There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the weather in Louisiana, short of hurricane season, can be described as sunny and HOT! parallel to that however is the attitude of New Orleanians. Most of us, if not everyone, knows the basic premise of Katrina – disaster. After being in this class and meeting so many residents in the past four days, disaster is a large understatement. Stories like that of Jobi from the Green Project, who had to bike and walk for two days straight through swamps and across highways filled with dead animals and nothing but a backpack of selected food items to carry him through, just to return to his home. Stories like that of Eli from the New Orleans Food Co-Op who lost absolutely everything in the hurricane and was displaced from her home for over a month. Stories like that of Miss June in Stevensville who sometimes has to boat her way out of her driveway as she awaits more flooding as a result of rising waters and the opening of the Morganza spillway. Regardless of the individual, the community, or the situation, it is obvious that new Orleanians and surrounding residents are still, nearly six years later, facing hardships as a result of the levee breaks in 2005.

What is truly amazing however, is the attitude that emulates from the people of New Orleans. As hard as it is to describe, I’ll try my best, but I sincerely wish North Americans and world citizens could some day have the opportunity to witness and experience it. Despite the heartbreak and tragedy; despite the challenges and subsequent pain; despite the profound political, social and economic injustice, I have never in my life met a group of more positive people in my life. To some that may sound like an exaggeration, but I ask you to consider this: on your darkest day, how have you felt? How have you reacted to outsiders who have no idea what you have experienced?

Here in New Orleans the answer is the same across the board in my experience so far. The folks down here are so unbelievably friendly that if you lived under a rock and never heard of Katrina, you would never guess that they have lived and survived such difficult times. You walk down the street and it is not uncommon to have a full conversation with a stranger. In fact, it’s rude if you don’t stop to chat to someone who strikes up a little chit-chat. You get to the job site and within an hour you have been told at least three times how much your work is appreciated. You witness the collective efforts of communities who just want to rebuild their homes and their cities. Despite the fact that again, nearly six years later, only 50-75% of residents have returned to New Orleans or St. Bernard Parish (where we are staying), everyone has such a sunny outlook.

I guess what I’m trying to highlight here is that being here has really taught me to appreciate what I have, and embrace the good that can come from the worst. I have always thought of myself as a relatively positive person, but coming down here, I’ve learned that I had no idea what positivism truly meant until now. We live in a very individualistic society and to witness such a collective attitude, with high spirits to boot is so refreshing. Sometimes it is hard to understand something, when you’ve embraced a different frame of mind for so long. But I ask you this, the next time something truly horrible happens to you, give it a try and see what good you can pull from it. I’m not saying it will be easy, as I’m sure it wasn’t for anyone who had to and still is enduring many challenges brought forward from Katrina and the levee breaks. But at the end of the day, I can guarantee you, the outcome will not only be personally rewarding and empowering, but it will help your fellow community members see the light as well. It’s contagious y’all and we need to take advantage of that.