NOLA to New York friend Frank Brigtsen is among the New Orleans (celeb!) chefs traveling to New York - specifically the hard hit Rockaways to bring food, love and understanding to scores of residents.
Talking to Frank last week, he told me this is a critical time, about two months after Sandy, when survivors begin to feel lost, forgotten and agitated. Frank believes in repairing not just homes but the human spirit. Katrina survivors are the experts here, coming from New Orleans to remind The Rockaways (and all of those hit by Sandy) that we didn’t forget, we will remember, we will make sure others remember too.
Not comfortable with photos, still want to share the love
There have been a handful of people who aren’t comfortable with sharing a photo of themselves but still wanted to reach out to people hit by Sandy. Here’s a couple:
I am a Nola native who moved to NYC in 1999. I was living in Brooklyn when Katrina hit, but I was visiting home, and was one of the last flights to leave, the day before Katrina. It took every ounce of my being to get on that plane, because, for some reason, I knew something awful was about to happen.
When the storm finally hit, and I lost contact with my family and friends, and then began seeing the news reports, I sat in disbelief. I felt like I should have stayed to support the people I love and the city that was my home and best friend. I desperately wanted to go back to help, but no flights were going in and I had just started school.
The thing about starting a new school year, as you may know, is that you must to talk about who you are and where you are from so that the professor and students get to know you. In every. single. class. I had 8 of them that semester. Imagine having to tell your name, and that you are from New Orleans, who had just been hit by Katrina, 8 times in 4 days. I was still dealing with my own emotions about the storm and I cried every time. By the time my last class came, I told them I just couldn’t and left. One of my friends was kind enough to tell the rest why I was upset.
Though most of my family was extremely fortunate and had minimal damage, I was haunted by the knowledge that my city was gone. The place where I had run when I was a teenager being harassed at school because I was different, the place that I felt like I was “normal”, the place that I went when I did not want to be judged, the place that had pacified my desire to commit suicide on many occasions, was under water. And many Americans though it should be left to die. This place was my best friend. This place was my savior. This place taught me that, not only was it ok to be a little eccentric, but that I should embrace it. This place was my home, and I was watching the destruction unfold on television, feeling completely helpless and hopeless.
I am not sure when I stopped crying and started to feel hopeful again. I was not able to return until the following April, and, though it was sad to see the changes, I could also see the defiant smirks on the faces of all those who had stayed, those who had started to rebuild, and persevered even though they had lost everything. I also saw a great sadness because of what they had all been through. Those are the people who made me feel so incredibly proud to be from New Orleans.
I moved back home from Brooklyn about three and a half years ago. I certainly don’t feel the same way about wanting to be in NY for Sandy. I am glad that I missed her, but my heart goes out to my friends and my adopted NY family, and to everyone who was impacted. I don’t get to claim that I can understand what it is like to lose your loved ones, your pets, your house, or all of your possessions to a major hurricane in either city, but I know what it’s like to feel that your home, the place that fills your heart, is gone.
My facebook newsfeed has been filled with 2 types of things in the past week. First, stories, photos, news articles, etc from my friends trying to sort through this mess, trying to find their loved ones, seek out heat or shelter, go about their lives in the usual NYC fashion. Second, the sweetest notes of kindness, support and wisdom from all of my friends in New Orleans who get it because they have been there. I wanted to share each and every one of those notes with each and every one of my friends up north, because when times are tough, those are the things that get you through and help you keep your faith and not give up or lose hope.
My friend sent me your blog, and I cried. I could feel all of my emotions from Katrina surface as I read through the stories, and I knew that this is what those people in NYC needed. Because at the end of the day, we are all connected, we are all living together, and we must find a way to show our support and love for each other. There is no way that they will get through this without that. There is no way I could have, and I’m sure there is no way this city could have either.
THANK YOU. You deserve a huge hug. I hope that your home in NYC is ok, and that the people you love and care about are all safe & sound.
I’m not sure I’m comfortable taking/sending pictures, especially as I didn’t deal with Katrina directly, and I won’t be back home in NOLA until the holidays. I’m also not sure if what I have to say will fit on a card. But I hope you’ll pass on my message if you get the chance and have a good way to do it.
My message is primarily not for those in NY, NJ, or any part of the eastern seaboard suffering right now, but for expatriates from those areas. When Katrina struck, I didn’t go into work for at least a full day. When I did go in, I was nigh useless for a full week. I spent most of my time checking the web for updates and calling friends and family, hoping to get information that they got out, or, if they didn’t, that they were safe and alive. People who weren’t from New Orleans did not understand how serious it was. There was a Red Cross donation drive in the office, but if you’re not from a place, how can you understand how strange and frightening a true disaster there is?
My first message to expatriate New Yorkers and others with friends suffering from Sandy and its aftermath is: “It’s okay to freak out.” When places that have never flooded before are underwater, when friends or family are missing, when your hometown is more or less destroyed, it is totally understandable, and natural, to freak the hell out. Try to make it clear to those around you exactly how strange and bad things are.
Which brings me to my second message: “Don’t let the people around you forget.” Most people outside of New Orleans don’t hear much about Katrina in the news these days, so they tend to assume everything is all better. They don’t understand that the city’s infrastructure was severely and (for most intents) permanently damaged, and that a lack of national political will and local/state/federal funds has meant that things are still, in many ways, still FUBAR in NOLA. And New Orleans got all the publicity; our smaller and less-famous neighbors along the Gulf Coast got even less help.
I have no doubt that many of the towns and cities in the northeast are going to be suffering from bureaucracy, corruption, and plain old short-term politics in the same way in years to come. It is our job, as natives in a different town, to keep track of what’s going on in our home town, and to share how bad things are. Mainstream media outlets are loathe to discuss old news, especially when it’s years old. But that doesn’t mean these topics aren’t still important. It’s our job to keep these issues in the national public consciousness, among friends and co-workers who can’t understand and who won’t hear about it otherwise.
I hope that the people of New Orleans (at home or in diaspora) continue to keep the victims of Sandy in their minds over the next decade. I hope the victims of Sandy keep New Orleans in their minds, too. I hope that the entire country can start taking climate issues and infrastructure issues seriously. FEMA is important: it needs to be better managed, and maybe expanded. Our infrastructure across the country is decaying. Most of it was built during the New Deal, and newer constructions haven’t been built to last. And we’ve been electing politicians who only care about their next term, when they should be planning for the next 50 years. These are national issues. The next major natural disaster could hit L.A., or S.F., or Seattle, or Houston, or Chicago. The entire country needs to be prepared, and it’s our job, as those who have friends and family who went through these tragedies, to help get the country to a point where it will be.