December 31, 2007
When I first came back home to check on my house and clean it out during October 2005, I saw total devastation throughout the Gulf Coast. As my sister and I drove down I-10 we passed fishing communities with upturned fishing boats and many destroyed homes. There was an eerie silence and vacancy―no one was present in these demolished homes and camps.
This was an introduction to what I would see when I entered my hometown of New Orleans. We rode in silence as we saw the vacancy of our community, flooded out homes, and began to talk again about memories as we entered our childhood neighborhoods, past homes, and grandparents' houses.
When I came upon my house, I had already accepted that whatever I lost could be "recovered"―that I had not lost generations and lifetimes of memories, like my parents, many of my neighbors, and elders in my community. I create ceramic sculptures as well as conceptual installations―ceramics has an almost eternal longevity and cannot be destroyed by water and my conceptual installations are about the process of creating the piece, not the object itself―so I didn't suffer much of a loss with my artwork. Besides, I saved my images on a digital cd and collected them from my house before I evacuated. I did lose some important documents, clothing, and furniture, but I had my health, my family, and my life. Also, my house was still standing(!)…in the same place it was before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
I began to recognize my fortunate circumstance even more clearly as I noticed more of the trauma and losses that many members of my community experienced.
I remember being at my Paw's house (the house my father was raised in) on St Maurice Street, a few blocks from Florida Avenue, and one of the neighbors was crossing the street to find his house and reclaim some of his valuable item. (His house floated two blocks to a lot behind my grandfather's house following the breach of the Industrial Canal levee.)
So with all of this said and done, when I came upon my house―although a colossal mess (the refrigerator overturned, things everywhere)―it did look like a "hurricane" hit my house. A tree fell on my roof and damaged it. I told myself, "it could have been worse." (To clarify: For me that is―I don't think Katrina could have been any worse for the majority of New Orleanians.)
When I went to check on my grandmother's house on St Bernard Ave and Gardenia St, I saw horrible black mold climbing the walls and suffocating her once beautiful, peaceful home. I have grieved the loss of my grandmother's presence in my life (she can no longer live close to me in New Orleans) and the losses of people who lived in my New Orleans community, whose family members died during or after the storm, and who are eternally displaced.
Since I didn't see the dangerous toxic black mold in my house that I was consistently warned about (from different people), and my house wasn't flooded from floor to ceiling, I assumed that mold in my house was almost non-existent. Besides, I didn't have months of standing water like most of the Lower 9th ward since my house is at higher ground and closer to the river. The water lasted only a week, so that didn't give the mold a chance to grow
Or so I thought.
(Up next: the mold story)
(2) CommentsComment on this Blog
Rashida, I appreciated reading your comments. When we arrived in March 06 to help in the Lower 9th, I could only imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for those returning since I dissolved into tears just visiting (and still do every time we come to the lower 9th by way of Chalmette.) One of the resources I have found most helpful in being able to understand the magnitude of the impact Katrina had on the city is the book by Chris Rose, the columnist for the Times-Picayune. The title is "1 Dead in the Attic" and the book is a compilation of his columns. It is quite thought-provoking and gives a context for understanding the resilience of your community and the need, not just the want, to return home.