Home and hot.

Despite the 30 minutes spent on the twinspan while an accident was cleared (our best guess), we made it home in a little over 3 hours.  At 4pm, our street looked good, piles of debris in front of those who’d already been industrious enough to clean up a bit.   The plan is to clean up our parts of the street tomorrow… but no new or replacement planting.  Paul went out and took a few photos, but they came out blurry…

We took off the board covering the front door but are not unlatching any of the shudders or removing any of the boards from the other windows.  We are not re-hanging the porch swing or putting up the fern baskets, which are baking in the backyard.  We are not bringing back any of the pots to the stairs.  Inside, the walls of the house are bare because we left the pictures and paintings at my parents house.

All of this non-reparation is because we are concerned that sometime in the next few days we will be headed out again.  IKE, you suck.

Paul turned back on the water heater and gas.  All was fine until we moved to the a/c.  One unit perked right up.  The other… nothing.  Paul crawled around roof and attic, searching for problems until he found that the blower wasn’t spinning up.  We called a repair place and spoke to the technician, who agreed with Paul’s hunting work and said he’d try to come by tomorrow — the fee just for showing up is $99 and it goes up from there.  This could hurt.

Until then, the front of the house is relatively cool and the back is not.  We are all sleeping above the covers and trying to keep things as dark as possible. It’s not like we’ve lived without a/c before; as long as the kids are not whiny over it, we’re totally fine with the heat.  (No, we can’t open the windows… they are sealed shut.)

One perk: since we’d emptied the fridge before we left, I decided to clean it before putting things back inside. I have a special affinity for this machine, since it is a bit of a dinosaur in this town… it’s a PRE-KATRINA fridge.  (I had a bad feeling about Katrina and cleaned out our fridge before we left.)  Behold, our sparkling pre-K and now post-G fridge. 

It is highly unlikely anything in our lives will look so new and shiny for awhile.  We are run-down and beat-up right now, doing our best to keep an eye on the news without tuning in to any turned on weather folk.  Going on what happened last time, I’m surprised that the Governor hasn’t already issued a State of Emergency and started mandatory evacuations.  All that hyper-vigilance over Gustav could really come ’round to bite us all, much sooner than expected…?

NOLA
Recovery and Rebirth

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Thems that got it.

While the city of New Orleans saw minor damage from Gustav, communities around the city were hard-hit.  Of the stories coming in, the destruction in lands of the United Houma Nation is great.

Also in Houma is a large community of Nicaraguans, who work in the nearby shipyards.  I heard from a friend that they evacuated from their trailers to shelters further north.  Waiting for word on whether their homes remain.

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Little victories.

Since we still can’t go home, we are celebrating the little victories we’ve enjoyed thus far in this year’s weather-inspired media circus.

- To my knowledge, no one has incorrectly referred to those of us who have had to leave our homes as ‘refugees’. No one who is in their own country is a refugee and there is no irony in using the term incorrectly. It just sounds stupid.

- I have not heard grossly inaccurate things like, “most of the lower ninth ward is under sea-level” (it’s actually the opposite).

- I successfully managed to avoid watching Jim Cantore.

We’ll take these small victories within the chaos.  Let’s hope nothing is leaking into our home while we wait.

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Gustav… the update.

A few strong cells have moved through Mobile, but nothing so threatening that we bothered to move chairs inside. Compared to the rain and wind the area had during Katrina, this is just a mild thunderstorm for Mobile.

News from NOLA trickles in, but mostly we are keeping the sets OFF. I’m tired of ridiculous weathermen jockeying for prime spot in the middle of a torrent, and each time the disappointment of a missed disaster creeps into their voices I want to retch. The over-magnified drama of it makes us worry more than we need to right now, while we are powerless and far away, and more importantly, it worries the kids. Que sera, sera… we’ll deal with the aftermath when it’s time.

Newest diversion: Lego Star Wars on the Xbox. I’m trading the household violence restrictions for quality time with Will, who is delighted at the prospect of blasting Storm Troopers. Granted, his coordination is such that he tends to blast me, his game partner, more than the Storm Troopers.  You win some, you lose some. I’m reading him books about bunnies at night to make up for the Star Wars time. They negate each other, right?

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Thoughts on 3 years.

Three years plus 2 days ago, I rushed to New Orleans in the dawn of a Saturday morning in my parents truck.  Paul and I loaded it up with our precious things: paintings and figurines made by our grandmothers, our wedding album, photographs taken out of their frames and packed in envelopes, the paint-your-own plate Will had pressed with his then 18-month old hand.  At the time, our preparations were seen as extreme; neighbors strolled over to joke and insist on a drink.  But I had a bad feeling.  We returned to New Orleans almost 3 months later and our lives were forever changed.

The things I packed yesterday, on the 3-year memorial of the day Katrina came to New Orleans, were much the same as they were three years ago.  I took the same things from my house, with a little variation.  One less cat.  One additional child.  Same paintings, same figurines, same family photos wedding album.  We took care to back-up our photos, movies, and important papers.  I carefully covered all the paintings we couldn’t take in plastic bags and stored them in closets, took down pictures off the walls, placed vases and boxes inside drawers.  Paul secured the outside.  He had to use leftover pieces of wood from our renovations to cover our front door because the piece he’d used during Katrina is now the base of the Mardi Gras float we made for the Krewe of Abeona parade earlier this year.   That is the spirit of New Orleans: live life to the fullest and enjoy each moment, because you don’t know if you’ll be around for the next party.

For all the loss of innocence, disappointment, frustration, sorrow, and tragedy we felt from Katrina, we gained something, too.  Katrina kept us in New Orleans.  It taught us what it means to love a place, a space, and a community.  It taught us that a group of people with purpose can change each other’s lives and create a better place right in our own backyards.  It taught me, as a health professional who is trained to work in other communities, what it is like to be that ‘other community’.  The destruction of our city highlighted new needs and compelled us to stay and live our lives in this wounded, wonderful place.

What we learn from this coming storm?  Will it miss New Orleans completely, creating an enormous ‘cry wolf’ mentality at future threats?  Will it approach the city and challenge a whole different set of weaknesses not identified during Katrina?  Is history doomed to repeat, or just re-teach the lesson that no amount of planning can fix the vulnerabilities of poverty?

Mostly, I am anxious over the city’s newest population, those whose fears of leaving are much greater than the fears of staying.

As a child, I loved the stories of the old Testament.  There was something epic about the stories of escape, whole populations migrating to live better lives.  Such bravery in the face of threatening enemies and gaping uncertainty struck me as heroic.  Perhaps this is a reason why I am now drawn to work with people who brave the same challenges, those who risk death and uncertainty in ways I cannot personally imagine, in order to make a better life.  Being poor in the United States means a hard life, but being poor in a poor country means that each day is life or death.  A hard life is a better option for many, one that they will gladly take on even if it means living in fear of deportation, separation, and bigotry.  Evacuating a city under threat of a storm is a terrifying option to a family who lives under the radar.  What is worse?  A coming storm, or a uniformed official who may stop them for questions?

I feel guilty for being out of harm’s way with my family.  These are situations where I can be helpful: collecting research data, offering broken translation, mobilizing and organizing.  I worry that the families who are staying and are at risk are the same ones I’ve been working with for three years.  If that is the case, isn’t there something more I can do?

Three years ago, we were filled with uncertainty about our homes and community.  But I know now that I can make these anywhere, and that they will always be there for us in New Orleans.  Today, I worry for the people and things that the disaster committees and planners looked over.  I worry for the lessons that we didn’t learn from last time, when we showed the world what happens when it forgets about the realities of vulnerability, poverty, and race.

My head and heart are mixed and fearful.  I don’t know what to do and am not sure if there is anything I can do.  But wait.  And hope.

Issues
NOLA
Recovery and Rebirth

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Insomnia.

Milling about with other parents and friends during our two parent orientations tonight, we had several conversations with people who mentioned an inability to sleep with the looming uncertainty of the storm (possibly? probably?) headed our way. One friend put it best: “I remember what we lost three years ago and I can’t sleep thinking that I might lose it again.”

He didn’t mean stuff.

The threat of the storm has our household on edge. It’s not about stuff, either. For us, it’s not even about loss of employment, since Paul’s job can technically go anywhere. But the fear of uncertainty for community, friends, neighbors (even those anonymous yet familiar faces you see each day in the streets), and for the collective future of the place in which you live — these are also fears that bring insomnia.

It’s not that I am particularly worried about this storm or the damage it will bring. It’s too early for me to feel threatened by that. It’s the uncertainty, the questions, the imaginative ‘what-ifs’ that are based on a nightmare still too real in my memories. This is why New Orleans is acting so early, perhaps so prematurely, to this storm. This is why we are having trouble sleeping.

NOLA

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I prefer my hurricanes on ice, served beach-side… tiny umbrella optional.

We’ve been back an hour and it doesn’t seem like we’ve got many more ahead of us before we will hit the road again. It looks like the city will declare mandatory evacuation early (this time) and we want to be out before the traffic piles up… BUT… we can’t leave until we know that important life events, like the mandatory orientation for the kids’ new school and my interview with WLAE, are rescheduled. Paul is going to help his clients on the Northshore prepare for the storm on Friday, so the earliest we can leave is Friday night, anyway.

And if it’s headed toward Mobile, is that really where we want to evacuate? This is what we did last time, only to move on to Jacksonville when Katrina knocked the power out in Alabama and left us with only a static radio voice announcing the flooding of New Orleans. It really doesn’t matter where we go, just as long as we have internet so that Paul can continue to work.

We’re thinking that we should go back to the panhandle beaches. One storm already looped all around us there, surrounding us with clouds and showers on all sides while we enjoyed clear blue pool days in the center. Maybe our luck will hold out a second time if we return?

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