While visiting family in Baton Rouge, we spent today in New Orleans.This was our first visit since Katrina and Rita visited there. Though many from the Church have gone there on work trips, this was simply a visit. We had lunch and a long wonderful discussion with a family friend born and raised in New Orleans who coordinates events for the Superdome. We sat in a restaurant in the French Quarter and discussed her journey that of her city over the last eleven months. How painfully slow the progress — the downward spiral of cause and effect that slows or prevents entirely the rebuilding of the community services necessary for a functioning city. We who live far away and who send work groups understandably focus on repair and rebuilding of homes. This work continues to be greatly needed and it is important that groups come to help. Yet today, I am reminded that when the infrastructure of a city is destroyed and the population decimated, the human and financial resources to rebuild simply do not exist. Yes, New Orleans is here. The French Quarter is open for business. Restaurants and shops welcome tourists. And it is important that people simply come and spend money in the city. Yet as we left the French Quarter, we realized the level of destruction that still exists. Passing a deserted hospital with windows broken out, a boarded up Red Cross building, and business after business simply gone. Homes uninhabitable. One might think that, by now, some level of clean-up had taken place in these homes. Yet our Presbyterian friend tells us that a volunteer group went into a home and found it just as it had been left by the flooding eleven months ago.
All to say that the stark contrast left my head spinning — At one moment we were enjoying shopping and eating in the French Quarter. We watched the Natchez Riverboat leave with a load of tourists. As it passed a cargo ship, we were reminded that, indeed, the port is open for business. We walked, dropped in shops, and took pictures, as so many have done, in front of St. Louis Cathedral. Perhaps most significantly, we spent money. One shopkeeper asked us where we were from and thanked us for coming. He then said, “Now, you’re okay in this area, but if you go very far from here it gets dicey. So be careful.”
As we were standing on a levee (one that was not breached), we were reminded that other hurricanes will come and the levees still cannot hold back the waters. We passed an older man walking down a street of boarded up houses. He was wearing a t-shirt that read, “Make levees, not war!”
I come out of this once again wondering why we humans do not work with nature rather than against it. I pray that we will develop the ability to plan, make decisions, and build for the good of creation and of all God’s people.