I BELIEVE that no matter what, the spirit of the Gulf Coast is too strong to break. I believe in Lafitte, Louisiana. I believe that gumbo and po’ boys and shrimp and crabs and crawfish are good for what ails you. I believe we need to keep telling the story of not only New Orleans, but the whole coast and Katrina and Rita – from Mississippi through Louisiana to Texas.
I went to Louisiana from February to June of this year and took a job doing relief work in lower Jefferson Parish, working for a small non-profit, in the town of Jean Lafitte (pronounced like the jeans you wear by locals). I had been in Sri Lanka during and after the Tsunami and worked packing medicines for camps and taking supplies ot refugees, but the damage from Katrina and Rita was right on my back doorstep. I felt I had to dedicate few months of my life to helping.
I met people who had lost family members or friends during or after the storm, fixed houses without permits, and saw mold that climbed walls and termites that ate houses almost entirely. I took volunteers on swamp tours where we fed marshmallows to alligators and to gumbo cook-offs. I held homeowners and children and grandparents when they broke down from the sorrow of telling me about their losses, and celebrated alongside them when they got married or had a birthday or the day they could move back into their houses. I fought with FEMA officials about reimbursements, about losses, and about house repairs.
I caught beads in parades for carnival and mardi gras along St. Charles Avenue and drove the spooky dark streets that used to be the vibrant neighborhoods of New Orleans. I saw the sunken shrimp boats and the marsh grass caught high in the trees on the bayou. I fell completely and utterly in love with Louisiana, but wanted to and had come back to New Mexico, to my husband and my dog and my two cats.
I will not forget all the people I worked for, whose houses I gutted, sprayed with mold, and drywalled although I often forget to tell their story. I believe we all need to be reminded again and again of what happened right here in the United States. I believe we can all help the recovery, I believe in the friends I met down there, and I believe I could eat Gumbo every single day of my life and not get tired of it. I believe even after all this, I might just move to Louisiana, I love it so much.
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