no NoLa. The fact that these people and this culture are being forgotten is worse than the disaster itself, because it doesn't have to be that way. I wanted to help. So I went down for the Holidays to help in Arabi in St Benard Parish - just outside of New Orleans. As you see from these humble snapshots, the cleanup and the healing have yet to even begin.
So that is the ugly reality of what used to be just one neighborhood. The horrealism
is not palpable in simple imagery. You have to walk the streets and see the toys
that hang like fruit in the trees to really feel it.
You wonder where all these people are now. Many are living in other states.
The ones that stayed? Some are being evicted so greedy landlords can charge
out-of-town construction workers a heftier rent. Many are living in tents
and trailers in the parking lot of a Wallmart or in a lovely place called
"tent city" where as you read this, hundreds of people are sleeping on
cots 3 feet from eachother.
This is months after the disaster. You won't hear on the news that bodies are still being found- which they are and will be for months. The recovery will take years. Bulldozing is not the easy answer because there isn't even a place for the mass of rubble to go. It looks like an atomic bomb went off. And what is worse is that while federal and local governments squabble, you can see the hearts breaking in the eyes of the affected. Private organizations like the Red Cross and church groups are doing a better job with their limited resources. One of the few places I could find to volunteer over the holidays was Emergency Communities, a new non-profit that focuses on getting food, clothes and the basics of existence out to the displaced. These snaps were taken on Christmas Eve in the tent camp on a parking lot that comprises the base in the St. Benard Parish...
Most of the volunteers sleep in tents or sleeping bags...
or in the dorm...
ahhhh... so comfortable when it is 30 degrees outside and you have been in the kitchen standing for 12 hours!
The main task is prepping 600-1200 meals a day. That, and fiddlin' of course...
On the right we have a counsilman from St. Benard's Perish who taught me
how to shuck oysters. No kidding, his friend's name is "Bozo". Tre Cool.
Yum, the oysters went into the Traditional N'orleans Oyster Stuffing...
Our lovely kitchen goddesses brought out snacks to...
...the people waiting in the long line. But what are they waiting for?
Santa! He came with a police escort and...
The kids couldn't wait to sneak a peek a him...
and his helpers!
Ho Ho Ho What do you want for Christmas lil girl?
It didn't matter. Every child got lots of gifts.
It was without a doubt the most rewarding and frustraiting holiday I've ever had. I am now working with Emergency communities to try and secure them a brick and mortar facility to base the next six months of their operations out of. Right now there is no running water for showers, no heat and only outhouses for the volunteers. Some of them have been helping for several weeks. You do the math on what great people these are. I will definately be going back. If you'd like to help, feel free to write me or contact them at www.emergencycommunities.org