Living in a city recovering from a disaster on a grand scale has not been fun. I know the rest of the world has moved on, and I can easily understand many–make that most–people not wanting to hear or read another word about it, but this is still a huge part of my world and it’s what I feel like writing about today. I try to find humor in the bad that comes my way, but sometimes, I fail to find the funny, try as I might.
When I first heard estimates that it would be at least five years before my city recovered, I thought it was ridiculous–not to mention those predictions of ten to 20 years. It has been almost seven years and it feels almost normal again…almost. Thankfully, much of what makes New Orleans special is bouncing back and still makes it worth living and visiting here. Those long-range recovery predictions, however, were on the mark.
One of the most frustrating things about living in an area that flooded severely is the staggered pace of rebuilding. We were back in our home within a year, but decided one year later to elevate our home. All of the new plumbing, electrical, termite treatments, etc, were torn apart, needing to be re-done and paid for yet again. It was the heaviest home elevated up to that time and basically involved raising the home, building a temporary foundation, then building an entire new third floor underneath for the home to be lowered onto. Just to give you a clue, the foundation used 29 full cement trucks. It was, and still is, a massive construction project involving engineers and historic restoration. Way over budget and way over deadline, we have adjusted our attitudes and finish date to hopefully sometime while we are still alive and non-bankrupt.
All around the neighborhood, as soon as one home is finally finished and we think we might be able to sleep late or have a peaceful day, a wayward neighbor will decide to demolish and rebuild or start renovating a flooded home. A big dumpster slams onto the street with a tremendous thud, shaking the ground and waking everyone up at the crack of dawn. That is the first signal that yet again, for seven months to a year, you’re going to wake up to jackhammers, saws, and shitty music blaring. Everything will be covered in dust and old sanded paint, in addition to hundreds of empty water bottles and styrofoam food containers. Workers will pull up on the lawn, creating ruts and mud for months.
After seven years, I am beyond tired, depressed, and weary. I am envious of people that live in normal areas. But it doesn’t take long before I find myself at an incredible neighborhood restaurant or happen to see Mardi Gras Indians unexpectedly or have an endless list of live music available to consider myself lucky to be here.
We are rebuilding our home on our own, never asking for help from the volunteers that flooded our city once the water receded. We always felt there was someone that needed help more than us. Even though I didn’t see those kind-hearted volunteers in my home, I used to see them everywhere I would go. It would never fail to reduce me to tears and many hugs have been shared with strangers, thanking them for remembering our city and helping.
No doubt, there are people that have abused the generosity of others offering to help. There always will be, no matter where or what the disaster is. But there are many hard-working, grateful people that needed a helping hand to get to the finish line. Those volunteers–from celebrities to animal rescuers–have made a huge difference in a stranger’s life. If you ever get the opportunity to pay it forward, I hope you will.
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