Hurricane Katrina Refugee Report #6- Today Was The Day
I wonder how long it will take before I stop referring to myself as a refugee? Perhaps until the day I return home for good. When will that be? Will that ever be?
We are in Keswick, Virginia, just outside Charlottesville and it’s quite a different world here with so many things unlike home. The Blue Ridge Mountains line the horizon when we ride over the hills and into town. Mountains and hills are not something we’re used to seeing and I have to admit, we love the relief this terrain offers. The temperature is mild by day and cool at night and the air is dry, all oddities for us. At night, we can see The Milky Way pour across the sky, surrounded by a zillion stars. The lot upon which our hosts’ house sits covers an area almost the size of my block back home. I can’t see the neighbor’s houses without walking up the street. Deer forage in the area, in plain view of us gawking former city-dwellers. Things like groundhogs, foxes, and skunks make occasional guest appearances in the area- probably other yet-to-be-discovered creatures, too. There is no moss on the trees and all kinds of flowers that struggle at home are blooming everywhere. The streets don’t buckle from the heat and there are no potholes to dodge. I don’t recall having seen a single building that is taller than two stories high.
But there are similarities. The people have been very friendly. And Charlottesville, like New Orleans, was also an island of blue in a sea of red in last year’s election. While in the checkout line at Whole Foods, my hostess/friend told the clerk that we were from New Orleans and his response was that we had chosen a good place to relocate. The guy in line behind me (who looked just like the kind of artsy, intellectual, hippy-type person I’d be friends with) seconded that assertion and actually made that same “blue island in a red sea” comment that I made in my “Sorry Everybody” contribution. I knew C’ville was blue from when I did my cursory correlation study between education levels and voter preference and posted abou it after last year’s election. (There is a strong correlation between anti-Bush votes and a well-educated population.) And speaking of education, both kids have been registered in local schools and will start classes on Monday.
So, today was the day. My friends no longer have to whisper to each other about it not having hit me yet, but that it would and when it did, it would hit hard. It happened today. I went to the Red Cross to file for disaster relief and assistance and as I waited for my caseworker to arrive, an older man came into the room to wait his turn, accompanied by a Louisiana ex-pat living in an adjacent Virginia county. Someone announced that he was also from New Orleans; he’d been rescued by boat and had been in the Reliant Center in Houston before coming to Virginia. So I introduced myself and asked where he lived. It turned out he lived only a couple of miles from me. He knew my neighborhood. I knew his. I felt like someone who’d been wandering lost after having been dropped in the desert and had just found someone else who been dropped there, too and who understood how I felt; a lost brother. I burst into tears -all the tears I’ve stifled and feelings I’ve sublimated. Talking about home with someone who knew what home really means was momentarily sweet, but then intensely painful. All the pain of love lost surfaced in torrents of tears.
Now, I can’t stop thinking about all the things I love about my hometown, about all the things I miss. Unless you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in real-life New Orleans (where tourists seldom tread), you’ll probably never be able to understand these feelings. I've travelled to many places in this country and around the world and I can tell you, there is simply no place on earth like this city. I’ve tried to convey it from time to time in posts on this blog, as in this excerpt from this post:
There's a strange beauty to this city and even to New Orleans' particular brand of dysfunction. Our way of life and our approach to living it is undoubtedly different than anywhere else. We New Orleanians all understand that every aspect of our culture, our society, our local government, our people, be they perceived as good or bad, are all necessary to make New Orleans the odd character that it is. And the people here really do love each other under whatever veneer we place on the outside of ourselves, (and it's not hard at all to tell that we do), because we know that by choosing to live here and to embrace all of New Orleans' pretty and ugly truths, we are united under the skin.
New Orleans was like its own little world with its own beautifully quirky ways and with some of the most interesting and unique human beings to walk this earth. And as I said, there are things to love and things to hate about the city, but oddly, the things you hate are an integral part of why you love it. And if you have that love for New Orleans, that beautiful, unconditional love, it’s the real thing. And when you see something you love so much torn apart, the pain is almost unbearable.
Other Updates From Questions and Comments in the Previous Posts:
Please, everyone, read Ann Rice's opinion piece from the New York Times titled, Do You KNow What It Means To Lose New Orleans.
It's so nice to have our beloved former babysitters here, as Ingrid, now back in the Bay Area, joins Brandy here. Ingrid, Willie is okay, but he was on the road when this hit and I'm not sure where he is now. I spoke to Ivan Neville today and Ivan will get him in touch with us when he sees Willie on Monday. (I assume Willie can't remember my cell number.)
Thanks again to everyone for all the love and support. I really am too overwhelmed to put together a list of things that would make a lovely care package, so please just give me a few days on this. I am working on it. It's just really hard to ask for anything.
Claypot, you are working so hard to help people who live in a chronic state of need. I hate to divert any resources from your end that could be used to help your extended Zambian family. I'll send you the address here, but please keep that in mind.
Much love to you all. I must sleep now...