It’s 7:03 am and I wake up…not to the usual and annoying sound of my phone alarm, but something different, there’s knocking and voices outside of my room. I open up and hear the revealing whispers…no, it can’t be true, I think. But I look at my phone, and a text from Dr. Burns confirms it. After less than 6 weeks in New Orleans, we’re going home. It was time to leave NOLA.
Flashing back just a bit, just about 24 hours before the news broke, I woke up on Wednesday July 10th expecting a normal day at the Red Cross. Having been with the nonprofit for more than five weeks now, I felt like I knew what to expect: a morning of phone calls and emails, a mid-day journey through New Orleans’ homes and neighborhoods, and an afternoon much the same as the morning.
As the St. Charles streetcar surged onwards that morning I did what I usually did, I listened to music and peacefully starred out the window. But on this day, what I quickly noticed was the heavy rain, dark clouds, and flood-like conditions. As we ventured further the rain came down harder turning side streets into slip’n slides and cars into boats.
We decided to get of the streetcar, and with umbrellas flopping around, sprinted into the flooded St. Charles Tavern. While the initial ankle-high water in the tavern was a unique experience to me at first I thought of it as a way to understand what life with NOLA weather was really like. But after just a few cups of coffee, two and a half syrup-covered pancakes, and several frantic phone calls, it became clear that there weren’t too many precedents for the knee-high water that we were experiencing. How the heck was this city going to handle the incoming Hurricane Barry if just this thunderstorm was so hazardous?
Sitting there the morning of our departure, with the fresh images of the previous day still with me, one thing made sense: this decision to evacuate was the right one. In the interest of safety it made the most sense to go home. But despite that, it still felt like there was some unfinished business. How was I supposed to rapidly leave the city I had lived in for six weeks with just memories?
There were so many experiences in NOLA that accurately represented this city. Walking down Frenchmen and Bourbon streets, eating fried chicken and beignets, and listening to jazz music at Snug Harbor are just a few that come to mind.
But in my short stay here I felt like I was able to connect with not only the situations I had, but the people I met. My job provided me with the opportunity to enter the homes of people who live in New Orleans. I was able to meet people from every spectrum of humanity: white or black, poor or rich, single or married…it didn’t matter. Every single person had their own story to tell. But despite all of these differences, nearly everyone shared one thing in common: a love for the city. Dr. Burns definitely said it best when indicating that New Orleans is lackluster. The school system is terrible, infrastructure is cringeworthy, and as I experienced firsthand, the region has catastrophic weather. But that being said, the people of New Orleans take southern hospitality to another level. Many of the poorest people happen to be the kindest as well.
So as I sat laying in my bed at 2 am, nearly 48 hours after the entire New Orleans program rapidly changed course, I thought about the city. But not about my experiences in it, instead about the people who called it home. As yet another tropical storm threatens to flood New Orleans I have no doubt in my mind that these people and their mutual love for the city, for their home, will keep them going.
Thank you and stay safe New Orleans!