Trip Reflections

May 21st, 2007 by Editor B

Rower

This was my first trip outside New Orleans since we returned from our evacuation some 17 months ago. I joked that I would have been happy sitting in a cardboard box, just knowing that I was out of the disaster zone. The stress of being in New Orleans was really starting to get to me, and it was refreshing to be in a place where disaster and recovery did not dominate every aspect of existence.

But I was not sitting in a cardboard box. I was at Harvard University, the ultimate American Ivory Tower. Wealth and prosperity were evident everywhere. I was staying in the Soldiers Field Apartments, which were pretty nice. I think they were worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle so much intact infrastructure, though. They started tearing up the walkway to the entrance of my building mid-week. They replaced it with a plywood plank, and I felt right at home.

Under Construction

Nor was I alone. I arrived with Patricia Jones and LaToya Cantrell, two New Orleanians knee-deep in recovery work. Prior to this trip, I knew them only by reputation. I was honored and inspired to be in their company.

There were 61 participants in the seminar, from all over the world. The list was incredible to me: a general in the Malaysian Air Force, a cultural attaché from Kuwait, a UN representative from New Zealand, cops from Ireland and Honolulu and Oklahoma City, a school superintendent from Canada, a customs official from Finland, a mayor from Ohio, a county comptroller from Florida, professors from South Korea and South Africa, a congressman from Mexico, the president of Earth Conservation Corps, a handful of business executives. There were several Americans from the “Federal Government.” They couldn’t say what agency exactly. Or rather, they could tell you, but then they’d have to kill you.

Program Participants

My roommate was a CEO of a real estate company from Nigeria, looking to get into government — not to make money, he hastened to tell me emphatically, but to help the poor. We compared notes over a glass of bourbon one night, and I concluded that Nigeria and New Orleans have a lot in common, including about $90,000 of cold cash in William Jefferson’s freezer.

Just to be immersed in such a large, diverse and interesting group was a pleasure. It was also humbling but at the same time confidence-building.

Application Group #6

There was a lot of interaction in small groups, formally and informally. I found myself talking about New Orleans constantly. People were interested, curious, and compassionate. It was good to be reminded that we are not universally hated or forgotten. Sometimes I get a little paranoid.

Most of all, I find that I’ve returned to New Orleans with a renewed sense of hope. We face immense challenges on all sides, but I feel like we’ve got a shot, and that’s something I haven’t felt for a while.

I see I haven’t even touched on the program curriculum. Tomorrow, perhaps.

7 Responses to “Trip Reflections”

  1. swampwoman Says:

    sounds like you had an awesome experience :-)

  2. celcus Says:

    One thing I have noticed when beyond the confines of Katrinaland, is that outside of the “why should a city [insert inane factoid here] be rebuilt?” people, most people I encounter are far more optimistic about the future of New Orleans than are many of the residents. That includes a lot of people who have came and visited, too.

    As much as we put ourselves down, there are a lot of people routing for us, and hungry to know what things are really like. It really does sort of charge your batteries for the struggles ahead.

  3. Sheila Says:

    It’s funny that you mentioned William Jefferson b/c I met his daughter in an ASL class at Harvard (or Fancy Pants U as it’s called among mommy bloggers.) So I’ve associated the whole silly thing with Deaf studies.

    It must be so hard slogging through it all the time–it’s so far from most people’s reality outside Nola, and I hear in this blog that the disconnect is wearying. Sounds like this was an amazing seminar, and I’m glad you’re feeling recharged and reconnected.

  4. Karen Says:

    Welcome Home , i hope my peeps in the Bay State treated you well.

  5. mominem Says:

    I wonder if the reason the “Federal Employees’ wouldn’t divulge their employment status was to prevent you from killing them?

  6. chrissieroux Says:

    Hey, that’s great. Welcome back.

  7. M.A.D. Says:

    “There was a lot of interaction in small groups, formally and informally. I found myself talking about New Orleans constantly. People were interested, curious, and compassionate. It was good to be reminded that we are not universally hated or forgotten. Sometimes I get a little paranoid”

    Did you get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, the rest of America ain’t the enemy?

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