For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

You can't go home again

For me, the most striking thing about seeing this city for the first time and seeing it in this condition is not just the shock of the destruction, but knowing that to so many people, this city is home. The work that we have been doing at the Pro Bono Project has focused on finding people that have been out of touch since the storm, and it has shown us that the real destructive power of Hurricane Katrina was in sending people away from New Orleans to places that aren’t their home.

I don’t think that anything could gut your soul like watching the place where you have your roots wash away as you have to turn your back on it and flee for your life. It isn’t just the flooded, wind-beaten houses, but the fact that communities built by the daily interactions of the people and the city over two hundred years are simply gone.

I was listening to a story on the radio about the hurricane awhile back and heard a displaced New Orleans woman recounting her old neighborhood – the characters who haunted their respective corners and the mailman who called her “baby.” During the past couple of days, I’ve found myself projecting that woman’s story onto the empty, devastated streets and imagining the unique group of people that was forced out of New Orleans and dispersed all over the Southeast. The displaced woman that I heard has no way of knowing where the neighborhood characters have gone and no expectation of seeing that mailman again. She and all the others lost their houses but even more sadly, their neighborhoods and their roots. Their city.

Even I can tell you after three days here on my first visit that there is no place like New Orleans. And it is still here, but so deep in mourning that it is hard to imagine a full recovery. Before I arrived, I heard people say that the French Quarter was not badly damaged. And it’s true that the buildings are still there. In fact, we had a wonderful night in the Quarter complete with amazing food, good wine, music and dancing. All of that is still possible. But the Quarter is damaged just like the rest of the city – the streets and bars are relatively empty (many are closed) and the people are tired and sad. But not all are completely defeated – the saxophone player in a bar we wandered into stopped the music to tell us wearily that we should come back when the city was back on its feet, in ten years. We promised that we would, and he promised that he’d still be there playing music, this time to a room full of happy people.


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