I’ve been back home for about a week now. It’s nice being able to spend time with my family and stay somewhere comfortably familiar, but this isn’t how I wanted to leave. Everything moved so incredibly fast. It wasn’t until my plane was about to take off the runway that things started to feel real again. I wrote in my first blog post that New Orleans was filled with surprises. This was a surprise that I definitely was not expecting.
Wednesday 7/10. I got up for work like I usually do. I usually keep the blinds on my bedroom window closed, so I didn’t realize how heavily it was raining outside until Lauren pointed it out. We’ve been warned about the crazy NOLA rainstorms that can start and end in a heartbeat, so I didn’t think much about it besides how lucky I was for bringing rainboots. Ashwin, Lauren, and I made it safely to work despite the rain, but we walked into an almost-empty office space. Before we can even start working, a tornado warning is issued and we’re instructed to stay inside a staircase and away from windows in case anything were to happen near CrescentCare. That was the first sign that this wasn’t going to be a typical workday, and this became more and more prominent as we tried getting back to work. People kept getting photos and videos of unbelievable flooding around the city with water rising up to the level of car windows. It was like nature was trying to prove its point about New Orleans’ terrible drainage after the other DukeEngage students and I have heard about flooding problems countless times. By around noon, we decided it was best to get back to the dorms in case we could end up getting stuck there. Luckily, we left when the rain had temporarily stopped, and we didn’t pass by any of the flooded regions on our way home. Soon, all of the students were back in Cabra, but we weren’t going to stay there for long. In a haze of uncertainty, we quickly packed enough clothes, food, and supplies to last us until at least Friday and moved into a new dorm building on Loyola’s main campus area, where we could avoid the possible flooding near Cabra. That night, we gathered in one of the suites and watched Disney’s Hercules, a movie night complete with popcorn, marshmallows, and occasional sing-alongs, thinking that we could probably go to work the next morning.
Thursday 7/11. I got up for work like I usually do. It was such a beautiful day outside that it made yesterday seem like a ridiculous nightmare. Then I saw Dr. Burns’ message in the DukeEngage group chat saying we would be evacuated home with flights starting as early as 2:15 pm. I had to ask myself if I was still dreaming. I read the message over and over again. How could moving into a new dorm for a couple days suddenly turn into a full evacuation? People eventually started waking up, all of us trying to make sense of the situation as it slowly sunk in that we would be leaving New Orleans that day, the program was ending, and we weren’t coming back to finish it. I felt a strange cocktail of excitement and dread swirling in my stomach, happy to go back home but heartbroken to leave without any sense of closure. I had just been given a new task to work on at work and I hadn’t even been able to get started on other projects that I was eager to contribute to. I thanked Doreen for our time at CrescentCare, but I wasn’t able to say goodbye to her or any of the other amazing people I met while I was there. Despite being in New Orleans for six weeks, I am ashamed to say that I still have not tried a po’ boy. There was so much more that I wanted to work on and so much more that I wanted to experience. But with the hastiness of getting us out of the city before weather conditions could potentially trap us here, we didn’t have much time to reflect.
We spend the whole morning frantically preparing to leave. I miraculously find a way to cram all of my clothes and belongings into my suitcases in only a fraction of the time it took to pack everything the first time. My suitemates and I volunteered our suite to hold any items that people wanted to donate rather than throw away, so our table was completely covered with unopened nonperishable foods and reusable supplies, but we still ended up having to throw away most of our groceries. Then all of a sudden, after getting to the airport and going through security, all of the hustle and bustle from the morning turned into endless waiting. We spent our last several hours in New Orleans spending time together while we still could, hoping our flights don’t get delayed (but of course some did), and saying goodbye. We enjoyed our last cup of PJ’s coffee and picked up last-minute souvenirs. Luckily I found a box of Café du Monde beignet mix because I promised someone we’d try to make them together. They won’t be nearly as good as the ones we had as late-night snacks, but I’ll do my best.
Even after arriving back home, I couldn’t stop worrying about how much damage the storm could be causing. Every time we talked about the problems New Orleans was facing, the city’s past with hurricanes and flooding always seemed to have a major effect, whether it was on public transportation, housing, homelessness, or people’s overall safety and welfare. I was unsettled by the fact that while I was able to leave and avoid any problems with the storm, there were many people in the city that would have to face them. After seeing the region’s battle against the elements with my own eyes, I kept wondering why there are always people willing to stay despite the flooding and the rain and the heat. But as I remember all of the things about the city that I miss, I have a better understanding why. I have never been to a place like New Orleans before. The culture is so strong and distinct that it feels like you’ve entered into an entirely different country. Pretty much every person that I’ve talked to was eager to share what they love the most about the city, from their favorite dish at a local restaurant to the best parade or festival of the year. There is no doubt in my mind that regardless of NOLA’s problems with natural disasters, poverty, health, or anything else, there will always be people willing to come back to help solve them.
Thank you to Ashley and Yanexy for being wonderful mentors and guides. You two have taught me so much about this city and have made my experience there incredibly enjoyable. Thank you to you both as well as to the people at Duke and Loyola for working so hard to keep us safe and organized in our last two days in New Orleans and for making sure we all got home. I’m sure it must have been an unbelievably hectic challenge, and although I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to finish the last two weeks of our program, I understand why the decision was made and I’m extremely grateful for everything that was done to prioritize our wellbeing.
Thank you to Doreen and everyone else at CrescentCare who has given us such a great opportunity to learn about healthcare and get involved in tackling NOLA’s current health issues like HIV and Hep C. There was still so much more I wanted to do to contribute to the organization’s projects, but I hope I was still able to provide whatever help I could to serve our clients and the community. I’ve gained a new perspective on how many factors go into a person’s health, and I’ll always be amazed by the lengths CrescentCare goes to in making sure they can give people whatever services they need.
Thank you to the other DukeEngage students for making this such a fun program to be part of. It wouldn’t have been the same without our adventures together, our late-night ice cream and Insomnia cookie cravings, or our hilarious group chat humor. I hope that you all enjoy the rest of your summer, and I’d love to have a reunion when we’re all back at Duke.
This wasn’t the way I wanted my DukeEngage experience to end, but it has definitely given me a desire to go back and do all of the things I didn’t get to do the first time I visited. I know that there is still so much more that this city has to offer, and so much I still want to offer it. Goodbye New Orleans. I’ll see you again.