Stories, Lessons & Love for NOLA

I’m officially back into my regular schedule. With the weather in Calgary it sure is easy to wish I was back in NOLA. Oh how I miss it already. Throughout our week in New Orleans we got to work on an urban farm with OSBG (Our School at Blair’s Grocery), rebuild homes affected by Katrina with The St. Bernard Project, walk the streets of NOLA (including a trip to the French Quarter), eat tons of delicious food and to top it all off we also got to talk to residents of New Orleans.  I have met some of the kindest souls down in NOLA. Some of whom were brave and kind enough to share their Katrina stories with us.

When reflecting back on my experience, I would say listening to the people’s stories had a huge impact on me.  During our last breakfast in NOLA, James, a worker at Annunciation Mission, shared his Katrina experience with us.  James was one of many individuals who found him self sleeping on the floor in the convention center.  His story painted vivid pictures in our minds that included baby floating in the flood amongst others that will remain carved in my mind. It’s very different to watch the news clips of Katrina and then to speak to a person who has lived through that. While the news showed footage of looting, many individuals were cleaning, helping and supporting each other. James mentioned that one of the many things he did involved piling the bodies of the deceased in an attempt to clean environment.

James also shared stories of being separated from his family during evacuation. It took him 9 months to find his daughter and over a year to find his mother. All that time not knowing what had happened to them. These were the things people had to go through even after Katrina had passed. Listing to his stories it really made you think about the bigger picture, as his stories are not in isolation, but the stories of many. 
Listening to all of his stories made me think about how these experiences would affect a persons overall wellbeing.  Looking at James, he seems so strong and so resilient. It’s hard to ever imagine yourself in that situation, unless you are. Despite all the horrendous things he and many others faced he mentioned how much he and others had learnt from Katrina. James told us how he would be working a crazy amount of hours, like most people.  However when Katrina happened, no amount of money could help. The rich, middle class the homeless everyone was sleeping on the floor. That experience has greatly changed the way he now lives his life. James also mentioned how the city of New Orleans as a whole had a greater sense of unity. Although race continues to be a prominent issue, the hurricane helped to unite people of all different backgrounds.

One last thing I will share is the high regard in which James spoke about volunteers.  He told us that “the government is not doing anything, you volunteers are the ones who rebuilding New Orleans.” He went on to explain that we are not only rebuilding their city but we are rebuilding lives. I felt this was so important for us to hear.  We were only there for one week and we were told by others in NOLA that we cannot ‘save’ NOLA in a week. However after speaking to James it really sunk in.  No, we may have not finished building the house, or harvested veggies at OSBG but we did do something, something that would have taken longer if we were not there. So no we didn’t change NOLA in a week. We did however leave our hand prints all over the projects we did and the people we talked to, and in doing so we added to NOLA.

With this I leave you all. I feel fortunate to have experienced New Orleans. It is an amazing place that has managed to keep traditions and culture alive despite all adversity. I feel honored to have heard James’ story as well as others who shared their experiences. I won’t forget you NOLA. Thank you for being so kind to us all.

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