A Fourth To Remember

July 7th

{I wrote this several days ago, but have just returned to Phoenix and finally — FINALLY — have Internet access. Home sweet home after yet another fabulous adventure.}

flags flapping in the wind, algiers

I am doing something more patriotic than I intended this July 4th – I am volunteering for the week in New Orleans. I’ve been working on a construction crew for the last three days, demolishing ruined buildings, digging up and removing contaminated soil, and driving around with my jaw unhinged at the complete and total devastation in which some parts of this city are still drowning, two years later.

If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning...
The 9th Ward

There are communities where it is hard to tell that Katrina stormed through in August 2005, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands of people displaced and reeling. And then there are communities of FEMA trailers where people are fighting to survive their daily existence. Strangely, these neighborhoods are often intermixed. Giant mansions flaunt beautifully coiffed lawns, wrap-around porches, swings hanging from giant oaks ‚Äì covered in moss, and shutters painted in this season‚Äôs tone ‚Äì seemingly in J. Crew hues — pear, aqua, sand and sable. Three hops down the sidewalk ‚Äì broken in many pieces by the root system hazard of having a tree-lined street ‚Äì sit three FEMA trainers, noisily gurgling as their temporary pipes chug water into the 10 x 12 foot white plastic boxes on wheels. At the other end, another plastic PVC web of tubes angrily disposes waste down makeshift canals to the sewage system.
Overhead, locusts cry in the humid night. Cockroaches in this city are the size of small birds – and they fly with creepy flare. And those tree-lined streets? Take a stop along that broken sidewalk and you can hear a familiar chorus. Many of the trees are home to large gaggles of parakeet and parrots. I assume these house birds were among the lucky pets to escape the storm and return without worrying about not being able to swim.

Houses are long and lean

New Orleans is a beautiful city, although the racial tension is at times apparently as thick as the humidity. The mélange of culture, religion and spunk make for a wild, sorrowful, boozy time. I want to cry for this seemingly forgotten area of the country, but it won’t be pitied. Instead, the music of jazz lures me to the doorways of tiny dark bars as I take my evening walk. The smell of Cajun cooking has me seeking out platters of food that tickle the tongue with sweet and spice. The cackle of drunk tourists in the French Quarter has me appreciative I’m staying with locals, in the community and not in a hotel. The promise of a city that once was and what will be again pushes me to pick up my gloves and go out for another day of moldy, disgusting, reforming work, alongside a team of Louisianans who have been doing this work non-stop for months.
I am proud of my country more than ever on weeks like this.

Not as much as I heart AZ, but it is still a nice place to visit

Happy Independence Day Miss America!

Now, back to work.


Posted in
Journal, Photography, Travel
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20 Responses

  1. You’re truly inspiring!

  2. kelli, you have written about my adopted city with such compassion and grace, and captured both what is wonderful about NOLA and what is heartbreaking. we have been back 3 times since the storm (i moved out in may 05) and it has been so hard. in december it was hard to tell if katrina was 4 months earlier or a year and 4 months. bravo for your work there– your strength is an inspiration my friend.

  3. doctorj July 7, 2007

    Thank you for your wonderful help for my hometown and, more importantly, for not forgetting the people of the Gulf South. It is people like you that restore my faith in the America I once thought existed.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, along with the beautiful pictures!

  5. What a wonderful way to celebrate our country’s birthday! New Orleans is one of our favorite cities and one of the places we visited on our honeymoon. I know it will survive because of the residents’ inherent spirit as well as because of people like you who care enough to help. Bless you, Kelli!

  6. happy fourth. what a way to spend it kelli!

  7. Flying cockroaches as big as a small bird?? You are a brave girl!! ; ) I’ll bet it means a lot to the locals when people from other parts of the country volunteer to come down and do what they can to help. It must be very encouraging to them in the face of what must seem an overwhelming mess.

  8. What a beautiful post!!!

  9. It makes me very sad to see how much help New Orleans needs while so much tax money is being used outside America.

  10. What a great way to spend the 4th! All but the cockroaches part (thankfully they can’t survive the altitude here and I have yet to see one alive).

    I wonder why there aren’t more charities focusing on helping rebuild NO. I mean, I know there are some, but it sure does seem like it’s been forgotten about. Glad to see that there are people like you (and those you were working with) that are still doing something for that area.

    Glad you are back to blogging! I wondered where you had gone. 🙂

  11. I love New Orleans…..Thanks for helping clean it up! My heart goes out to everyone there who is still dealing with the remains of the Katrina tragedy.

  12. Kelli-you continue to inspire and nudge me along to be a better person and American. Thank you! Happy 4th!

  13. Last week two people came to my door trying to sell me their religion. Their main point as to why I needed it was because the world was becoming a nastier place to live in. I told them that I didn’t believe that to be the case. And, Kelli, reading about people like you, I know that I was right.

    Thanks again. You are an inspiration.

  14. You are such an inspiration! Keep up the good work!

  15. Wow, good for you! Thanks for sharing your amazing story (well written) and beautiful photos! We all need to be reminded about this area of our country, since the buzz on it is, like, so last season. 😉

  16. You continue to inspire me and I love the hammer photo!!

  17. Kelli – you are a great writer and a really selfless person! What a great story.

  18. I was in New Orleans way back in 1991. I cannot imagine the change it has gone through since then. I would love to go back.

    Way to go for spending your holiday helping others.

  19. i saw those huge cockroaches when i was there last June. they are frightful for sure.

  20. You never stop, do you? Good for you. Keep going.