Katrina: Hits Home in Uganda Part 2

Katrina: Hits Home in Uganda Part 2

We are now talking about the devastation left behind by not one but two hurricanes.

In this second part to "Katrina: Hits Home in Uganda", Aretha worries from Kampala.

By Aretha Frison
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First published: September 27, 2005

Click here for to "Katrina: Hits Home in Uganda Part 1"

My Friends: The Victim, The Spectator

Now, all I have are fond memories of the explicit beauty, southern charm and hospitality of New Orleans.

The city that was one of my favorite places in America, and I visited New Orleans on a few occasions during and after my college days. But despite the actual places in the city that gave me those sweet memories of listening to blues and eating delicious southern-homemade dishes that are now destroyed by the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, it is not as precious as the future lives and souls of my two friends who were affected by the tragedy.

One of my friends, Rob Nelson, a native of New Jersey, is a journalist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper. He introduced me and his other friends to the flair of this city in 2001 during a trip to Mardi Gras that year. When I heard about the aftermath, I prayed that he didn’t stay to cover the biggest story in U.S. history.

And, the Lord answered my prayer.

A few days later, I received an email responding to my concern from Rob. In the email, he attached a heartfelt column to his friends and family about how he fled the city and witnessed his beloved home and friend, New Orleans, be washed away on television.

“In the rush and panic of an evacuation to Georgia, there was no time for goodbyes,” he said in the column. “No time to fully grasp the countless consequences of this massive catastrophe. Only now is it beginning to sink in, that life for the foreseeable future will not be even remotely the same. The realization has been painful, and I find myself recalling and cherishing all that once was, only a week ago.”

His column is like a reflection of the current status of Iraq, or the Asian tragedy of the tsunami, or last year’s hurricane devastation in Haiti: houses toppled by the lake’s outpour, buildings reduced to rubble, residents stranded, starving, dehydrated, dying, roadways submerged or torn apart, suicides, the charges of racism that are accused of being the reasons for the now destitute city, violence, and the looting are parallel to the images many people viewed worldwide on TV, including the reality of dead bodies floating in the water or laying next to the survivors in the Louisiana Superdome for days.

Recently, Rob returned to New Orleans. He is one of the rare success stories coming out of the disaster. He has continued working for the newspaper, which is temporarily housed at the Louisiana State University’s journalism school and publishing a paper of only 16 pages. He said when he returned to his apartment, that the only evidence from the tragedy in his home were the moldy walls damaged by the flood. He has clothes, and food and staying with his girlfriend, Jenny.

“I sat on the sidelines and watched the greatest natural disaster in American history unfold, I was a spectator of Katrina, not a survivor,” he wrote.

And despite all he has witnessed, experienced, and his uncertainty about staying in New Orleans for the long run, he still has faith in his city’s future.

“In my heart, I believe New Orleans will be reborn. It will not and cannot be what it once was, but it must return nonetheless.”

The same day I got Rob’s email about his evacuation, I also received an email from another friend, Juaquana Stewart. And for the most part, Juaquana’s story unfortunately depicts what we saw and read about the catastrophe. She wrote that she was “mentally breaking down” and could not understand how an entire city could be “wiped off the map within a matter of 72 hours.”

Juaquana wrote that the media is “horrible” because it portrayed the residents of New Orleans in a very bad light.

“They are portraying us like it’s only the poor left behind and poverty-stricken,” she wrote. “I have family members sitting in front of the convention center, (Louisiana Superdome.)”

She said the only reason she and her immediate family stayed behind was that they were finalizing the business of her grandmother’s recent death. But, Juaquana wrote, that the rest of her family was scattered around the country seeking refuge from the horror left from Katrina.

And, Juaquana’s plans to recover from this tremendous ordeal are more uncertain than Rob’s. Juaquana, a native of New Orleans, said the roof was snatched off her house and she only has two pairs of jeans and a shirt to call her own.

“I feel like all of my insides are being torn out. And, I do not know where to begin with life, I was never really materialistic, so it’s not about what was in the house. The fact of the matter is that the last 27 years of my livelihood is underwater.”

Since I received her email, I haven’t heard from Juaquana, but I pray and believe that she is doing fine.

Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In
As a Christian, I believe that God allows everything for a reason. God is in control, and as a believer, I know that all things work out for good, always.

It seems like my dear country is currently struggling to keep a strong, positive universal image. The government wants to convey that everything’s under control back home.

I think Hurricane Katrina has brought more humility and awareness of the realistic vulnerabilities of a great nation, and the giving hearts of the undeveloped world.

However, it is hard to explain that to someone who has lost everything. And, it’s hard for our allies, enemies and the media to be convinced that Americans struggle just like other nations, sometimes in different ways, but this time it is similar to the rest of the global village.

And because I live in Uganda now, I have learned that sometimes one has to lose something to gain everything, and to appreciate the things we really need in this cold and cruel world: family, good health, friends, safe shelter and basic necessities like food and water.

Living in Uganda for two years, God has taught me to be thankful for my home, running water and stable electricity, benefits that many here are not privy to in this country, and even having the option to return to the U.S.

But above even these necessities, I believe with all my heart that the American victims, survivors, spectators and my friends in New Orleans have thanked God and cherished something even more important than these things: his precious gift of life.

By Aretha Frison
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First published: September 27, 2005
Aretha Frison, a native of Detroit, Michigan, and a graduate of Florida A&M University, is currently living in Kampala, Uganda as an independant media consultant for media houses and publishing companies.

She has written, edited and been featured in the Detroit Free Press, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, the East African, New Vision, The Daily Monitor, Vibe, and other trade magazines and newspapers.

Living in Uganda as a resident, she is actively involved in the Uganda writing arena, local church activities, and volunteer organizations. She can be reached at rereb@hotmail.com.