When most people think of New Orleans they think of good Cajun food and Jazz music. When I think of NOLA I think resilience, spirit, survivors, strong family ties AND good Cajun food and Jazz! This amazing city and its surrounding areas are home to some of the most incredibly beautiful people I've ever met! Their beauty is not surface level. It runs deep within their cores as well as the big, over-flowing hearts of these truly southern and always hospitable people.
I had the utter joy and extreme blessing of being introduced to the aforementioned qualities of these home-grown NOLA natives back in early '09 as a guest of two of my heroes, former CNN Hero of the Year winners Liz McCartney and Zack Rosenberg! I met Zack and Liz on a couple of occasions prior to my life changing trip to NOLA, and had explained to them my deep desire to support the city and remind those who lost so much during Hurricane Katrina that we remember. And perhaps more importantly, certainly for me, that "I" remember!
So in March of 2009 I first learned how to build a house with St. Bernard Project. There was spackling, also known as 'mudding', dry wall, patching and painting. On later trips, I would go on to learn finishing techniques such as caulking, trim, base boards, etc. But I have to say, it was not building a house which resonated so clearly with me. It was when I learned the meaning of making that house a home that I finally understood the way of the incredible and beautiful New Orleans people!
I learned that in these survivors darkest hours, and by hours I mean years, they still manage to make gutted homes, campers, FEMA trailers, alternative and shared housing "home" because they have family. This is one of the truest testaments to the resilience of these fine people! I've been told stories by survivors of laying their water hoses out in the sun in order to have warm water with which to wash themselves. I was told by one survivor that she had a family of six living in one FEMA trailer for more than three years! I have, over the course of my five or six trips to NOLA, been told numerous, similar and even more appalling stories and yet every single time, no matter how bad the circumstance, every story I've heard was told with a smile!
One thing is for certain, if you EVER get to experience New Orleans the way I have, nothing will affect you the way just one moment with a Hurricane Katrina survivor will. You're mind will be opened, your eyes may glisten and your heart? ...Your heart will be forever changed! I love you, NOLA, I remember!