Growing up in Texas, New Orleans inevitably became a frequent destination of mine over the years. I’ve been to New Orleans so many times throughout my life that I’ve lost count, and that simply means too many! 🙂 Truth is I loved every one of those memorable trips to N.O. and there are many more awaiting. Countless times in my undergrad days, I went to N.O. usually with a group of rowdy girlfriends. YES, we party hardy and what a time we had then, young and naive. Let’s just say I wasn’t heading to Audubon Zoo back then (big grin). Over the years I’ve returned to New Orleans, a city filled with numerous historic landmarks, regularly because frankly, I can never have too much of the Big Easy.
Although M has been on road trips since she was about a month young, her very first plane ride at six months was to New Orleans, Louisiana. We went with a few of our friends and we managed quite well. It’s always been our mindset that having a child should not prevent us from traveling and seeing the world. So first stop, New Orleans with our Emma.
No doubt, there are many websites and blogs out there about what to do or why you should go to New Orleans, etc. I won’t do justice if I repeat those travel tips and there are many great ones. What I will do is to talk about our experiences in helping to rebuild our beloved New Orleans after Katrina. And YES, we encourage you to go to New Orleans, either for the first time or to revisit an old “friend,” because your presence will help rebuild lives and communities– sending New Orleans a message that you’ve not forgotten about them.
In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf, both my husband and I have been glued to the TV, worried sick about our neighbors in Louisiana. Like all other natural disasters and human tragedies in this world, it was truly difficult for us to watch the unfolding human tragedy right before our eyes. As hours passed and more news came in I became more and more antsy. My husband and I agreed to cancel our road trip plans that Labor day weekend and stayed in town because it was the right thing to do. We asked my parents to watch our package although we had absolutely no idea how and what we will do to help. We knew deep down that we needed to be here.
Restless and anxious, I bugged everyone in the city of Houston trying to find out how we can give our time to help in any way. I even drove to Chinatown area because there were many Vietnamese families fleeing to Houston. To my disappointment there was really nothing there for me to do, as many places were turning away volunteers (as so many altruistic and kind Houstonians came out to help).
Fortunately I received an email about a request for Social Workers to assist in the AstroDome. Bingo! I faxed in my documentation, then received the necessary papers to drive over to the Dome area that same day after work. What I saw during my first night of being there, and many days and nights thereafter, are forever etched into my memory. On the first day–don’t recall the exact date, but it was before Labor day weekend– many families were being brought over to Houston in a seemingly endless line of school buses. I have seen poverty and suffering in other parts of the world throughout my travels, but these were Americans right here in our backyard! It was truly chaotic. During that very first night, what I saw was a sea of humanity– sea of humanity in white shirts.
As there were only a few of us, we teamed up by two’s and walked the floor of the dome to talk to anyone looking distressed (and well, that’s about everyone!). That evening we met children without parents, husbands looking for their wives, a wife who saw her husband drown, distraught mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents. It was often difficult to hold back the tears–not because we had difficult jobs before us, I was ready to do whatever it took– but because of the sea of unbelievable suffering all around us. We had no particular system in place on that first day, except a simple desire to help other human beings maintain what little dignity they had left, if any, and to keep hope alive.