Monthly Archives: August 2015

I’m Shokufeh and I approve these messages


The past few weeks have included various stories and opinions about New Orleans and its state 10 years post-storm. Generally, they’ve annoyed me, as they all seemed to subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) suggest that Katrina and its aftermath provided a wonderful opportunity for others to come in and save us from ourselves. Look at all the opportunities this blank slate provided! Look at how much better things are than they were eleven years ago! Please, let us all pat each other on the back!

Thank goodness for these more recent stories that have been shared – ones that better capture the complex, but often negative, emotions and experiences of many of us here.

It’s the 10th anniversary of Katrina, and I don’t know how to feel

“I consider all 3,620 days since we returned from the evacuation to work, live and raise our kids in this damaged and difficult city days of service to the recovery. We’ve mourned loved ones, gutted houses, started nonprofits, navigated an ever-morphing school system and cleaned up plenty of messes….
“But what is the right tone? Some consider “anniversary” too celebratory and “commemoration” too elegiac. Even in a city known for jazz funerals, it’s confusing. Obviously we need to remember and to remind. And obviously we need to be grateful that we’re still here. But I’m at a loss over how to feel. …
“With the anniversary has come the hard data and research that reveal a troubling truth behind these divergent narratives. Not everyone has benefited from the recovery. A majority of blacks think the quality of life is the same or worse since the storm, while a majority of whites think it’s better. Black men are making 50% of what white men are making, and half of the black men in the city are unemployed. Gentrification is displacing scores of people from their longtime neighborhoods. The people and places responsible for producing our famous culture are seriously threatened.
“Our city was unified after the storm, and now the old fissures are widening. This can be the moment we acknowledge them and commit to solving them.”


“Don’t Call Me Resilient”

“Scattered around the city, placards are appearing that read, ‘Stop calling me resilient’ The text continues, ‘Because every time you say, Oh, they’re resilient that means you can do something else to me. I am not resilient.'”


Katrina might as well have hit New Orleans a day ago if you’re young, male and black

“It has been ten years since Hurricane Katrina, but the city is still waiting for much of the recovery to occur.
“The New Orleans East neighborhood that my family returned to is missing a neighborhood market or grocery store. Two enormous, undeveloped empty lots face my family’s home. Nearby, other blighted properties have not been renovated or even demolished.
“This is a neighborhood that used to feel vibrant with businesses, family and fun, but for the last few years it has remained desolate, much like many other predominantly black neighborhoods in the city.”


Gwen’s Take: New Orleans today is a story of pessimism, optimism and grit

“Madeleine LeCesne, a New Orleans native who is headed to her first year at Princeton this fall, was nine years old when Katrina effectively washed away everything her family had built in the city’s Gentilly neighborhood.
“Maddie, as she is known, started writing poetry at the age of six, scribbling her compositions on the headboard of her bed. The bed was lost in the storm. Her family was evacuated to Texas.
“She is now a cheerful and accomplished young woman. In 2014, she was a National Student Poet. This week, she shared a stage with a who’s who of New Orleanians — lawyers, writers, politicians — who all agreed on one thing: The city has not come as far as it should have.
“But for Maddie, the storm’s wake brought a particularly painful sort of pessimism.
“‘I can say that I will never own a house one day, because I had to watch my parents lose everything,’ she said matter-of-factly. ‘I can say that I have been of voting age for more than a year. I haven’t filled out my voter registration forms, because I don’t trust politicians. My parents voted. They paid their taxes. And they still lost their homes.’…
“She described an ‘overwhelming anxiety’ that she lives with every day.
“Keep in mind, Maddie is a success story.”


And Now We Return to Your Regularly Scheduled Amnesia

“Yes we (most of us, but not all — so many died, so many were broken, so many could not return) survived. Yes we have shown resilience and creativity and fellowship and generosity. And all that should be celebrated — it is what makes going on worthwhile. But I don’t need to be told about how plucky, inventive, and lucky we all were. We know it….
“Katrina is not your feel good story. It is not your experiment in social policy. It was tragedy on a grand scale — and yes, human goodness, too — but also a theater of institutional neglect and spite, a perfect stage for our American propensity for forgetting and for silver linings.”


Post-Katrina New Orleans is bouncing back, but not for the better

“[S]even out of 10 jobs being added in the metro area have occurred in low-wage industries like tourism, administrative services, and retail. In contrast, job growth in good-paying industries like transportation and distribution, energy and petro-chemicals, and durable manufacturing lags their peers nationally….
“Median household income in 2013—at $45,981—is lower in real terms than in 1979. Meanwhile, many white households in greater New Orleans are better off, having expanded their ranks in the middle- and upper-class since 1999 while the corresponding share for black households shrank.”

I’m from New Orleans, but I didn’t understand why we needed to save it

“New Orleans has no place in a cost-benefit analysis, because what it offers — what it adds to America — cannot be counted. Its value is avowedly sentimental, and it was folly to believe that a culture could be weighed in this way. After 18 years there, I should have known that myself. The reason I didn’t helps explain why others couldn’t either….
“As an animating principle, joie de vivre has its drawbacks, and they help explain the city’s dysfunction. A major metropolis devoted to the good life cannot be a place of surpassing efficiency. But why couldn’t I see that flaw as the tolerable side effect of a miraculous, serendipitous, singular creation?…
“My belated New Orleans education forced me to swallow an impossible, and yet an inevitable, fact: the spiritual, the musical, the mystical side of human relations. Sometimes what is important cannot be seen, only felt.”

A Tale of Two New Orleans

“But while in most cities gentrification is caused by a simple desire for prime real estate, in New Orleans the draw is the very culture that the resulting changes to the city is eroding….
“‘When Katrina happened, I knew something was gonna change — I just didn’t know how,’ Meyers says. ‘But now I see it. It’s a lot of people who are not from here who stay right next door to us. People from South Carolina, all over the world, New York, California. So you felt a sense of well, my neighborhood’s ’bout to be gone.’
“He hops off the stoop and looks down the street into the sun, eyeing the houses. ‘I probably know 2 out of 15 who stay here right now. And everybody knew everybody before that. We the first ones here and ’bout to be the last ones left. And we on the verge of getting kicked off our own block.’…
“‘It’s not that people are resistant to change, it’s that they include us in their change in our community,’ Chapman continues. ‘People who have gone to school here and stayed here and adopted the culture, and not tried to change it, we accept them.'”


Myths surrounding Katrina still flow from reporters, politicians after 10 years

“The truth is more complicated than that.
“It’s true that the city has grown from near abandonment immediately after the storm to 80 percent of its pre-Katrina population, and it continues to grow faster than most other major cities. Its police department and jail are undergoing massive reform efforts. And tax collections are up year over year. The city’s schools are showing large gains in student test scores and graduation rates, according to a recently released study.
“Still, the impact of the floods was devastating and it continues to affect the area. About 1,800 people died, many of those in New Orleans. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleanians’ homes were flooded.
“Ten years later, the city still suffers many blighted homes and overgrown lots.
“Violent crime continues to be a problem, and the city’s homicide rate consistently ranks near or at the top nationwide.
“The city’s fiscal progress could be undone by millions of dollars in unmet obligations. Advances from the police department and jail reforms are fitful.
“The sweeping school overhaul remains extremely controversial….
“Meanwhile, the city’s lack of affordable housing is reaching a near-crisis point. About 50 percent of the city’s residents spend more than 35 percent of their income on housing, and 37 percent spend more than half their income on housing.”

Growing past Katrina: How a storm reshaped a boy

“There is little research examining how Katrina-related trauma affected different age groups of children. Of the children displaced by the storm about 46,025 were under age 5 and 33 percent of them poor.
“But the research that does exist suggests that children who were already exposed to traumatic events were particularly vulnerable when Katrina stripped away all other predictability and security in their lives….
“…[C]hildren who were in the city at the time of the storm experienced more profound symptoms of trauma than those who were able to get out with their families. And ultimately, the children’s post-disaster trajectories tended to take one of three paths: declining, equilibrium or fluctuating.
“Those whose post-Katrina lives got worse saw simultaneous and ongoing disruption in family life, health care, schooling and friendships. Those who reached equilibrium were able to do so after quickly finding stability due in part to their families’ access to financial, social and cultural resources.
“The fluctuating child experienced moments of stability following moments of instability. They may have been doing well with housing, for example, but were struggling in family relationships.
“But the biggest key, said Fothergill, in these children’s lives were having one or more anchor relationships — grandmothers, aunts, uncles and others who provided support.”


Julie Willoz’s amazing Katrina evacuation story, all told on Twitter

“Who says Twitter is only good for snarky comments and posting cat photos? Ninth generation New Orleanian Julie Willoz (who normally tweets as @JCWilloz) is this week’s guest tweeter for @beingNOLA. Over the past two nights, she’s tweeted a stunning, dramatic story. Well worth reading.”



Bubbling over


On my way to work this morning, I found myself wiping tears with my t-shirt. They were a physical manifestation of a bubbling over of feelings. All kinds of feelings, not entirely consistent with one another. We humans are complex creatures.

Sometimes I forget that I wasn’t actually living here ten years ago, that I didn’t actually have to evacuate. I recognize that sounds glib in some ways. It’s not intended to gloss over the trauma that so many of my fellow New Orleanians experienced. I think it just speaks to my connection to my hometown, even as I sat 4,000 miles away, trying to grasp what was happening.


I’m grateful for this life. This colorful, messy, frustrating, rich in some ways, poor in others,interesting, conflict-filled life. One in which it’s clear that our desire to wrest control of nature is never to be entirely fulfilled. Where if we turn our heads for just a little too long, vines curl in through our windows (and sometimes our walls). Where the ground beneath our feet is really not too solid, and moves as it wishes. Where maintaining a manicured yard can be a full-time endeavor, and still may be not quite achieved. (I don’t even pretend to try.) Where something is in bloom, and color is to be found, year-round. Where water makes up a large proportion of our environment and sometimes, obviously, bests us.


I’m frustrated by the pain and struggles and inequities that so many New Orleanians face on a daily basis. I’m also frustrated by those who speak about the great opportunities that the post-storm environment has provided. And frustrated by the measures used to gauge our “progress.” By whose standards are we being measured? At what point does the use of these measures, and the efforts to meet them, also translate into a city that has been wiped of its unique characteristics and culture? Where is the balance between becoming any-city and being/becoming a place where all have the chance to thrive?


Ten years ago, things were different here. Some things were better, some were worse. Change in and of itself does not indicate progress. But is an inherent part of life and, sometimes, something to strive for.

A little less than ten years ago, it was not clear that the city would continue to exist. It was not clear that some neighborhoods would continue to exist. I think we should celebrate that the former did not come true – we’re here, we’re living. At the same time, we should, and do, mourn the lives lost. And work harder for the people and neighborhoods that we’ve failed thus far.


Like I said, complex.

10 Years ago this week


As the 10-year anniversary of Katrina approaches, I’ve taken to thinking about things like, “What would my life be like if it had never happened?” Not because I regret the way the details of my life have played out. Even as I still mourn the devastation wrought on this city and its inhabitants. It’s more of an idle wondering. I suspect we wouldn’t live here, but where we would be and what we would be doing is another question. I was also inspired to dig up my blog posts from this week in 2005, back when I lived in Honolulu and blogged on a regular basis. I’ll probably post another batch next week.


August 26, 2005


Having grown up in New Orleans, where the French influence is definitely tasted and felt in breads and pastries, I am often disappointed when I bite into what looks like a yummy brioche, only to discover that the French influence did not reach all corners of the globe.

Posted by Shokufeh at 01:54 PM | Comments (1)

August 28, 2005

‘Cane, ‘cane, go away

Growing up in New Orleans, one of the messages I got from school was that my hometown would, at some point in the not-too-distant future, cease to exist. It would be a slow and steady process leading to its obliteration: continued sinking of a city that’s already six feet below sea level, in conjunction with continued erosion along the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps the process would be helped along by the Mississippi River finally jumping the bed in which we humans have forced it to flow by an extensive system of levees. As an elementary school student, I envisioned a time in the future when my parents would be forced to migrate from New Orleans. Somehow, big bottles of Kentwood water are tied into the memory, but I’m not sure how. Maybe I had the idea that part of the pressure to move would be lack of potable water? Thinking about it now, it’s also interesting to me that even from a young age, as much I loved (and continue to love) my hometown, I didn’t imagine myself living there as an adult.

More than twenty years have passed, and during that time my anticipations for the city have changed. A few years ago, I read something that indicated that I’m not alone – the experts that were responsible for shaping the message I got as a child also changed their tune: New Orleans was not slowly sinking into oblivion.

But now I’m sitting up in the early morning hours, watching forecasters talking about Hurrican Katrina and the flooding that will submerge the city of New Orleans. They say things like “the pumps will fail,” and “water will remain standing for six months.” They don’t speak in mights and maybes, except in relation to the integrity of the levees. And that scares me. It makes it hard for me to hold on to the belief I’ve held for the past 10 or so years – that there is something geographic or meteorologic that prevents New Orleans from recieving a direct hit from a major hurricane. That even when we think one is going to hit, this natural force that we’ve yet to understand causes the hurricane to shift directions.

I’d like to think that we’ll be able to take our children to New Orleans in the future, and that it will be a sightseeing adventure with many of my childhood haunts intact. And not akin to the sights I saw in my younger years – driving along the Gulf Coast, seeing years-old damage left behind by Hurricanes Camille and Betsy. I’d like to think that the future I’d envisioned as a child isn’t coming true in a more abrupt fashion. I’d like to think that all my family and friends, and their possessions (and ours, left in my parent’s house) will be okay. I guess the next 36 hours will tell.

Posted by Shokufeh at 08:38 AM | Comments (5)

August 29, 2005


So, if the reports are true, the worst case scenario did not come to fruition, and my Home exists. My parent’s house and its contents are another question, as they evacuated to a couple of hours away and have not yet been allowed to return. But, the city of New Orleans is still there, despite the flooding and broken bits. Thanks to all of you for your good thoughts.

Over the past six months, I’ve come to a greater recognition of the attachment I have to New Orleans. No matter how much I love my husband and the feeling of home we’ve created, New Orleans will always be Home. From the early days of my pregnancy, I felt homesick – it wasn’t just a longing to spend time with my parents, it was a longing to return Home, to New Orleans. I finally had an understanding of those stories I’d read in the past, of women who would place some dirt from their hometown under the bed while giving birth, so that their children would be born over southern soil. No, I’m not going to do that, I just have a greater understanding of that mentality now. Something about being pregnant has brought out my attachment to my primordial home.

It’s not an attachment that requires me to move there. (Which is good, because one thing we discovered on our recent visit is that we can’t afford to do that). It’s an attachment that makes me never want to go longer than a year between visits. It’s an attachment that makes me glad I got to see the city in its intact state a couple of weeks ago. It’s an attachment that makes me wish I could go there and help pick up the pieces. It’s an attachment that makes me glad the place I call Home dodged what could have been a lot worse.

Posted by Shokufeh at 04:40 PM | Comments (7)

August 30, 2005

Losing hope

Yesterday, I was feeling like we’d dodged something horrible. Now I’m not so sure.

Last night, I stayed up late watching CNN, hoping for more information on the break in the levee at the 17th street canal – two blocks long. Two blocks long of letting Lake Ponchartrain into the city. All reports pointed to water rising in New Orleans. I debated staying up until daylight hit New Orleans, in hopes of getting more accurate information and maybe some visual indications. But rationale won out and I went to sleep, only to dream of torrents of water sweeping through New Orleans.

Now, the next morning, I don’t feel significantly more informed. Except that the levee break has been confirmed, without the solution I was hoping to hear about. And I’ve heard the weariness and sadness in the Mayor’s voice as he lists all the issues going on.

And one of the scariest indications that virtually every belonging of my family’s (including those of Sam’s and mine, stored at my parent’s house) is destroyed is a headline from a local television station:
Jeff Parish* President. Residents will probably be allowed back in town in a week, with identification only, but only to get essentials and clothing. You will then be asked to leave and not come back for one month.

Yes, I know the important part is that my family and friends are okay. But how do you rebuild from such destruction?

The neighboring parish, or county, as the rest of the country calls them

Posted by Shokufeh at 03:38 PM | Comments (2)

I’m with Sam

My husband has a thing for comic books and superheroes. Within the past 48 hours, more than once, as we watched Katrina coverage on TV, he uttered, “I wish superheroes really existed.” I responded with my typical my-husband-is-so-weird-yet-so-endearing, “I love you! I love you so much!” I also added a, “Our kid is going to be lucky, having a dad who wishes superheroes really existed.”

Before Katrina hit Louisiana, we discussed how Superman could have just used his freeze-breath to cool the Gulf waters enough to reduce the force of the hurricane. After the levee break, it was easy to imagine that he, or someone with similar powers, could drop a long steel sheet across the gap, allowing mere humans the opportunity to make more permanent repairs.

And as I read that they’ve given up on trying to stop the flooding from the break, and that pumps are expected to fail soon, and that the entire east bank will be covered by at least nine feet of water in the next 15 hours, I’m with Sam: I wish there were superheroes.

Posted by Shokufeh at 08:21 PM | Comments (3)

August 31, 2005

The comfort of coffee

As I look around the apartment, I’m hard-pressed to find anything that wasn’t acquired here, that dates back to my life in New Orleans and other cities. When Sam and I arrived here, three years ago today, six weeks after our wedding, it was with just a few suitcases and boxes. We left most of our belongings at my parents’ house, with the idea that we’d be gone for only a couple of years. Every spring, I would think, “If we can just make it through this year’s hurricane/flooding season….” On this most recent visit there, I didn’t even bother to go through my things to see if there was anything I wanted to bring back, thinking I would be reunited with them soon enough. I guess the soon enough wasn’t soon enough.

But just now, as I got some ice from the freezer, my eyes fell upon a bag of coffee from PJ’s, a New Orleans business I grew up with. Even though I’m not drinking coffee these days, it’s comforting knowing it’s there. And it’s made all the more (bitter)sweet thinking about the fact that it was given to us by my brother when he was working at one of the cafes, which is likely now flooded.

Posted by Shokufeh at 11:17 PM | Comments (3)





I have 42 days until I’m 42 years old. I’ve been looking forward to this year ahead, as I’m sure I’m going to get some answers. In process, I’ve started a little project of self improvement: 42 to 42. More to come.