Days 10-14, a second post-Katrina visit to New Orleans. Listening to the local stories.
Empathy and compassion are not the same thing. Empathy is a part of compassion, yes. But empathy, to identify with another person, is to imagine life in their shoes. Listening helps cultivate empathy. This is not a long blog, not a cheerful one either. Yet, every time I visit New Orleans, post-Katrina, I want to hear the stories, I want to know what my fellow Americans experienced. Down there it was another world and while it might be uncomfortable to listen, it is necessary for us to understand what happened and what darkness in humans made them attack one another or wait so long before sending in help. And to appreciate the light in the many humans who did stay, offered help, provided safety and continue to do so.
Imagine what it’s like to be attacked by your neighbor, someone you’ve come to trust through the years; now suddenly knifing you over your TV and small valuables.
Imagine working in a hospital with no security and angry crackhead zombies begin attacking for the narcotics.
Imagine owning a video log of the police breaking into your store’s safe and stealing 1,000’s of your cash savings-nothing done about it.
Imagine realizing all the animals in the local aquarium are dying-sharks, dolphins, fish-slowly starving to death.
Imagine returning to your home, and even if it escaped damage, the city you call home resembles nothing close to the home you once knew.
Imagine using a post-it note, placing it up on a wall, as the only way to find your lost relative.
Imagine knowing that millions of people are literally donating millions of supplies to your city but there is such shoddy emergency planning in place that tractor trailers of supplies literally go to waste.
Imagine the stench of sewage, mold and carcass permeating your city.
Imagine the rapes taking place, murders and general mayhem that places your life in danger. Not a good time to be a unarmed loner.
Imagine that the reconstruction of your destroyed city invites crooked, swindling construction workers.
Imagine that your city looses 60% of its population overnight.
Imagine the hazardous waste content that also flooded the city and still saturates the wood in many home foundations.
A dark tumor of greed was revealed back in 2005, during and after Hurricane Katrina. As one of my hosts Rich put it, excluding those too poor to find an exit, many stayed for the opportunity to pillage what would be a fairly evacuated city. Selfish Opportunists, not humanists.
Life in the Big Easy was completely altered. I suppose it is not easy to look into that dark tumor of greed; to experience it’s permeating consequences. To know levees were structurally compromised for cost and at many costs. I suppose it’s not easy to witness death, murder, rape, chaos, starvation, destruction; to literally fight for your life. This event arguably surpassed 9/11 and devastated more landscape. It’s scope not only altered the landscape, but the psyche of thousands. What bothers me is that 9/11 seems to affects us more at large, as a nation. This visit to New Orleans, I was granted insight through hours and hours of stories and perspectives.
Now what is still so enchanting about NOLA is it’s fierce spirit of survival and revival. It’s heartbeat is still vibrant and swells as always with music, food, laughter and culture.
Everyone in our nation felt like survivors after 9/11, as it was a terrorist attack upon our national identity. To share an identity is a powerful thing. This is often lost in America, a land where many cultures exist, but what binds us mostly are our consumer tendencies. What does it even mean to be American? There is now also a culture in NOLA that binds everyone together as survivors.
It is not easy to talk about Peace in NOLA. If thought of merely as the absence of war or violence, Peace seems far from present in NOLA. It sounds like a war zone when I hear stories.
After all, what is it in a human’s soul that makes them slash their neighbors face for a TV? How does this breakdown occur? When in the absence of law and faced with natural disaster, a minority of humans can’t come together, but instead resort to violence. Not just poor people, but police, the very people who we rely on to protect us. And there in the middle of travesty, the police acted no better, thinking for themselves and how to manipulate their power. What is it that makes us act like bandits?
I like to think of Peace as a governing ideology that is present when creating strategies to help acquire our needs. An ideology that isn’t selfish but community oriented.
You know, as simple as not pulling guns and knifes on one another when the shit goes down. It’s just horrible to think how we spend money overseas to restore what we call civility/democracy and meanwhile down in the swamps, there was a full on show of crumbling civility.
This ideology was lacking in NOLA because it is lacking domestically, internationally and globally. In keeping with Ghandi’s idea that Peace comes from within, then most humans are lacking it. It is the urge to HAVE, mostly things that aren’t NEEDED which separates us from sharing the resources of what we NEED. It’s not our NEEDS dividing us in most cases, it’s all the crap that means nothing.
If law disappeared from our country today, it would be bandit country, everywhere. Hurricane Katrina was a lesson. If we were this neanderthal in 2005, the need to define Peace/Justice and give it precedence is all the more important. When, how, where do we start to re-examine our hearts, our infrastructure, our strategies?
But, as I was also told, people stepped forward to help in any way that they could. What do we focus on? Who killed, murdered, raped and looted? Who stayed to distribute supplies and offer medical attention? Who came from other countries and states to help? Which politicians are to blame for lack of response and leadership?
To be displaced is something millions of people around our globe experience. New Orleanians now share something with other survivors in the world, that most of us can barely begin to understand. Identifying that tragedy can strike all races and classes might hopefully create compassion.
Suffering through a tragedy also unites survivors, people who perhaps would never speak or seemingly relate. NOLA is rebuilding and we can help support this, in many ways; financially, volunteering, visiting and questioning. Questioning how to better ourselves and create Peaceful strategies to acquire our needs. I would rather us make history by creating Peace, than become history in its absence.
I neglected to write most of this last year. All things now said, PART TWO NOLA is a focus on my hosts and other experiences.
Thank you for reading.
NOW IMAGINE PEACE