Just got back from a trip to Atlanta to visit my sister, who’s expecting a baby in early August. I had a good time there, but I find it really difficult these days to talk to people who haven’t been to New Orleans since Katrina and assume we must be completely back to normal by now. When they ask how things are in New Orleans, I’m torn between saying what I know they want to hear—things are slowly improving, we’re managing, blah, blah, blah—and telling them the truth.
Because let’s face it—asking those of us from the Gulf Coast how things are going these days is like asking someone who recently lost a loved one how they’re doing. You ask because it’s the polite thing to do, but you’re inwardly that the person is going to smile and nod and tell you they’re “hanging in there,” or some other such trite nonsense, so you won't feel uncomfortable. You’re hoping that they won’t awkwardly tell you how they’re really doing—that they cry every day, that they can’t sleep at night, that all they can do is concentrate on making it through the day.
That’s what trying to answer the question, “How’s life in New Orleans these days?” is like. Do you really want to hear about the minor inconveniences, that, when stacked one upon another, became major sources of stress? Like how most restaurants and stores still close at 7:00 p.m. because they don’t have enough staff? Like how every day, you have to find yet another route to work because the street you're on is blocked off by construction workers? Like how you’re forced to wait in long lines at every store because, again, there aren’t enough employees to go around?
Do you really want to hear about the depressing environment we live in? How every day, you drive past another building that couldn't be salvaged and has been bulldozed? How every day, you drive past debris pile after debris pile, after shuttered-up business after shuttered-up business? How you have to go to your flooded-out house and mow the lawn, even though you can’t live there? Do you really want to hear about the water lines that are still everywhere, a constant reminder of what happened?
Do you want to hear about the human tragedy? About all of the people that can't return home because there's no place to live? About the people packed into FEMA trailers, like sardines in a can? About the people STILL waiting for FEMA trailers, almost ten months later?
Do you want to hear about how they’re still finding bodies, almost a year later? About how many people are still missing and may never be found? Do you want to hear about how the city has yet to come up with a plan to rebuild, almost a year later, and how most residents are frustrated, fatigued, and depressed beyond belief? Do you want to hear about our fears as to whether this city will still be standing at the end of the year, as we enter the crux of the 2006 hurricane season?
Maybe some of you do want to hear. I still can’t help feeling, though, that most people, suffering from "Katrina fatigue," would prefer that I just say everything’s great and let them move on to a more pleasant topic.
Does that answer your question?