Between the Saints taking the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras madness, it’s been quite the past couple weeks for the city of New Orleans.
I love New Orleans. It’s a charming and vivacious city with loads of personality. They’re big on music (it’s the birthplace of jazz), they’re big on food (beignets and jambalaya are my personal favorites), and they’re big on celebrating (case in point: Mardi Gras). The circumstance in which I first experienced The Big Easy, though, was a little different.
Two years ago I spent my spring break with 13 other Northwestern students in New Orleans. The trip was through the Alternative Student Breaks group at NU, and we spent a week repairing houses in the Lower Ninth Ward. When we arrived it was two years post-Katrina, but in parts of the city and especially in the Lower Ninth Ward, it looked as though the devastating storm could have just passed through. The Lower Ninth Ward, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and the area Katrina hit hardest, was almost a ghost tone with stretches of half-wrecked and abandoned businesses and homes continuing for miles. Our first time driving around the Lower Ninth Ward we sat in the vans staring out, shocked and silent. We couldn’t believe it could possibly still look like this.
Even two years after my trip, the rebuilding effort in New Orleans is far from over. Just a few days earlier I was reading Time magazine’s “The Moment” piece on New Orleans. “New Orleans is still a high-poverty, high-anxiety mess. Some of its neighborhoods have barely begun to rebuild, and it’s still outrageously vulnerable to coastal storms. Its levees are too weak, and the wetlands that once protected it from hurricanes continue to melt into the Gulf,” writes Michael Grunwald.
Unfortunately, domestically and abroad we have experienced too many other disasters since Katrina, but it is too soon to shift our focus from rebuilding and protecting our country’s most unique city. We still have a long way to go.
To learn more about the organization my ASB trip volunteered with (Lower Nine), click here.
–Karina for TKGO