Friday, September 5, 2008

Rocked Me Like A Hurricane

Running a refugee camp is pretty easy. Oops, I didn't mean refugee, I meant evacuee camp.

The earlier part of this week, my home served as shelter to four wayward New Orleanians fleeing from Gustav. My evacuees were my brother, his very lovely wife (let's call them Jack and Jill since they're painfully old fashioned and think someone will stalk them to death if I put their names on the Internet) and their two very crazy dogs.

It was awesome!! We watched CNN all day. When they weren't trying to pretend to stay calm as water pushed over levee walls, we founded a country called "Liberalistan" in my living room and proceeded to reenact the perfect Democratic National Convention.

Jill pretended she was Hillary, Jack pretended to be Obama, and they had a wrestling match where Hil won and Obama cried like a little girl. Tariq pretended he was Bobby Jindal announcing that he had finally decided to become a Democrat, and I got to be Soledad O'Brien.

My daughter watched us intently and I'm pretty sure I saw the realization wash over her three year old face that she didn't have a fighting chance at a normal life.

Last time, Jack and Jill evacuated New Orleans, though, we didn't have so much fun.

Three years ago, with a week old baby in my arms, a father in the hospital from a triple bypass surgery, and a house full of in-laws, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a little hurricane named Katrina was tap dancing her way through the Atlantic.

I was raised in Florida, so hurricanes don't really inspire much fear in me. In fact, my general feelings about hurricanes center around disappointment. Here's how almost every single hurricane from my childhood played out:

Everyone: A hurricane is coming, a hurricane is coming. Sandbags, water, peanut butter, oh my!

: Sweet. I don't have to go to school. No Algebra (which should really have been called, "Let's tear Faiqa's self esteem down by making her feel like the biggest idiot in the world")?

: Oh, thank goodness, the hurricane turned. It's going to North Carolina instead.

: Kids in North Carolina are so lucky.

As Katrina edged its way towards New Orleans, though, Jill called and told me that she was evacuating the city. Jack would not be accompanying her immediately because he's a doctor and his hospital wouldn't let him to leave.

The hurricane finally hit and you're well aware of what happened to the city after that.

No phones, electricity or a way to leave the city translated into days that rolled by where we didn't hear from Jack. Twenty four hour news stations, also known as crack rock for the anxious, did nothing to assure anyone in my family of his safety.

Bodies floated through the streets of New Orleans and I pushed the worst thoughts about Jack's situation out of my head. For days, all that would come out of my mouth was, "This is America. This isn't supposed to happen here." But, it did happen here.

I will never really know the details of what happened in New Orleans that August. And I still can't imagine how it must have felt to lose your home, your pet or even your family to something as seemingly innocuous as weather.

But, I know what I felt. I felt angry because I had watched over my younger brother all my life. Now, the people "in charge" had failed me, Jill, my parents and everyone who loved him so much. Worse, I felt humiliated because I had arrogantly thought that we were better than this. That we were better than them over there.

About a week later, I watched my brother sleep off his Katrina hangover on my sofa, with my daughter sleeping peacefully upon his chest. I had never loved him more than I did at that moment. He was home, he was safe, and it was over.

I don't think it will ever be over for Jack and Jill, though. I remember them having a lot more faith in people before Katrina. Sometimes, when we talk of politics or society, I'll hear them say something that reminds me that a great deal of their faith in the goodness of people probably drowned in the flooded streets of New Orleans three years ago.

Now, if you ask Jack how he likes New Orleans, I swear you could see a shadow flit across his face before he answers. I suppose he's experiencing a sense of pain, loss or despair in that moment. The truth is, I don't know what lives in that shadow, and I can only make far reaching guesses.

The shadow does show me how Katrina still bears heavy upon the hearts of the people who lived it. And that it's not going to lighten up anytime soon.

** My sister-in-law, seven year resident of New Orleans, a former Katrina and Gustav evacuee, and all around awesome person will be guest posting on this topic on Monday, so be sure to come back!!

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Blogger Miss Britt said...

Wow - you had me giggling and left me wanting to cry.

Saturday, 06 September, 2008  
Blogger Avitable said...

It's amazing how the internet can be a better resource than the news in a time of crisis. When Britt's hometown was wiped out by the tornado, she had more information from Twitter than any website. And when that relatively minor earthquake hit LA a few weeks ago, we heard about it on Twitter again before even the local LA stations picked it up.

I don't know where I was going with this. I had a point, though.


Saturday, 06 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

britt - my intended effect upon people who have good souls. ((big hugs))

avitable - if i didn't know any better, i'd swear you were doing a twitter ad.

Sunday, 07 September, 2008  

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