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Reflections on New Orleans

Leaving for home this morning, I've been thinking of the visit here and thought I'd share some of them despite their not technically being midwifery-oriented. I beg your indulgence.

- I am stunned at how sad this city is. Within the eyes, I can see the pain, fear and trauma of the last year. Dark circles under so many people's eyes underline the deepness of their difficulties that remain 10 months after Hurricane Katrina left her destruction.

- I thought the city was back to normal. I couldn't have been more wrong. Easily, half to three-quarters of the city's business are still closed, broken or gone forever.

- In order to buy furniture and other similar supplies, residents have to either go to Houston or Baton Rouge and have them brought in. Many, many people had to replace every single thing they owned.

- Those who left came back because this is their home. Deep ties and loyalties to family and friends supercedes the underlying fear of future hurricanes. Legal battles that began here also need to remain here in order to continue (i.e. child support).

- It was horrible watching commercials speaking to women who were raped during the aftermath of Katrina. While I remember hearing about it, I'd forgotten the terror those women (and men) must have felt. I forgot; they have not.

- I never had any desire to come to New Orleans. A modern day Gomorrha similar to Las Vegas - the lands of excess - hanging around people continually drunk just didn't appeal to me at all. However, the New Orleans I found was one of beauty (despite the sadness and ravages of the storms) and tradition (not just racism); I look forward to coming back once again.

- The French Quarter, where the majority of drinking occurs by tourists, wasn't crowded at all. Cafe du Monde, the simple cafe that sells the world-famous beignets, was never crowded, no matter what time I visited. Stores were empty, restaurants served very few folks and the streets barren. Come visit!

- I adore humidity and thunderstorms. I laid on the bed in the RV watching the lightning and jumping with the thunder that clapped next to my head. So great! My favorite lightning show was when electrical fingers streamed across the sky sideways, never touching the earth, but lighting the sky and land brilliantly! I love sideways lightning!

- I laughed and laughed at the rows and rows of grits sold in Winn Dixie. I took pictures. At home, I'm lucky to be offered one box of instant grits.

- Oh, I remember pickled pigs feet! Bright pink huge glass jars holding piggy feet Afican-American's seem to adore.

- A new addition were the jars of pickled pig lips. Not kidding.

- No public schools are opened yet in New Orleans.

- Some communities still do not have water.

- One mall serves all of New Orleans.

- There is no shuttle service to the airport unless you happen to be in a hotel in the middle of the city. Before I rented a car, I had to take taxis where I needed to go (including the airport!).

- There is no pizza delivery except one Pizza Hut that only serves a small area - it was 20 miles from where I stayed. (A true sign of not being back to normal!)

- McDonald's and Wendy's have signs outside their re-opened stores advertising jobs with wages beginning at $9.25! Wendy's has $125 a week bonuses on top of their wages.

- Three hospitals in the city handle all deliveries. The birth rate is huge right now - 10 months post-Katrina.

- No crisis intervention exists for mentally ill New Orleaneans. Watching the news, they are opening 24 beds next month for police to bring mentally ill folks so they can get help. 24 beds isn't going to cut it for an entire city that cannot obtain the medications they need nor the counseling help they need after such a traumatic experience.

- No hospital exists that takes all who walk in the door.

- Entire neighborhoods live in FEMA trailers. These trailers sit on asphalt parking lots with no grass or parks - mere feet next to each other. The poor children forced to remain in these trailers for hours at a time; how sad.

- No store I went into had more than 2 people in line at any given time, including 6pm food stores and busy-timed Target and Wal-Mart.

- Wal-Mart closed at 8pm. Target at 9pm. Only Barnes and Noble was open until 10.

- It's odd driving down the street and seeing soldiers with guns patrolling the area.

- I have never seen more construction going on in my life - probably combined! EVERYWHERE, roofs, doors, windows, walls, houses, businesses - everywhere had construction happening. If you are a construction worker and need a job, New Orleans might be the place for you!

- My flight into New Orleans carried hoards of teens from a church coming in to work on housing for residents. Groups target communities and build what they can for the duration of their stay (usually 1-4 weeks). Habitat for Humanity is a giant presence in New Orleans. Our family wants to come for a working vacation so those that can are able to work for Habitat for Humanity. I will try to volunteer in hospitals, possibly with the doctor I recently met.

- Mexicans are coming in droves. This city doesn't speak Spanish, so my Spanish could come in handy if we came for our working vacation. As I see in Southern California, groups of Mexicans hovered around street corners, hoping to be picked up for work.

- The majority of the news focuses on re-building efforts.

- Even though my stay was short and limited in tourist highlights, I fell in love with this city and will come back soon.

- I am ever so blessed to have been invited to this city. Thanks to my host and her family. I was honored to be invited and thrilled to have been involved in her VBAC. I learned so much while here.

Please don't forget New Orleans in your gifts and prayers. They still need our help.

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