Thursday, March 22, 2007

Struggling against the tide

I've been in New Orleans for five days now. I've scraped old paint and primed a house. I've torn down walls to help with gutting another house. I spent another day doing odd jobs and roofing projects for HONO, and two more as a hall monitor at the charter school around the corner while the kids are in LEAP testing. I've also been spending most of my free time wandering around the city and getting a feel for the neighborhood we are in, and how the city stands 19 months after Katrina hit. I have to say that New Orleans has given me much to think about. I've been truly inspired by the people I have met down here and am sincerely regretting that I will be leaving in so short a time. Through our reflections and large group meetings I've realized what a strong pull the city and particularly HONO have on me. But at the same time I have felt incredibly frustrated that it took me so long to get down here. And that despite the size of our GDP there is still so much money needed to rebuild and that despite our population of over 300 million, there still aren't enough volunteers (I won't speak about the government) to rebuild the city in less than eight years.
I think our culture is to blame for this. Individuality. As I sit here in NO reflecting and praying about what I've seen down here, I find myself more and more disgusted with this most fundamental of American cultural traits. It is this individuality which tells us to fend for ourselves, and while we care about the people of New Orleans, we do nothing. It tells us that it is someone else's job to pick up the pieces. It makes us harass the people of New Orleans when they come to our cities and seek help from our system.
Most of us who have been raised in this country have not been brought up to see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own lives, and so most of us don't get involved unless it affects our own lives. I say this not to reprove the people who aren't here with me, but only to vent my frustration that what should unify us as a country is actually what divides us. New Orleans has taught me that there is no us and no them. Despite the differences created by distance, or culture, or economics, we are the same.
This city and its people suck you in, they make you feel at home when you're not. You begin to care about the people like they are your family, and you want to help your family out. You want to come to their aid when the city breaks a pipe in the sidewalk, causing the sweet old lady who lived there to have to pay a $700 water bill, and then doesn't fix the damage. Hands On fixed the damage for her, and the people who did it were happy to do it. But who is going to hold the city responsible for looking out for their own interests rather than the interests of the people they are supposed to represent.
Well, all these musings really have no point. Like Annamarie said, I can't answer all the questions. And constant blame-shifting does not get the people of New Orleans back into their homes. The essence is that more needs to be done. By everyone. Government and citizen alike. Because the people of New Orleans are not just those people down there. They are us. Americans. Human beings.

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