Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Arrival. (6/12/07) ~JCW

“Let’s start by making it clear who is the enemy here.”
- Thievery Corporation

The Arrival. (6/17/07)

On June 14, 2007, the first definition of “Katrina” on Urbandictionary.com was: Crazy-assed bitch. When she first arrives, she's wet and wild. When she leaves, she takes the house, car and everything else in a 100 mile radius. The user who posted the message, Aniseed, clarified the definition with the use of the expression in a sample sentence: I ain't paying that bitch Katrina a dime in child support, that's for sure!

If this is a reflection our of nation’s sense of obligation and sympathy for those who lost everything – family and friends, homes, cars, ways of life - in Hurricane Katrina, which I believe it is, then I also believe we are as morally bankrupt as Ken Lay. Uh-oh. Ironically enough, the first night that I was in New Orleans, a woman on the street stopped me with a similar conversation. “Excuse me, sir? Could you help me with something?” She asked. I obviously thought she wanted money, but it was my first night in the city, and I was interested in talking with as many people as possible. We were alone at night on a street that was not well-lit, but even so I could still feel her genuineness.

“Sure, what can I do for you?” I responded. I don’t think she was expecting a response because she was slightly taken back.

“Can you tell me how someone can get back on their feet in this town?” She asked. Now, it was my turn to be taken back. The desperation in her voice reminded me of why I had come here in the first place.

“I had a house, I had everything. But then, this pretty girl came and took it all away from me in a week,” she elaborated.

Unfamiliar with the joke, I fell right into it: “How did she do that?”

“Well, her name was Lady Katrina,” she told me. Ahhhhh, I get it. Wasn’t that clever? If she couldn’t already see the Best of New Orleans guide book under my arm in the darkness, the pace at which I walked, or my clothes, she just found out that I was foreign to this place.

I didn’t have an answer for her, but her condition made me realize, within a few hours, that things were certainly not fine in this city. To be fair, much of Louisiana was plagued with problems pre-Katrina. However, to claim that things are back to where they were is a complete fallacy. The fact that the status of New Orleans and other cities on the Gulf Coast no longer makes headlines because it will no longer sell papers, obtain ratings, or inspire internet readers is unacceptable, but it is a blatant and inevitable reality. If you don’t live it, if you don’t feel it, if you don’t see it, then it doesn’t exist. And I thought I was good at lying.

We have come here to make a difference, and it is both sad and selfishly gratifying that everywhere I go, I am reminded of our purpose. Entire neighborhoods have become ghost towns, uniformly stained with high water lines and marked with spray-painted rescue identification insignias. Infrastructure continues to fail relentlessly in the areas that are the most in need. The city perpetually exudes an overwhelming sense of abandonment.

Is it possible to change things here? To enact the Renaissance that New Orleans deserves, and that the rest of America must think has already happened? Some progress has already been made, and though it is slow, it is definite and it is real. A perfectly destructive girl came and took thousands of homes from some of the poorest neighborhoods in New Orleans, but only time will tell if New Orleans citizens will ever get them back.

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