I have been wanting to post more writing lately, but have faced confliction as to what I should share. I’m in the process of moving, and digging around looking for other documents I found an old essay I had written in 7th grade. Back then this thing was gold. My math teacher told me to keep a journal during a mission trip I went on as a makeup assignment. I kept a journal, but just a couple pages wouldn’t do, so I started to write a research essay turned adolescent girl pouring out her memories onto a piece of paper. This is when I first realized I wanted to be a journalist. Witnessing things and bleeding words through my fingers is like creating a harmony of ideas, and I am fortunate to have stuck with that over the years.
My initial idea was to revise this whole essay because let’s face it, it’s not perfect. I wanted to change the language and have it make more sense. As I was typing it, I came to the conclusion that the language reveals my innocence, age, and what a middle school mind really saw. So here is my raw version of my reflection on New Orleans.
“Wow” that’s all I can say about this amazing trip that changed my life. From the second I saw New Orleans I fell in love. The new walls put up along the sides of the highways, the houses still broken were sad, but to see the people rebuilding and helping out put a smile on my face. Since the hurricane hit two and a half years ago this community has been struggling to rebuild homes and emotions.
August 29th 2005, people woke up to a category 5 hurricane called hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, at 6:10 am. After 11:00am the levee that hold all the water in Lake Pontchartrain, and the New Orleans lifeline, broke making the flood much more worse than imagined. Winds were racing up to 175 miles per hour along with gusts reaching 215 miles per hour. Rain was pounding, people could barely catch any of this on tape because of the rain and wind stinging their faces. Highways were blocked and gas went up to over $6.00 a gallon. This was the worst natural disaster recorded in American history. It set another record for the most intense Atlantic hurricane. The hurricane left five million people without power.
Over 150,000 people were not able to evacuate after the storm. Water was up to the power lines and if you would have a high enough house you would break a hole in your roof and climb out just to look around and see the destruction of belongings, coffins from graveyards, cars and dead pets floating around. The Super Dome was a place that held over 9,000 people along with 550 National Guard troops. Air conditioning, electricity, running water failed for the next two months. Widespread reports for murders, rapes, beatings, robberies were gotten away with. To read this makes my stomach ache because all the people I met went through this disaster and to see them now just amazes me. 230,000 people were evacuated to Texas and 50,000 were still in need of shelter. Trucks could only get water for 15,000 people that would last for three days.
At least 659 people’s lives were lost. A nursing home was charged with neglect because they left without 34 senior citizens in wheel chairs and they all drowned. Some health concerns were dehydration, food poisoning, disease outbreaks, and repertory illness. As for pets, most rescuers would not allow animals on the boats or helicopters because they needed to hold more humans. Some refused to leave with their pets and if you were going to the super dome with them, it was not allowed. Some hospitals did allow them luckily. The zoo only lost 3 out of 1,400 animals because of disaster planning on high level ground. In just a week the humane society received $3.5 million in donations.
When I first saw all the destruction on TV I didn’t think anything of it and that it would be over in a week. When I went to church in late February there was a group on stage talking about what they did in New Orleans and they showed a couple of pictures too. They invited people to a lunch where you could sign up to go and ask questions and talk to people about the trip. Thinking about the day up at Schweitzer ahead of me I didn’t care. I went to Schweitzer with my best friend all day and once I got home my mom started asking me questions like “how did you like that presentation today?” and I kind of just said the usual “good”. Then the words that made my stomach flop… “Well you get to experience that”.
“What”!?! I was speechless. I never imagined that I would be going there and it never came to my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about the hurricane all night and I couldn’t stop thinking about the people there that I would meet. How they acted, and talked, and what they lived in, and how they lived, what kind of food they ate and tons of other questions.
After four weeks of classes during church with 20 other people, I woke up at three in the morning to get up and drive to the airport. I had no idea what to expect and made a rule to myself “go with the flow”. After five hours of flying we got to New Orleans. As we drove to the church we were staying at I saw houses still damaged, highway walls being rebuilt and on the houses with markings that I couldn’t figure out what they meant. All the houses were colorful and not all the same. Stair railings were swirling around, wrought iron was on almost every house and on the ground were shells washed up from the flood. Once we got to the church I set up my bed next to my mom and walked outside to walk around. There was a little black girl sitting on a bike out in the front yard.
“Hi” I said and she didn’t talk. Then the trip leader walked out.
“Hi” The trip leader said and the little girl still didn’t say a word. “Where do you live?”
The little girl pointed and we followed her to her house. We met there a single mom with three girls, and one baby boy. One girl named Malaya (who was my favorite) was sitting on the front porch playing cards and I sat down to join her. Soon the other two girls joined in and we were all talking. The oldest was in fourth grade and the youngest was four. They talked a lot and we shared about where we lived and they are two totally different places. Apparently the girls were on a roof after the hurricane for two days. Then their mom’s cousin swam 2 blocks to rescue them and was shot two weeks later for no reason walking into a gas station. They came over for dinner (that the pastor’s wife cooked and she cooked for us every night) and then I went to bed getting ready for the first day of work the next day.
I woke up early the next day to my “morning buddies” who I always woke up to that week before everyone else (I always wake up early). We had breakfast and then sat down to discuss which house we would go to that week. There was Ms. Elizabeth, who I was afraid of because I heard she doesn’t feed you so you had to pack your lunch and she never socializes. Well guess whose house I ended up at? I was scared I didn’t know why, but I promised myself to go with the flow so I did. We arrived and Ms. Elizabeth saw me and she was excited that a younger person got to come to her house. She hugged me and I felt so happy. I started off with the job of watching the tools outside. This was an important job because there were robbers in the neighborhood. We also had to keep the doors closed at all times even if we were working inside. Then I ended up painting in the 80 degree sun. That’s when I heard a sound, it wasn’t just a sound, it was music and it sounded like an ice cream truck coming our way. We chased it, but it kept on driving! The third time we tried chasing it, we finally got it around 3 o’clock. So we sat down ate our ice cream on the porch and talked. Once we got back I met up with the three girls and played with them. Then I met the pastor’s son, Daniel. One of the liveliest kids ever. He was in 6th grade and we hung out most of the time on the trip. Our team was bonding more and more. I was most scared before the trip about being the only kid and being board and getting all the easy jobs, but that didn’t happen at all. All of us laughed and had fun. We even had water gun fights! We went lizard hunting, and caught a bunch, also we caught frogs. The team is what I loved most about the trip. We were like a puzzle. We were together to make a picture, but instead we made relationships with others that went through the hurricane, and hopefully if something happens in Sandpoint, people from New Orleans would come help us.
On the third day we went to a different house. I went to Ms. Phoenix and Ms. Philips’ house. They had five people living in a FEMA trailer that is half the size of the math classroom. You see them parked everywhere in front of houses. Right when school got out a little boy and his mom came over. The little boy is seven and can he talk!?! We broke out the water guns and blasted everyone. We ran into the backyard and set up Christmas lawn ornaments and knocked them down with our water guns. I had the funnest time in the world! Micah is a little guy who I think of everyday.
The next day the Pastor took us on a tour and showed us what the hurricane did to the city. I learned that the markings on the homes were from people who inspected the houses after the hurricane. They looked for people and pets. On some houses there were signs that animals had lived there (like pet food and stuff) would say “no dog or cat found etc.” On some houses there would be markings of what was rescued, and some had markings of people found dead. We went to the lower ninth ward where the flood was up to the power lines because that’s where the levee broke. There we went into a two story abandoned house. We could see the water level stains on the walls on the second floor. Furniture everywhere, a nursery with baby belongings was terribly sad. Everyone was crying as we walked through this mess. Nobody was talking and had a blank stare on their face, but in your mind you keep saying “Oh my gosh”, “oh God”, “this is amazing” and you know everyone is thinking in their minds the same thing. It was amazing. We also saw Louie Armstrong’s house along with Fats Domino’s house and the school were a black girl got escorted to an all-white school for the first time. I forgot her name but I remember watching movies about it in third grade.
Today I got to interview two students at a school across the street from Ms. Phoenix and Philips house. It was an all boy’s school and they were my age. We went to a detached classroom next door to us and the teacher was standing outside and all the boys were inside waving at me because the teachers back was to them. I was laughing and blew their cover. The teacher sent us across the street to talk to the principal and we walked into this really nice polished school dripping wet from water guns and paint all over our hair and clothes. We were sweaty and told the principal we could wait another day to do a more formal interview. He then said it was okay to do the interview that day and we went for it. The first question I asked was “where were you when the hurricane hit?” Both of the boys we interviewed were evacuated, but they said most people didn’t because the previous storm (hurricane Ivan) was supposed to be really serious and everyone left. It turned out that Ivan wasn’t that bad and people were angry because all of the time and money they spent evacuating was for nothing. So when Katrina was coming, not a lot of people left because of that previous storm. They also said that they lost a lot of friends when they came back to school and there were still messages on the white boards from the people that used the school as a shelter. It was really sad to hear about when they got home nothing was left. Just all gone. All their pictures, clothes, books, electronics, all gone. It made me think real hard about this and I wanted to cry.
We had our team meetings every night and tonight’s meeting was filled with tears. We all got along soooo well together and we loved each other so much we could talk aloud without being shy. We learned about Ms. Elizabeth’s past first. She has a son in jail and her life is very hurt and her mom just passed away. That made me feel bad about her. She lives in a neighborhood with burglars and it’s all she can afford. She was also warming up to us. She came and brought our workers lunch and my mom said that Ms. Elizabeth came and brought her a drink. Ms. Elizabeth came out and talked to a team member sitting on the front porch. She told her about where she was when the flood happened. She was on the roof with her mom and a rescue boat came by to get them. There wasn’t enough room for both of them so they forced another man off with a gun so they could both fit. Then it was my mom’s turn to talk. She talked about a man she met named Gary. His parents were on their roof for three days and he wanted to go find them. He ended up sneaking a boat with his friend wearing military uniforms. They went around rescuing people and putting them on a school roof. While doing so he saw the dead body of a senior citizen and pets of all kinds, he saw a dead teenager too. We were sobbing as we also learned about our team member’s pasts too. We ended up spending three hours talking and we learned so much about each other.
Saturday was really really hot and humid. The humidity was so high I could barely breathe. Sense it was the day before mother’s day me and one of the team members went to go get flowers for Ms. Elizabeth because she has no family. I went along to see if I could get anything for my mom. Two other boys with their mom on the trip came along too. We finally found the florist, and I walked out with a beautiful sun catcher (which my mom loved). Then we got off early to go to the pastors house to celebrate his daughters college graduation. We had lots of Cajun food like jumblia (rice with meat and a lot of spice) and my favorite… crawfish! We all took the heads and put them on our fingers like finger puppets and we were laughing so hard. We had a blast.
The next day we worked and talked to Ms. Phoenix and Ms. Philips. We wanted to build a duck pen for them and get a new duck since they had lost all seven in the hurricane. We did and then I played with Micah and still had soooo much fun as usual. Then he came home to the church with us and we played more and ate dinner. Before we left for the trip we made Spongebob curtains for him. We took him home and put them up. During that time Micah showed me how to play his trumpet and I set up the Wii for him. He was sooo excited. Then he saw his curtains and was the happiest kid in the world. His mom was crying and gave me a hug and I gave her a $25 gift card.
My favorite part of the trip was mother’s day because we got a free day to go to the French Quarters. I went shopping and saw the IMAX movie called “Hurricane on the Bayou”. It was about hurricane Katrina and what it did. That made me cry to see all the footage happening in front of my eyes. I imagined Ms. Elizabeth sitting on her roof. I thought about Ms. Phoenix and Ms. Philips watching the water rise the day they had finally moved into their newly remodeled home and then it disappearing and had to be done all over again. Walking out of the movie feeling dazed I saw Daniel and we ended up going to the Mississippi river edge and then went and did some more shopping. We also went and got beignets! (Fried doughnuts with a cup of powdered sugar dumped on top) The floors were all sticky from all the white powdered sugar laying around. It was a blast! We went to dinner and came home. Then stayed up and hung out. This was the only night where the three girls didn’t come over.
Finally the last day hit and I was not ready to leave. I wanted to hide away until everyone left. I didn’t want to leave the three girls, Micah, Daniel, and all the amazing hurricane survivors. They never complained once and every day they told us how blessed they were. Ms. Lewis, another person whose home we were rebuilding, had a train float into her backyard but she still told us she was blessed. She told us she was blessed the hurricane hit because she would have never met us. She ended every conversation with “God is good and I am blessed”. She would give a hug and roll away in her wheel chair.
This trip touched me soooooo much I cannot even write or type it out. All the things that happened… well this is only half I saw and heard and wish I could explain more but it’s really hard. Coming home at 11pm and going to school the next day was really really hard as well, but I had to see my friends and tell them everything. I opened my mouth when everyone gathered at my locker but tears came out instead of words. I didn’t know what happened I couldn’t talk all day. I cried at least three times. Everything I see or hear reminds me of something in Louisiana. One thing I don’t like most is hearing black remarks. My friends tried to comfort me but it’s so hard to recover.
Three weeks later, there I was, giving the same presentation that I ignored months ago. When I saw pictures of the people and the houses I felt homesick. The team was all crying and hugging. Then we went to the same informational lunch. I was one of the first on the list for people who were interested to go in October. I don’t know when I’ll go back whether it’s in the fall or spring depends on when I can afford it. I really want to go back more than anything. I would like to take my dad along too. There is one thing that will not be the same though, is the amazing and fun team I worked with. So I will end my story like Ms. Lewis ends hers. God is good and I am blessed.