I spent the final evening in New Orleans with my cousins. Thank God they are all safe. All but two have returned to the family home located just a few blocks from the French Quarter. My first cousin has opened her home not only to her own children’s families, but also to one other Katrina survivor, Mr. Lionel. Mr. Lionel lost his entire family as well as his home, health, and livelihood. He contracted infections in both of his feet from the water, and talks only of the aftermath of Katrina and finding his grandchildren.
My cousin related the story of driving across the Mississippi right before the bridge collapsed trying to get out of New Orleans during the evacuation. The water was so high, almost at the level of the bridge. But our family is so blessed that everyone is safe and doing okay.
Being in New Orleans was like going back home. Upon my arrival, after settling into my room at the hotel, I asked for directions and found myself standing right in front of my grandparents’ home on Barracks Street where my mother and her little brother, my uncle, were born. My grandfather was a musician in the Quarter so long ago.
I was so happy to see everyone from Berklee as we set off for dinner together on that evening before our first workday in the upper 9th ward. I really didn’t know what to expect but was prepared for anything. The houses in the Musician’s Village that had already been completed were brightly colored in greens, purples, blues. The Village looked like “a rainbow of hope,” is how Juliana put it. Standing there amidst the devastation and the hope, being a part of the many volunteers from all over the country, was emotionally overwhelming. Before long, I was up in the rafters of Ms. Ruby’s house, pounding nails up in the rafters. I loved it! Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear” was in my head all week long as we worked in teams to build her house. The weather was hot and humid and everyday we looked forward to an afternoon rain shower to cool us off. One day we really got a downpour; we all got soaked.
Along with Barbara and Roya, I toured the lower 9th ward; it looked like a war zone. There are no words to describe the helplessness and hopelessness I felt. Very little has been done in the three years since the levees broke. I could count the number of rehabilitated homes on one hand. I wonder what has happened to all of the people. I pray for them.
I love New Orleans. I wandered all over the French Quarter, from the Esplanade to Canal Street. I had café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde; sampled the gumbo everywhere. In my imagination, I heard the rhythms of the drums in Congo Square located in Louis Armstrong Park on Rampart St. I especially loved the architecture—the Creole cottages with the shuttered doors and beautiful courtyards in the back, like the one in which my grandparents lived.
Being a part of Berklee in New Orleans has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. I am so grateful, and I am truly blessed. I would do it again in a heartbeat.