Friday, March 23, 2007

turning point

Our two HONO groups and one UMCOR group went to the lower ninth ward and walked the desolate streets for an hour, trying to get our minds to accept the images they were presented. It was so deathly quiet. I've never believed in ghosts. Until tonight. I kept thinking about a comment Lindsay made yesterday about the social fabric, and how Americans tend to cling to a kind of rabid individualism without recognizing the larger whole.

It's Friday night, and I kept hearing the voices of families and neighbors gearing up for this beautiful spring night -- on front steps and in back yards, next to vehicles with the bass cranked up perhaps, with three or four generations of folk at one barbecue. I heard all of this, and children shrieking and dogs barking.

Except that this isn't the reality of ninth ward today, or ever since Hurricane Katrina, the broken levees (caused by governmental neglect -- the army corps of engineers was found responsible this week . . . did anyone see that in the news? Doubtful beyond the Gulf Coast), and the thirty foot waves that came crashing down upon this already poverty-stricken neighborhood.

The reality is a ghost town that goes on beyond how far my eyes could see -- with only a handful of FEMA trailers in sight. I shudder to think where everyone aside from the 1600 who died there has gone. Generations of people scattered across the country, in exile from the home and people they know, with a government and fellow citizens who are not helping them because they are poor and black.

Tuesday night the staff resource folks and student leaders met to regroup and check in. David mentioned something about those doing the work related to Katrina relief being the second wave of freedom riders, and Tony aptly pointed out that this is a turning point for our nation -- what we do with New Orleans says a lot about who we are as a people.

Because there's definitely planning going on, but that planning (by people far whiter than the general demographic of the city) neglects a lot of public housing, a lot of social issues.

I haven't even etched the surface of processing this week, and this night in the lower ninth. But I have learned one very important thing already -- that I need to follow my resistances and see where they lead me. I didn't want to come to New Orleans, but didn't have a very well articulated reason why. But now I know it's because I didn't want to see all of this so up close and personal, the failure of our country to come together to change a system, to heal people, to heal ourselves. This is just the beginning.

Samantha Henningson
OSLV Staff

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say hi to all you great Hamline people doing your good work in New Orleans. I'm so glad you are back there working and learning again, but am saddened that after a necessarily quick browse at your posts, it looks like there is still soooo much work left to be done. So many people have forgotten New Orleans, but I never will after being there last year. Keep up your hard work and dedication and know that I'm wishing you well from halfway around the world.

Peace Corps Volunteer, Kyrgystan
CSI New Orleans Trip Leader, Mar 06