Why heavy rains make me think of NOLA… Thursday, Jul 11 2013 

Guest post by Isaac Coplan, MES grad student at York University and former CINT 912 student at Ryerson University.

Two nights ago I took an hour and a half to get home (usually a 45 minute commute). I ran through heavy rain and arrived at my lobby to find that the power was out.

 

Shortly after the rain started, York Commons, York University. Photo by Tanya Gulliver.

Shortly after the rain started, York Commons, York University. Photo by Tanya Gulliver.

I climbed up the stairs to the 8th floor while I swore out loud. When I got to my place, I looked out past the balcony at Wilson ave. and Highway 401, both bumper to bumper. They remained perfectly congested until 930pm. My partner and I sat without power and ate sandwiches. Our stove is electric. We only have one blueberry scented candle and a wind-up flashlight that was giving my partner a headache by the end of evening. All in all it was kind of fun; we played chess and then crazy eights and hung out by blueberry candlelight. Our water was still functioning (though I think the hot water was out by 10pm). Our iPod touch was able to function as our alarm when both of our cell phones died. When I went to sleep, I had a brief moment of thinking that the lights and power may still be out in the morning when I woke up, what would I do then? Our AC had been out for hours and we were starting to get a bit muggy, our food probably wouldn’t last more than a couple of days in the freezer.

Flooding on King St in Toronto. Photo by Steph Vasko.

Flooding on King St in Toronto. Photo by Steph Vasko.

Throughout Toronto, hidden waterways that used to mark the landscape prior to colonialism, development and re-development reached out their swampy arms and flooded the Gardiner Expressway and basements throughout the downtown core. The water systems reminded us that they are there, and that they can’t really be tamed or routed. Sure enough, at 230am the lights flickered back on and scared us. The returning electricity saved our food and allowed us to plug in our cell phones. Other than the stoplight out at the end of our street and wet pavement, the events from the day before were hardly a memory by the morning.

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans probably started in much the same way as this heavy rainfall. It wasn’t the largest hurricane that had passed through the region. Many people start off by having hurricane parties and meeting up with friends. It all probably started off pretty fun, but then at some point, that panicky feeling that things may not get better ended up being true. People ended up losing family homes and suddenly being without places to stay. Displaced, they were reaching for inexistent assistance from people in other states and from their own government. People drowned in their attics, or in the flow of water. The news referred to them as refugees and the media began immediately to blame the victims. The infrastructure that was supposed to protect those people in the Lower 9th ward and St. Bernard Parish was insufficient and the storm surge reminded everyone that it was in charge (not the Army Corps of Engineers). FEMA trailers were lined with asbestos and other harmful chemicals for those who even qualified. The remnants of Katrina are still in New Orleans. Those who lost people, places and signifiers to the storm surge of Katrina will think of it when they see every new storm coming.

Now, heavy rains make me think of this displacement and temporality of shelter as I know it. I look outside and it forces me to think about the privileged position that I am in. I live high above the water level if there ever is a flood. I may or may not have power, but my living space is cool enough and I am consistently hydrated. I have food to eat, even if there is a chance that it will go bad. I have a place that I can return to when the rain falls quickly. I have a place that is safe, where I have dry clothes and a support system. In Toronto, there are lots of people who don’t have that. There are lots of people displaced who are threatened by severe weather. People living in unsafe housing or outdoors whose possessions are at continuous risk of being destroyed, stolen or “cleaned up”. For those people, every rainstorm can be as devastating to them as Hurricane Katrina. Their ‘heavy rains’ may not even be tied to weather, they are tied to social, political and economic positions that they are placed in often through no fault of their own. We have an obligation to make sure that everyone has safe housing, and that there are adequate supports for those who are displaced. When the heavy rain is over, and my power is back up, I have the privilege of breathing a sigh of relief.

It really is time for change, to end displacement as we know it.

It doesn’t take a dream, it just takes a commitment.

 

Meaning of Home Sunday, May 26 2013 

I miss New Orleans soooooooooo much. It literally hurts to miss it this much.

 

miss new orleans

In my Homelessness in Canadian Society class that I taught at Ryerson University for several years, we played a “game” called the “Meaning of Home”. It was an interactive activity designed to get students thinking about the most important factors in defining home and what the loss of these factors (in the process of becoming homeless) might be like.

Having moved around so much in the past few years, and living in a bit of a tenuous housing situation now, I am starting to understand it in such a different way myself. June 2010-February 2012 I lived in Arabi, St. Bernard Parish (I arrived at the end of April but was staying with my students for the month of May). March 2012 to (technically) mid March 2013 I lived in Abita Springs, St.Tammany Parish. But, I spent a month (end of August to end of September) in a hotel in Metairie, and most of October 27 to March 17th in New Jersey in shelters, tents and hotels.

Moving back to Canada, I didn’t know where I would be staying. I planned to couch surf; crashing at my parents or friends until I found something more permanent. I lucked into a great condo for the summer through my PhD supervisor’s connections. It’s very much lacking in furniture but it has (now, thanks to the donations of friends) the basic amenities.

So I have a house (in a sense) but do I have a home? When I was in Louisiana, home usually meant Toronto. When I was in New Jersey I always had to clarify because “back home” could mean Toronto or Louisiana depending upon the topic of conversation. Now that I’m in Toronto, I miss my home/friends/networks/communities in Louisiana. A friend told me today that it was time for me to come back home to New Orleans, and a big part of me agreed with her.

There is also a part of me that I suspect revels in the rootlessness; I know that if I was in Louisiana last week, chances are I’d be in Oklahoma or Texas now helping with recovery efforts in those states. I miss the ability to pick up and go help people, especially because I get so fulfilled from doing that work. In Toronto I feel more stability, in NOLA I felt the freedom of the casual culture.

Of course, there are anchors here in Toronto. I’m dating two amazing guys who I’m very fond of and our connections grow stronger with each date; that couldn’t be maintained if I wasn’t here (at least not to the same degree). I have a fabulous job as Project Coordinator of the Canadian Homelessness Research Network. It’s temporary (til May 2014) but I’m sure there are ways to stay connected to their work after that. I’m back on campus at York University; I lectured twice last week, joined the Senate as a student senator for the Faculty of Environmental Studies, and am lecturing again this week. I’m closer to my family and friends, geographically anyways. I’ll get to go to PWAC@MagNet this year after missing it last year.

And yet, my soul is in New Orleans. There is something about that city that drew me in from the first day I set foot on the soil back in 2008. I miss it every day. There is an expression/picture that became really popular after Katrina that said “Roots Run Deep”. Indeed, in Floodlines, Jordan Flaherty explains that more people from New Orleans live their whole lives not just in the city (compared to other cities across the US) but in the same neighbourhood, often on the same block.

roots run deep

photo by Amanda Fotes

I don’t have those historical roots, but the graft took. I’ve grown into the city and into St. Bernard Parish. While I know I will visit, and hopefully soon, I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll ever be able to spend large chunks of time there again. So much of my heart is there though….

Living New Orleans Wednesday, May 23 2012 

Living New Orleans

Coming to New Orleans, I did not know what to expect once I got here.  I knew that this would be an amazing experience and that I would learn so much but I did not know how deeply I would come to love this city.  It is so different from any place I have ever visited before.  New Orleans is very relaxed, at times it feels lawless, but what really struck a cord with me was the kindness of the people.  Never in my life have I met people who are so friendly and easily ready to engage with a complete stranger on such a level before!  When people here ask you how your day was, they stop and wait for a response and do not keep walking by as a stranger may in Toronto.  Although every social sphere has its hierarchies, it is evident that New Orleans has a real sense of community.  Last week I had the opportunity to work with The Green Project, an organization that recycles used home building materials and sells them at an affordable price or disposes of the materials that cannot be used in the greenest way possible.  I spent the day deconstructing screens in order for the aluminum to be recycled.  This organization is extremely beneficial to those who are, nearly seven years later, still trying to rebuild bit by bit.  As my group member and I disassembled screens, a local gentleman approached us and asked if we had a specific size of screen for his rebuild.  We chatted for sometime and then the pair of us proceeded to head inside and retrieve the screens that he needed.  Upon our return, we came to find him not waiting near our work site, but right where we were standing, cracking screens and placing the aluminum parts in bins to be recycled.  We could not believe our eyes! Here was a man, who was still trying to obtain materials in order to have adequate housing, taking time out of his day to help us with our work.  When I told the gentleman that he did not have to help us out, he responded, “You only live once, you better live right”.

This is a moment that will stick with me forever and I feel completely defined my trip and the reason why I decided to apply to the course.  I so believe in the assistance of others and now know that this is something that I will likely make a career out of once I am finished my schooling.  It is not just about helping someone less fortunate then oneself, as I encountered many people that I worked with these weeks with various different socioeconomic standings.  It is about engaging with individuals in order to create a more positive and less self-centered community that will bring everyone on to higher ground.  I, by no means feel that I am coming here to help those who are less than I am because they live differently than I do.  I am here to fill a need and to let them direct me to where my efforts are best placed.  If that means scrubbing bricks, deconstructing screens or even digging a moat (all of which I participated this in over the last two weeks), I do not mind. I now know that no matter how little or how large the task is that it allows individuals to once again be able to direct a path of autonomy for themselves, something that no matter their social standing was taken away from so many nearly seven years before.

So on that note, New Orleans; what you have given to me is so much more than a trip, so much more than a course.  This city has given me the belief in myself that the path I have tried to make for myself at home, the path that has taken me here, is the path I’m meant to be on.  New Orleans, thank you for being so kind to a stranger, for sharing your triumphs and sorrows with me and for taking me in no questions asked.  You have made me feel so whole in a time in my life where I have felt so scattered.  I love you New Orleans and I will return. I am only going to live once, and I’ll be damned if I don’t choose to live right.

-Natalie Morning

Leaving A Bit Of My Heart In NOLA Friday, May 11 2012 

As I stood in line for my Customs interview, I predictably began to sweat. I mean, I’m not a rabid ex-con or anything, but standing in front of those officers just makes me want to confess to things I had nothing to do with (Note to self: NEVER take a career in the Secret Service). The attendant ushered me forward and, much to my surprise, the customs officer turned out to be the man who had witnessed my mother’s hysterics while dropping me off an hour earlier. “This isn’t a coincidence, you know. Your mother made sure I watched over you until you crossed our border”, he snickered. I began to relax as he scanned my documents. He asked me why I was going to New Orleans and, as rehearsed, I stated it was a part of my course at Ryerson University, that I would be meeting twenty others down there, later this afternoon. I handed him the letter and, as he scanned it, looked up at me and said quietly “You’re going to New Orleans for a lot more than just some school work.” I began to grow nervous but his next comments surprised me. “It’s taken this country years to do there what it would have taken a day for them to do anywhere else. People like you and your classmates just warm my heart. Volunteers work their fingers to the bone for people they don’t know. My family and friends there appreciate it, I assure you. God Bless you, your mama must be proud.” He then handed me back my documents, we exchanged well wishes, and I went on my way.

I don’t the think the enormity of his statements hit me until later in this trip. Up until we departed from Toronto, my preparation for this trip had been purely academic. I hadn’t had the chance to think about what others think about what we’re doing here. Notably, I mean that in the least self-aggrandizing way. I simply mean that the work that we’re doing, the work that thousands of volunteers before us have done, has not and will not go unnoticed. People with no connection to the victims of Katrina have reached out their hands and hearts to make even the most marginal of differences. Acknowledgment isn’t necessary, purely because that drive to help comes from within. But it was interesting to hear it from someone whom is on the outside – even just a customs officer – who doesn’t lie within the assigned “confines” of victimhood or relief.

Working on the sites that we have, learning what we have, meeting the people that I’ve met, and sharing parts of myself to the classmates with whom I’ve grown so close to has been one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever had. I’m leaving a little piece of my heart in New Orleans, and am already counting down the days until I return.

– Maria

From the Big City to the Big Easy: Maria’s Journey 2 NOLA Saturday, Apr 21 2012 

          The process that I’ve gone through, from receiving the initial acceptance email until now, seven days before the trip, has been a colourful one. One would think that excitement would be the only emotion cursing through my veins – I mean, I’m going to NEW ORLEANS! And while excitement surely is a big part of what I’ve felt since the beginning, I’d have to say that my personal journey leading to this experience has been more dynamic than I’d expected.  

          I was sitting on the couch in my apartment, halfheartedly studying for my psych midterm while totally immersed in an episode of Jeopardy, when I got the first email. I literally jumped off of my couch and threw a pillow at my roommate yelling “NEW ORLEANS!” Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about, but I guess these outbursts came to be normal for us so he didn’t really ask. After sending a frantic thank you email to my instructors, I called my mom and boyfriend and grandmother and dentist (okay, maybe not my dentist) to give them the great news. Everyone was really excited for me and I was elated. New Orleans had always been a place that I had wanted to give back to, and now I was given the opportunity to do so. 

          Upon walking into our first class, I was…nervous. Nervous! I felt like a little kid again, walking onto the playground at a new school, now knowing anyone. Would they like me? Would we get along? Did anyone come from the same program? Am I a total loser? Why am I sweating? Up until this point, I had never really given thought to these types of questions. But I took comfort in the fact that all of these people were here for the same reason I was. And as we all got to know each other, It became clear to me that regardless of our respective disciplines and background, we all possessed a unifying trait that would enable us to understand each other, in one way or another. So the nerves subsided. 

          My reaction to the information I have received across the scope of our classes was an unexpected one, too. Up until this point, I had possessed an average understanding of the facts of Hurricane Katrina. I knew what had taken place, the structural repercussions, and the still ever-present need for relief work. 
But nothing prepared me for the level of social injustice that had been executed after the Hurricane by the state of Louisiana and the federal government. Most of it was unearthing the various behaviours of the state and witnessing the social repercussions, and my dominating response was anger. I was angry about what had been done to the people of the state. I was angry with the lackluster relief response to those in need. Hearing of these injustices created such a dissonance in my view of how human beings should help one another in a crisis.

          Both of my instructors opened my eyes to a world of new information that, hadn’t I participated in this class, I wouldn’t have come to understand as critically.  And it was in focusing on the existing relief networks and continued nation-wide efforts that have given me hope. It’s a weird feeling, to experience such emotions towards an event I had no part in experiencing. It’s also a discouraging one – should I have hope for the victims when I don’t know what it felt like to lose it? But I’ve realized that having hope for change is the driving force behind doing good, and exciting hope in others.

          During these last few days before the trip, I still have the same jitters as expected. Sure, I’m excited for the adventure. I’m nervous to be in an unfamiliar place. I’m angry that there’s still an existing need for help. But I’m hopeful, I’m prepared. I still have as much excitement as I did when I first received my email, but I’ve been so lucky to have been educated and prepared for this trip as I have been. I’m not expecting to put up some drywall and save New Orleans. But I am prepared to give as much of myself over to this experience, in hopes that I’ll contribute a fraction of what it will take to give the people of New Orleans the strength to stand on their own two feet again. 

See you in NOLA, 

Maria

Thoughts on Victim Blaming and NOLA Thursday, Apr 19 2012 

As my time in New Orleans draws nearer I find myself seeing and hearing NOLA everywhere. Whether it be in books, in stores or on my iPod it seems like everything is related to the journey my peers and myself are about to embark on.  However, nothing put things in perspective quite as much for me as a Jan Stanners article I came across on the Feminist Dating blog that she had penned for the first annual International End Victim Blaming Day (IEVBD). IEVBD came about through the Slutwalk movement which originated here in Toronto after a sexual assault occurred and during a press conference at a local university women were asked “not to dress like sluts” in order to avoid becoming assaulted in the future.

I have noticed this sentiment where the blame is placed on the victim or survivor and not on the perpetrator and find it so infuriating and illogical. Stanners does as well and made some excellent connections to Hurricane Katrina and the victim blaming that has occurred in New Orleans since.  She highlights how the government blamed those who did not evacuate, while not taking into account the means people have to have in order to evacuate.

This is exactly the impression that I had reached in researching more about Hurricane Katrina and the social inequalities I feel that it exacerbated.  I would like to further expand Stanners’ position and think of the Katrina survivors in the months that follow.  Not only have they experienced such massive and abrupt loss, but now this loss is being placed squarely on their shoulders during a time of rebuilding and grief—a time when they should be receiving apologies and reparations. 

I cannot help but think that this more than the system attempting to blame the victim in order to shift blame from themselves.  After all, if this was the case would the government not try to blame Mother Nature and the storm itself for the damage?  Instead they selected those who had been greatly disserviced by the state and in their moment of need and pain said “this is your fault”.  This to me is the state blatantly trying to gain control over and further marginalize those already experiencing inequality in society.  Not only is it sickening to think that any kind of organization with power would set out to do this, but the thought that they attempted to do so by praying on people who were experiencing an unprecedented amount of stress emotionally, financially and physically is utterly deplorable.    

This story is still unfolding in New Orleans now almost 7 years later and yes, victim blaming is still prevalent.  However, something big happened after the blame was placed on Katrina survivors…they said “no”…actually they said “HELL NO”.  The survivors refused to be blamed for life situations they did not cause, they stood up for themselves and their community and attempted to rebuild.  Is this a perfect story, one where the state realized their wrongs and fixed everything? No, it is not, but I feel that it is so much more than that.  It is more than that because the courage of those who stood up in their weakest moment to fight and who still continue to live through this is so inspiring.

This is how movements like ending victim blaming come about, through people who are not willing to entertain the unfounded idea that they made themselves victims.  These movements set a standard that tells those who take part in victim blaming that they are not going to be successful in deterring the growth of survivors.  These movements inspire others to unite and push back against victim blaming.  It is the movement that is happening in Katrina that has inspired 22 students from Toronto to become more aware of and work with the survivors in the fight to end this kind of victim blaming by providing growth and support, which takes away the blaming power of the state.

I am so excited to be a part of this movement and like I have mentioned before, I am so looking forward to meeting those who live in New Orleans and feel I have so much to learn from their courage, strength and perseverance.  They are proof that although you may not be able to avoid devastating life experiences, you have to power to push back against victim blaming and help yourself and others to achieve a standard of living that every human being deserves.

I’ll be blogging often during this trip, come follow my peers and myself on our journey to NOLA with LOVE!

-Natalie Morning

Fundraiser update…. Thursday, Mar 8 2012 

The March 4 event raised…….2020.00! and we got a little press in the Parkdale Villager.

Anne

Look out…she’s NOLA bound! Wednesday, Feb 8 2012 

Natalie at the Georgia/Alabama State Line November 2011

Hello gorgeous! I am Natalie Morning, and like many of my toronto2NOLA peers I am new to the “blogosphere”.  I am a fourth year student at Ryerson University who is majoring in Sociology and minoring in Psychology.

I have always had a strong interest in philanthropy and hospitality and hope to one day make non-profit efforts my career.  I love travel, am an avid volunteer and work with children as a Nanny in Toronto.  I currently volunteer for the CALIPER project at SickKids Hospital, the Leading to Reading program at the Toronto Public Library, multiple branches of the Irish Cultural Society of Canada and the 2012 Ryerson Human Rights Watch Film Festival.  I hope to one day get my Master’s degree in the Communication and Culture program at Ryerson.

On a more personal level I am an energetic, lover of music and arts, member of an LGBT family, feminist, vintage fashion bargain hunter, dog enthusiast, literature obsessed 23 year old professional goofball.  I have a passion for equality and human rights and this has only grown stronger during my time at Ryerson.

I am so excited and honored to be a part of the CINT 912 Community Building Experience!  I cannot wait to arrive in New Orleans.  I am a people person and am committed to the idea of making a difference…even if it is one smile at a time.  I am so deeply touched by the braveness and perseverance of the people of New Orleans and I am excited to experience the culture of the city.  I am looking forward to being on a field placement and engaging in more hands on volunteer efforts.  I cannot wait to meet the people of New Orleans and I know that I will learn so much from them.  I am also hoping to learn more about myself through my interactions there.

In typical New Orleans style there is always a silver lining and aside from the more serious and emotional field work I am excited to immerse myself in the music culture, taste new foods, see landscape far outside what I’m used to and make new friends.

My flight is booked…come with me and share the journey!

Greetings from Nisha to YOU! :) Wednesday, Feb 8 2012 

Hello to all the readers!

My name is Nisha Thomas and I am a third year Social Work student at Ryerson University. This is my first time ever writing a blog so hopefully this turns out okay! I am so excited to be going to New Orleans! Having never been away from home for more than 5 days, I already know this is going to be a very liberating (and maybe a little bit scary) experience!!

I had heard about this course and the NOLA trip last year when a couple of my friends had been accepted. Ever since then, I have always wanted to do this. In my first year, I had learned that Hurricane Katrina was not simply just the “natural disaster” that I had perceived it to be. After attending class this past weekend, the knowledge I learned from just those few hours is incredible! Once, I learn (and sometimes un-learn) something, I simply cannot ignore it! Nothing will be able to compare to the actual experience of being there though. I am more than ready to witness, experience and live the New Orleans culture. Not just the culture, but gain a first hand understanding of the lived realities of individuals affected. I can already feel it, my life is about to change.

This is all becoming so much more of a reality as I booked my plane ticket yesterday! Thank you Pascal and Tanya for this opportunity!! I can’t wait to share it with everyone!!

P.S. – In regards to the photo, I work at a portrait studio part-time! I have somewhat made it my goal to take “a holiday photo” as often as I can (or as often as holidays come) …and get my personal/political agenda out there. It may be dorky, but even if people just think about it for a minute, you never know what it could do!

Image

Initial thoughts Re: NOLA Pre-NOLA :) Tuesday, Feb 7 2012 

Hello everyone! My name is Jess and I am a fourth year Sociology student at Ryerson. I applied for this course because I completed my undergraduate requirements last semester and wanted to find a meaningful, memorable, magnificent way to end my undergraduate career. After spending a year at York U and a year at U of Guelph I finally settled in at Ryerson in the Sociology program and suddenly found myself really interested in school. I’ve always been a “keen” student but I had now found a program (and university) that suited my style of learning. 

I am fascinated by life on planet Earth and have found myself asking “Why?” about nearly everything I encounter through my experiences in daily life. Studying sociology has given me the chance to learn more about many of the issues I have pondered about over the years. I have come to many realizations throughout my formal education in this discipline while accumulating a great deal more questions as well. I am starting to make peace with this circular process by which searching for the answer to one question often leads to discovering a dozen new questions before possibly – but no guarantees! – finding an answer to the initial query. At first, this used to frustrate me but then it dawned on me that part of my being lived for this pursuit of knowledge and to “conquer it” would surely end in anti-climactic disappointment. 

I suppose in its most stripped down and simple form the answer to why I am interested in participating in this unique experiential learning opportunity is because I love to learn. I love to experience new places, hear the opinions of new people, and continually add to my knowledge by immersing myself in the opportunities I am presented with. I look forward to learning a great deal more about the environment, disasters, relief efforts, politics, issues of race and class, wildlife, music, culture etc. etc. etc. during my time in NOLA with the rest of my class!  

That’s all for now!

This picture is of me at the Colosseum in summer 2003 (the year of the deadly heat wave in Europe)

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