After being inundated with images from CNN, writer Erin Whitlock realized that her favorite city would never be the same again. I have watched CNN more in the past few weeks than I ever have in my entire life, but in the midst of sadness and despair, I want to remember the good times in the great city of New Orleans.
I think about the first time I visited the city. I was at least 7 or 8 years old, traveling with my family along Lake Pontchartrain, with my daddy teasing me that the water was full of man-eating alligators and snakes. I had no real understanding of where we were going or what we would do when we got there. I couldn’t identify with this place—there was no Mickey Mouse, beachfront condos or theme parks. Why would my parents want to vacation somewhere in the middle of the swamp? I thumbed through the brochures, reading words like “Laissez les bons temps rouler” but still drew a blank. Finally, I gave up and continued to look out of the car window, hoping for some semblance of Western civilization, but nothing would prepare me for what lie ahead.
Upon our arrival into Orleans parish, I was immediately enraptured by the city; from the food, to the culture, the spoken dialect—everything was so fascinating yet different from anything I had ever witnessed. I can clearly remember seeing the Superdome lit up at night and being absolutely amazed.
For the 16 years since that first trip, New Orleans has been very much like a second home to me. I could navigate those streets like the back of my hand, and I mean the real city, not just the French Quarter. So many things happened here, including my run-in with Chopper, my favorite ex-member of Diddy’s colorful, but now defunct Da Band.
New Orleans was the first place I’d ever drank so much that I made a complete fool of myself with total strangers, the place where I bought my first of many designer handbags (in a store, not on the street) and the place where I visited a housing project for the first time and laughed with residents like we were old friends. More than anything, it was a place that welcomed me time after time, even when I cursed the streets for being so nasty when my bare foot touched the ground as I walked back to my hotel after a way too long night of drinking. Cheesy as it may sound, if I close my eyes long enough, I can still smell the beignets at Café du Monde, mixed with the stench of horse manure, trash and liquor. … Ah, the memories. It was also the place where a 20- year-old friendship almost came to an end over something as trivial as an overpriced hotel room with too little space.
The most recent memory I have is of our annual BFF trip to the Essence Music Festival this past summer. (sort of like my Hajj to Mecca). There was one morning when I found myself walking back from Bourbon St. around 7 a.m. and I saw the sun beginning to rise over the buildings in the French Quarter. Two things immediately came to mind: My mama would be so ashamed if she knew I’d been out here all night and there was no other place I would rather be.
It’s very hard for me to sit and write this and was even harder for me to fight back the tears as I saw my Black people on television trapped in flood waters at the Superdome I once thought to be so amazing. People were dying on national television during what some analysts called “an avoidable disaster.” I feel as if the government not only stole the lives of thousands of my poor, Black people and separated them from their families, it also stole a part of me.
I have even found myself questioning how God could let this happen? How could God allow so many to be affected by one man’s bad judgment to fund a war, and squander resources that could have help citizens of a major U.S. city? But I was taught never to question God, instead to believe that His divine will be done. I will continue to hold on to my undying faith for our nation and hope that we can all grow stronger and more resilient. But I will never forget or forgive G.W. and his advisors for robbing me and my friends and the REAL citizens of New Orleans of a place we all considered a “home.” A part of me has died now, and I must lay it to rest, because no matter how they try to rebuild here– it will never be the same.