It's less than twelve hours before Hastings Hurricane Relief begins its journey to New Orleans. My suitcase is tighly packed with a laptop, books, clothing, and, of course, Cutter spray for potential mosquito attacks! As certain as I am about the contents of my suitcase, though, I cannot, no matter how hard I try, prepare for what I'll witness and feel once in New Orleans. It's like trying to remember the contours of someone's face whom you haven't seen in years. Sure, I've seen the pictures of the overturned cars and destroyed homes. I've seen the media coverage of people exiting the Superdome only to linger in the sun for days until relief arrived.
But, how will I react to the stories I hear, the sites I see, and the residents I meet in New Orleans? Will I be angry, sad, hopeful for things to come, disappointed, or amazed at the resilience New Orleaneans have demonstrated? I suspect that I'll experience each. I've been to third-world countries before, but I've never been to an area where lives have forever changed because of a major natural disaster. I generally associate economics, politics, education, and natural resources as the reasons for an area's financial and social demise - not a hurricane.
In the days after September 11, 2001 I traveled to dowtown Manhattan where the Twin Towers were previously located. I was very familiar with the area pre-9/11 since I grew up in Queens, traveled often the city when I was younger, and attended college a few blocks away. If you can imagine walking down a street and not recognize many of the reference points you knew for so long then you can imagine what I experienced. I believe that is precisely how New Orleaneans felt immediately after Hurricane Katrina. Unlike the downtown area of Manhattan that was mostly occupied by businesses, however, families lived in most of the areas devasted by Katrina.
Despite the devastation that affected so many, I remain hopeful that New Orleaneans, through their own efforts and the assistance of others, will rebuild their communities to regain the lives they once knew.
It's wonderful to have the opportunity to work with such a dedicated group of students who truly want to make a difference by helping those in need.
To the journey!