Do You Want Fries With That? Friday, Aug 28 2015 

TW K10

When the McDonald’s opened on Judge Perez in Chalmette in May 2012 I was pretty excited (especially for an environmentalist). To me it represented growth, change and recovery. In fact, you could say that McDonald’s represented hope to me:

  • It was going to be open 24 hours a day in the heart of Chalmette.
  • It has free wi-fi providing access to people who can’t afford it.
  • It has “healthy” food (hey, it’s the south. McDonald’s has salad and yogurt!)
  • It was the third location to open in da parish.

It was the last point that was most important to me. I can’t imagine a multi-national corporation investing capital/supporting a franchisee to build a new location if they didn’t think it would be sustaining. The large number of other fast food chains popping up support this logic too.  Sandwiched as it is between the Lower 9th ward — which has almost nothing by way of groceries/restaurants — and New Orleans East — which is also a food desert, St. Bernard is experiencing a recovery of sorts economically, even when on a personal level people are still suffering.

St. Bernard Parish was about 50% returned as of the last census, maybe 55-60% now. It’s a changed community. Lots more green space — where houses used to be — and not everyone is home.

IMG_0547

So many people have moved across the lake to St. Tammany Parish that its nickname is now St. Tamm-Bernard. So certainly, recovery does not mean restoration to a pre-Katrina state. That is, unfortunately, never going to happen.

But the McDonald’s made me think…and these are questions I’ll be asking in my dissertation research…

  • What are your signs of recovery?
  • What was the marker (or what will it be if it hasn’t happened yet) that let you know your community is in recovery/has recovered?
  • What makes you feel like your home is back?

Because I feel like we have a lot of “fake signs of recovery“. Take this “lovely” social housing project for example.

IMG_20150826_173521

Known as Marrero Commons, these houses, just a few blocks away from me on Martin Luther King Blvd are supposed to replace BW Cooper/Calliope. Until Katrina there were 1,550 units. Construction started in 2008 and people moved in four years later. According to the HANO website there are 250 units, of which 143 are public housing. Phase One cost of $158 million. Even assuming that the website is out of date, there were over 4,000 residents pre-Katrina and less then 1,000 at the 2010 census.

Or what about this lovely patch of green grass and fresh mulch on the neutral ground on Claiborne in the Lower 9th. I was workers out laying this on August 19th and 20th 2015…just in time for the President and all the media that is descending for K10.

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I guess it’s important that the L9 looks good this week, but it doesn’t matter how the community feels about it the rest of the year. Are they not important enough for nice grass?

So tell me GNO folks. Have you a personal marker of recovery? What is it?

Why We Came Home Wednesday, Aug 26 2015 

TW K10 – The K10 anniversary has produced so much media coverage and reminiscences that it has become overwhelming. Instead of writing and posting I wanted to hide. And I wasn’t even here during Katrina. Hence the trigger warning.

A couple weekends ago I was driving to Mississippi with my chosen-sister Alexis. She was 10 during Katrina and lived in St. Bernard Parish. I was explaining to her the nature of my PhD research and its focus on examining resiliency and recovery in order to figure out why people return after a catastrophic disaster.

She looked at me like I had two heads. “Because it’s home sissy. Where else would we go?” This perfectly sums up what I’ve heard from everyone in the 7 years I’ve been visiting New Orleans. Because it’s home. (Now to turn that sentence into a 100 page dissertation!)

Picture by Amanda Fotes

Picture by Amanda Fotes

Last night I read an article by Lolis Eric Elie who I had the privilege of meeting several years ago at a Resurrection After Exoneration fundraiser. Lolis is a brilliant writer and this piece captures the spirit of the city in a way unlike I’ve seen anyone do. “Why We Came Home” looks at the good and the bad, the positive and negative, the hope and despair. New Orleans is not a perfect city and never will be, but what city is? It is vibrant and full of hope though, while at the same time teetering on the edge of depression and sadness.

Like my sister Alexis said it’s about home. The piece isn’t worded “Why We Came Back” because that leaves out the essence of New Orleans. It’s “Why We Came Home” because home = NOLA.

do you know what it means

For those who have never been to New Orleans I hope this piece captures some of the vibrancy of the city and yet explains its underbelly. For those who have visited my wish is that you see pieces you remember in Lolis’ words. For those who returned and are rebuilding your lives and your city I hope the author captured your reasons and if not, please share yours in the comments to continue this discussion. For those, like me, who have moved here since Katrina, I’m sure this piece reminds you of your reasons for planting roots in NOLA. For those who evacuated and have yet to make it back, come home soon, we need you here.

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….

New Orleans: A collection of photos Tuesday, Aug 16 2011 

I’ve been back to New Orleans now 3 times since my first trip down in 2009, with one more visit planned for the end of the month. I still can’t explain what it is about the city that gets under your skin and refuses to leave your head, but it has to be something about the character and personality of New Orleans, the spirit and resilience of its inhabitants. As a volunteer, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to meet people from all over the world who are just as baffled as me. How can this place seem so much like home? How can spending any amount of time here change your life so completely? In all honesty, if I could, I would pack up and move there for good.

I last spent months at a time living in the Lower Ninth Ward, but with every visit, no matter the length, I am still as completely captivated by the neighbourhood as I was the first time I stayed there. There is a quiet, eerie beauty. With every intersection, another empty lot. Around every corner, another house sitting abandoned. But the pace of change surprises me. A year after my first visit, a small community has popped up with more houses than empty lots at one intersection. Granted, the recovery is soon entering it’s 7th year, and with the anniversary of Katrina looming around the corner most residents of the city should be home. This isn’t the case, so I try to see every individual homecoming as a small victory. People haven’t given up trying to come home yet, and I can’t help but feel optimistic.

Skyline

Claiborne Bridge

Spray paint and storm walls

Austin

nrobertson

Florida Ave.

Roots

Stairs

Florida Projects

This is a series of photos taken since 2009, mostly in or around the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.
© Amanda Fotes 

Mississippi Is Falling Sunday, Aug 7 2011 

Throughout April and May one of my favourite local expressions “my house is only a couple blocks from the Mississippi” became one of fear. The Mississippi River was rising. New Orleans was expected to flood if the government didn’t authorize the opening of Bonnet Carre, and in particular, Morganza spillways. Luckily both were open and New Orleans experience high water in a few areas but no real flooding. At least, down here. The diversion pushed water into other areas of Louisiana, and the high water generally caused flooding in many places along the Mississippi.

I wanted to gauge the rising of the water and took some photos at the end of my street. Yesterday was the first time I went back to see how much the water had dropped. It was very stunning visually.

Height of water - Mid May 2011

 

Aug 6 2011 - same spot

Similarly….

Water along the levee at the foot of my street - mid May 2011

 

View along the levee - Aug 6th 2011

August Reader’s Digest Thursday, Jul 21 2011 

Hey folks

For those of you in Canada please pick up a copy of the August Reader’s Digest — its the one with a green cover and Colm Feore on the front. There is a story I wrote about the St. Bernard Project, St. Bernard Parish and the course at Ryerson that I teach with Pascal. It includes a photo of some of this year’s students and quotes from students from all of the years so far.

Tanya

Taste of a Hurricane Wednesday, Jun 29 2011 

Taste of a Hurricane

 The sky is believe blue

and I am running

the taste of a hurricane

lots and lots of vacant lots

and glowing cat eyes dawn

through city streets gone wild

tall grass and empty space

cut short.

 

Sweating in Cynthia’s house

masked, air close, like a tomb

we scale ladders, balance the beams

Up, down, and side to side

circle, circle, cut the pie

scraping away the dead

skin of this place

attic, kitchen, closet,

leaving our hearts behind.

 

Running in the night

street-corner celebration

urine, vomit, beads, dance

to the jazz parade playing,

trombones long.

Band in a van

drum beat pounding

the taste of a hurricane.

 

Miss Josephine feeds us

jambalaya, bread pudding,

sweet and thick.

Thirty-six months to get back

to her kitchen

but she made it all

with thanks for her life, and us

and in one lunch she gives more

than we could ever return.

 

Juan carries pirate

in his blood, struggling.

His disappearing land: water, palmetto, silt.

Fish and oil, scarce and spilled

with recklessness.

He will work on the rig

once the shrimp and crabs are caught

running tours and calling:

Viens ici, cher bayou,

Viens ici!

 

We are running on the beach

like in Baywatch

diving in water and sand

after a lopsided ball

we will get sunburned

and see stars

bring home the Gulf shore, in our shoes

and sleep sound, through the snoring.

 

Mississippi rising

behind the sugar plant, too close to home.

and Tanya worries

the taste of a hurricane.

Sorting boards in the lumberyard,

muddy smell of cypress in the heat

No pools to cool kids in summer

and Joby has the car packed, just in case

he would swim, if he had to

because this is home.

 

May Day rain at Magnolia, students blooming

playing Duck, Duck Goose with Justin

and the beanbag toss, the dunk-tank.

Robert paints teeth, asks us to write

while Adam flips the bird, grins.

After the talent show we pick

out art to pack in our suitcases

learning like we never learned

at school before:

how the most valuable things

are packed up on the inside.

 

We are running along the levee

to the shore of the industrial canal

to see the ships, the shore

lifting with the bridge

climbing concrete in the sun.

If we could keep running

away from home

we would run to here

to find out what it means,

New Orleans, already missing

the taste of a hurricane.

 

-Daphne Paszterko, June 2011.

I wrote this poem as a series of flashes of our experience in NOLA – the different places we worked and some of the amazing people that we met during the trip.  I also wanted to capture how I think we were captivated by New Orleans, and how so many of us want to go back.

Ola’s on the way! Thursday, May 12 2011 

The day is nearing and there’s so much to do still! Well what needs to be done here is nothing in comparison to the work we have coming up. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty and work with everyone. I hope that what we do makes a great difference in someone’s life and that it inspires others to help those suffering, even if the suffering is not close to home. Although the reasons for this trip are due to the serious nature of disasters that struck the city and state, I know we are all seriously determined to make the biggest impact that we can as well. And maybe the impact we have as well that of past and future volunteers will someday outshine the disaster itself.

We will find many ways to make this trip as successful, life-changing and fun as possible. With the amazing group of students that are coming along we are definitely on the right track to making this a memorable two weeks. From demolition to dry-wall and flooring, the possibilities are truly endless. Maybe I should practice some demo before I leave.. just kidding. Although maybe some weight training would have prepared me for the coming days.

The next two weeks are going to go by in a blur and my goal is to soak in as much as possible and not let any opportunity pass by. This trip is a wonderful opportunity I am so grateful that Pascal and Tanya allowed me the opportunity to be a part of it. All of the anticipation and day dreaming will come to an end in 2 days and then a new journey begins. I cannot wait and see you all there!

P.S-My pre-NOLA departure planning so far has included finding all the places close to us that “Diners Drive-in’s and Dives” has visited and attempting to prepare my iPod for the amount of energy and motivation it will be providing us for the next two weeks.

See you in the Big Easy !

-Ola

One year ago… Thursday, Apr 28 2011 

A year ago today I woke up in Birmingham, Alabama and went to sleep in New Orleans; I had officially moved.

Today, several tornadoes have ripped through Alabama.   Several group two NOLA students (those arriving on May 14th) were planning to go on a Civil Rights field trip to Alabama. Some of the areas hit today were amongst those I planned for us to visit, or at least pass through.

I was going to post today about my experiences over the past year, but instead, my mind is caught up with the images and news coming out across the south. This has been a bad year for storms; a bad year for tornadoes. We have had several hit the Greater New Orleans area, including in St. Bernard Parish where I live.

A few weeks ago, this was my phone weather alert system going crazy:

The more I study disasters, the more news like this hits me hard. It is part of my PTSD for sure; it’s part of knowing more about the impact. And sometimes it is personal. My friends Jess and Fred are from Alabama. Their hometowns have been hard tonight. Jess has heard from all her family; Fred hasn’t. I was just talking with him today because he is arranging a sound system for the van I will be using for tours with the students. Statistically speaking, it is likely that Fred’s family is fine. But, dozens of people have been killed and thousands more affected. Regardless, my thoughts are with Jess and Fred tonight, and with all those who are waiting to hear from those whom they love.

I have never lost someone close to a disaster, but the suddenness with which they occur reminds me of the loss of my brother Tyler. That unpredictability, that instant loss; the way life changes within minutes.

I’m really just feeling quite sad tonight.

TMG

Pics in my life… Wednesday, Mar 30 2011 

Just some random pictures from the last couple weeks….

A sunset on the Domino sugar factory near my house

Domino Sugar factory sunset

Speaking of sugar, the cake my friend Sam made for a party…

Peeps Easter cake

So, we had a little storm…with several tornados and lots of power outages and flooding. There was thunder and lightning solidly from 7pm til midnight or so, and then again at about 5am.

Storm warnings

House markings on the second floor of an apartment complex (quad) on the street next to mine. The number at the top is the date (September 10th) that the building was searched after Hurricane Katrina. The writing on the left is the code for the search team that went through this unit. The number on the bottom is the number of dead bodies inside the the building. Yes, that is an 8. An 8.

house markings

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