On the kindness of strangers: the aftermath of Katrina
I know Bush must have given an excellent speech last night because a liberal friend of mine pronounced it "moving" and "inspiring" in somewhat awed and surprised tones. Something he said, or perhaps the way he said it, touched her as nothing he'd ever done before.
My friend is also a barometer that tells me that the media may have overplayed its Bush-bashing hand on Katrina, big time, because she added that it's unreasonable to expect Bush could have done much to have changed things; she thinks the local authorities were most at fault. And all this from a women who until now has not had a kind word to say about the man.
So first there was Katrina itself, and then there was the reporting on Katrina. Now there is the initial aftermath of Katrina as the actual facts are becoming more widely known, and the more slowly-evolving secondary aftermath. In these later aftermaths there are some stories that can only be described as heartwarming.
Betsy's Page led me to this article that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post. It is a tale of renewal and hope for three men made homeless by Katrina:
For Henry, Smith and a third evacuee, Vylandrus Dupree, who is now being housed at a resort in Arkansas, the unimaginable disaster has led to an unimaginable gift. Through a series of chance encounters and random decisions made by relief workers, these young African American men find themselves in parts of the country they had never seen before, and each believes there is no going back.
In the Tenessee Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire," set in New Orleans, the character Blanche Du Bois, abused and driven to madness, utters her famous line "I've come to rely on the kindness of strangers" as she is taken away to an insane asylum. The line is powerfully ironic in the play, but in post-Katrina reality it is delivered straight:
[Katrina evacuees] just got on a plane only knowing they were going to be taken somewhere for shelter, and they ended up happening to come to Battle Creek," said Capt. Aaron Jenkins, a spokesman for the Michigan National Guard. "That's what happened to a lot of people."
When Henry got off the bus at the base, people were holding signs saying "Welcome" and "I love you."
Henry said he was glad to have been given a way out of New Orleans. He talked about the violence and drugs that had surrounded him there, the "harassment by police" and "false promises" by politicians.
"The Lord was telling me it was time for a change," he said. "I am going to take this opportunity to change my life and start a new beginning."
Henry has found a new life in Michigan, a place to which he'd never been before. Another New Orleans resident, Cash Smith, found himself whisked off to another far-off place he'd never imagined going:
Chad Ladov and two of his friends in Denver had watched the unfolding disaster in New Orleans as had millions of other Americans. One of the friends, Andrew Hudson, worked at Denver-based Frontier Airlines, and asked his company whether it could fly New Orleans evacuees to Denver free. When the company agreed, the trio immediately left for Houston, where thousands of evacuees were being housed at the Astrodome...The three friends canvassed the Astrodome, putting up signs and posters about their Denver proposal. That's when they came by Cash Smith.
"Hey, dude, do you want to come to Denver?" Smith recalled them asking...
"I have no money," Smith replied.
The group told him the airline ride to Denver was free. They promised him help in finding a job and getting on his feet.
"Why not give it a try?" Ladov said.
Smith decided to take a chance. After all, he was surrounded by strangers in the stadium; why not trust these three?
"I have lost everything else," he said he thought to himself. "What do I have to lose?"
Smith and his family will stay in Denver.
And another man who fled New Orleans in the path of Katrina, Vylandrus Dupree, found himself in another unexpected and undreamt-of place:
Volunteers helped Dupree enroll at the University of Arkansas. "It's a big opportunity," he said. "I would have been a fool not to take it."
Dupree said a clergyman he had met at the Red Cross facility had helped him find a job at a Walgreens drugstore.
There was no question of going back to New Orleans, Dupree said. "It's beautiful up here."
Some telling statistics: for two-thirds of those people whom Ladov and his friends flew to Denver, it was the very first time they'd ever been on an airplane. And all of those evacuated to northwest Arkansas were given the following choice: stay in that part of Arkansas, move back to New Orleans, or relocate elsewhere. Ninety-five percent chose to stay in Arkansas, an extraordinary percentage.
Sometimes relying on the kindness of strangers seems a good bet.
[ADDENDUM: Apparently these three are hardly the exceptions; many evacuees do not plan to return. Via Captain's Quarters, the Washington Post reports the following poll results:
Forty-three percent of these evacuees planned to return to New Orleans, the survey found. But just as many -- 44 percent -- said they will settle somewhere else, while the remainder were unsure. Many of those who were planning to return said they will be looking to buy or rent somewhere other than where they lived. Overall, only one in four said they plan to move back into their old homes, the poll found.]