Thursday, August 31, 2006

On Returning to UNO

It's back to school for T., and while some things haven't changed since Katrina, a lot have.

For instance, there are these long, oblong bushes that lean precariously at the side of the business building; in the lot in front of the library, there's a picnic table performing the same acrobatic stunt. And worst, is inside the library, where a coffee house has settled in the lounge--a coffee house. I almost couldn't believe it.

Sometimes, it's strange how much things on campus have changed, but sometimes, it's almost shocking how things have stayed the same. While walking to the University Center earlier today, I discovered that in the newspaper machines cluttered together in front of the entrance, there was a copy of the New York Times.

Its date? August 24, 2005.

At times, it's actually nice to see some changes; the Lakeview area is looking immensely better. The big, blocky houses that lined Leon C. Simon Blvd. are being gutted, and many are repainted. With the exception of a few lots, the area is looking even better than it was before the storm.

Unfortunately, some of the changes at UNO aren't particularly impressive; as I've mentioned in an earlier entry, some of the best professors at the university have been laid off.

And then, there's financial aid. My cousin--a first-time college student--would have qualified for TOPS on any other year, but this year, it wasn't available to her. She managed to pay off some of her tuition with grant money, but for the most part, she's been forced to cash in college bonds that her middle-class parents bought for her when she was younger. For me, those college bonds have long disappeared, and my grant money has trickled to a meager $1,300/semester. Because of the new 'fuel recovery charge' (thank you, Entergy), university tuition has risen about 5%.

Leaving me with one month to figure out how I'm going to scramble up $700 before the end of October after spending over $300 on used school books--many that still haven't come in.

If I get the "Return 2 Learn" grant that was widely-advertised in the summer, I should have just enough money to break even; I'll have that $700 I need for my tuition, and I'll be reimbursed for the $300 I spent on books. But when I called Financial Aid this morning, they informed me that they weren't sure when these dispersements would take place--or even I'd even get the money before the Bursar's Office starts hitting me up for cash.

But last year--even without the formation of the "Return 2 Learn Program"--my grant money was enough to pay my tuition, pay for my books, and give me a little money to survive off during the school year. And my financial situation hasn't changed much since then.

So what happened?

Katrina happened.

I love UNO. I love the atmosphere, the students, and sometimes, even the professors. One semester at LSU--with the rowdy, obnoxious football loving, binge-drinking students--was enough to remind me how much that I love and appreciate about my home institution. But with an inadequate financial aid department at UNO and inadequate financial aid in the city, I have little reason to continue my studies at a university in the state when I graduate next fall.

Especially with my father promising to pay off the entirety of my tuition while I'm in graduate school--as long as I don't attend an institution in the area.

But even despite that promise, I wanted to stay in the city--and as long as my tuition was supplemented by the government, I had no reason not to; I, like many others, feel as though I have an obligation to the city that raised me into the woman that I am today.

But before, I had to choose between staying at UNO with my tuition fully paid, or continue my graduate studies at NYU fully-paid; now, I have to choose between staying in the city and paying $2,000+ a year for books and tuition, or continue my graduate studies in New York completely covered.

I don't have to make a decision today; I've still got a year to figure out what I want to do. But I'm not entirely confident that the situation is going to change much within the next twelve months.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

WE ARE NOT OK
8.29.05

Monday, August 28, 2006

Truer Words Have Never Been Said

Six things not to say to a Katrina survivor
Monday, August 28, 2006
David Crosby

Not too long ago, a well-intentioned fellow from somewhere else began to tell me what he thought we should do to return our city to "normal." I stopped listening immediately.

Processing the encounter later, I realized that I have reached my limit on helpful suggestions from well-meaning advisers. Outsiders may not realize how familiar residents of New Orleans are with our own failures -- before and since the storm. This list is crafted to help family members and friends avoid blunders that can kill a conversation or incite civil unrest. I've heard all of these questions and comments in one form or another over the last few months.

"Hey, why don't you guys clean up this mess?"

We're working as hard as we can. The implication that we have not been working is an insult and does not recognize the amazing expenditure of energy and time and resources in the flood zone this past year. I calculate that if every barge and train and sea-going vessel that visits the Port of New Orleans were to haul nothing but debris, it would take 18 months to clean up the destruction of our city. And that's if the debris were all neatly packaged and ready for containers. Just the ruined mattresses, lined up, would stretch from here to Chicago.

We've made a lot of progress in the first year. We fight the discouragement of knowing that we have just begun. This is going to take years.

"When my neighbor's roof sprung a leak, we all pitched in and fixed it."

No situation you have experienced in your past is anything close to the scale of this destruction. No neighbors are left to pitch in. Everyone's hammers and kitchens and garages and vehicles are gone. In fact, the neighborhood itself is gone, along with all its landmarks and stores.

"If you think this is bad, you should have seen Blanktown after the tornado."

You may believe that it will comfort us to know that you have seen worse. We just don't believe it. Multiply your tornado damage by 10,000 and you might get close to what happened to us. Every day I struggle again to fully comprehend the breadth and depth of this tragedy. It's the hardest thing I do -- experiencing the devastation visually and relationally every day.

"It's been a year. You need to get over it."

The problem is -- it's not over. Just yesterday my good friend announced his departure to Texas. An elderly couple decided they were too old to be part of this task and will move to Mississippi.

My insurance bill just arrived, and it's 80 percent more than last year. The countertops won't be here until October.

My child's friend lost her dad to suicide. Thieves stole my air conditioning unit. The parish clerk cannot find my marriage license.

No lawyer is left to render defense in a court system that's almost shut down. And 80 percent of the psychiatrists have departed permanently -- just when we needed them the most.

We are living in a continuing urban disaster of unprecedented proportions. It's living in emergency mode as a way of life. It's 12 hours of commuting and working, two hours of repairing bathrooms and kitchens, and six hours of "rest" in a FEMA trailer with the wife and kids.

I can't get over it, and I won't. What I have to do is somehow stay healthy spiritually as I integrate this into my heart and soul. So I am mustering all my faith and love and hope trying to stay positive in my upside-down world.

"God's not through. He's gonna wipe y'all out next time."

The Book of Job records that Job's friends came to see him after the disaster. They sat in silence for seven days and did not say one word. (That would be a good start for the person who made this remark.)

Then Job's friends made a mistake -- they spoke. Everybody would have been a lot happier if they had just sat in silence for seven more days -- or years.

Maybe God aimed Katrina at New Orleans. Maybe the Devil did it. Maybe it was highs and lows and prevailing winds and water temperatures in the Gulf. But one thing is for sure -- you don't know. So don't tell me you do. I don't want to hear it.

"Say, could I get your picture standing on what's left of your house?"

We're still a little sensitive about our stuff, even if it is piled out on the street. Maybe especially then. This debris represents the material accumulation of many years of hard work. It's junk now. We know that. But we're not too eager to pose with our pain yet. We haven't put on our makeup, and we look a mess. This may have been the most photographed city in America before the storm, and maybe that's still the case. But for now, I'll pass on the picture.

. . . . . . .

David Crosby is the pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans. His e-mail address is david@firstbaptistneworleans.com.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I went to the aquarium for the first time since the storm...


...and I took a few photographs.

More photos can be found here.

Also, I saw Dr. Phil filming outside of the Aquarium of the Americas sometime between three and four. I snapped some photos of him and his crew, but I don't find him nearly as interesting as the fish.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Progress in New Orleans

Those of you who are in the Lakeview area might have noticed a small yacht sitting on the neutral ground for some time now; it sat near Benjamin Franklin and had been tagged in grafitti with "U.S.S. Katrina" on the side. Last week when I went to UNO, I had forgotten my camera; I wanted to take a picture and vowed to do so today when I went in to work on my financial aid.

Today when I went to UNO, the boat had completely vanished; the ship had simply been spirited away.

Things finally seem to be moving in the city. I wish I could say that it was the same for UNO.

Last week I headed in to speak with an academic counselor. I'm quickly approaching my final year, and I have to make sure that I'm headed in the right direction for a Fall 2007 graduation.

When I mentioned my own concerns about layoffs, the advisor assured me that things were not nearly as bad as they thought they would be. Still, I'm still unable to understand why I can't seem to be able to enroll in an entrance-level Biology course that isn't in Slidell; a graduating senior confided to me that of the seven classes she needed to graduate, only four are being offered this semester. Only one of the courses she needs is even open. Another friend is having difficulty getting into a third-level language course.

What's wrong with this picture?

I spent a good hunk of my spring semester contacting various departments at LSU, trying to get them to shove my transcript to my home institution. They told me that would send it over once my tuition was paid in full; they told me they would send it with the rest of the UNO students' transcripts; most recently, they told me that they had sent it--and to be sure that they did do so, I called two different departments at LSU and asked them to send my transcript to UNO.

Only to find out it never got there. Whether or not it's a mistake on the part of LSU or UNO, I'm not sure, but I'm frustrated.

They're sure making this "coming home" thing easy.

School begins in a week and a half; I'm registered for only 12 hours while I cross my fingers and hope my financial aid comes in before next Monday and pray someone drops the Biology course I so desperately need to get out of the way before I graduate.

It seems like this frustration is contagious; all the UNO students I've spoken to thusfar are visibly annoyed with the way things are running at their university. There are problems with WebStar, problems with financial aid, problems with getting the courses they need; some of these problems they had before Katrina, but now they're even worse.

People are talking of transfer; the only thing that's keeping them here is the worry that not all of their hours will transfer to another institution.

But I get the feeling that things are only going to get worse for UNO if the situtation doesn't improve. If things don't get better, students will leave. If they can't find the courses they need two semesters in a row, they'll look for greener pastures. If they continue to have the same problems with Webstar, they'll find another college to go to.

With the rising cost of living in the area at the moment, they really have little reason to stay, anyway.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Greetings, Salutations, and Hello!

It's been awhile, hasn't it? July has been a busy month for me. After spending a week in California and with the school year quickly approaching, I've found very little time to blog about the political happenings in the city, though I've had a lot of thoughts about what's going on. But more on that later.

I've always been one to do things (save, perhaps, writing essays) at the last moment, and scheduling courses at the University of New Orleans is one of them. This morning while I began to schedule classes, I discovered that most of the courses I needed were not available when and where I need to take them. I somehow suspect that this has something to do with the massive layoff of teachers earlier in the year. At any rate, I'm taking the half-hour journey down to Elysian Fields where I will hopefully speak with an English advisor who will hopefully manage to work out something with me. I'd really hate to transfer because as much of a hassle the university financial aid department can be, I really do love the school, the atmosphere, and the students.

I'll probably update later this week with some political ramblings, but if you're interested in reading about my journey to ComicCon SanDiego or simply want to read about my personal life, feel free to check out my personal blog.

Hope you've all been safe.