It was as if time stood still in New Orleans in the four months since Hurricane Katrina tore through my hometown.
After decreased media attention, many (myself included) thought that the situation and landscape of New Orleans were back to normal.
However, more than just an hour after I got off the plane, I witnessed the devastating impact of the Category 4 hurricane.
With hundreds of damaged homes covered with blue roofs and miles of streets masked in mounds of debris, I quickly realized that life in New Orleans was not the same.
Seemingly a desolate land where life used to thrive, only traces of New Orleans remain in its people as they strive to resurrect and revive the culture of the city.
Upon my return, I also discovered that my home of the past 10 years, in one of the less affected areas of the city, deteriorated due to the storm.
Consequently, my mother and I secured a Federal Emergency Management Agency supported hotel room in the French Quarter for my three week Christmas break – but we were the lucky ones.
My uncle and aunt both lost their homes and everything they had. My grandfather’s home, already severely damaged by Katrina, burned down on Christmas day.
Just when I thought it could not get much worse, my mother brought me to the ninth ward, the most devastated area of the city, which was overwhelmingly populated by blacks.
The fear in the hours before, during and after the storm can be viewed by messages written in hurried markings of black spray paint.
The side of one auto parts store read “Trespassers are considered looters and will be shot dead.”
Others made political statements out of distress, and one building on St. Claude Street read “Next time we are to vote for someone who cares.” Other homes and businesses bore huge markings with the words “Help!” or “Save Us!” Trees lay completely uprooted in the streets. Homes, once viewed as architectural trade marks of the city, sat completely leveled and almost unrecognizable as houses.
Previously known for incessant partying and late-night events, post-Katrina New Orleans is drastically different. Several businesses, including famous New Orleans restaurants and French Quarter attractions, were unable to reopen, others are forced to close at unusually early hours. Wal-Mart closes at 8 p.m., sometimes earlier.
I had to face this heartbreaking reality for a mere 21 days, but the people brave enough to return to the city must endure this truth daily.
Yet, in the midst of the devastation, I found solace in the heart of the French Quarter, one of the few areas of the city that had not been severely affected.
As I walked down Decatur and Bourbon streets, the lingering notes of jazz music and the sweet smell of beignets circled the air. People roamed the streets, clinging to one of the few untouched and preserved icons of our city.
Jazz music legend Big Al Carson and his band played on Bourbon Street as if the world had gone uninterrupted by this disaster. At that moment, I realized that not even the worst natural disaster to ever hit the United States could destroy the New Orleans culture.
I am proud to be a part of its past, present and future.
Contact Jessica Larche at firstname.lastname@example.org