Although I love Connecticut, there is something that captivates me about the South and its culture. Growing up, I had seen many movies about the South and read quite a few books, but it wasn’t until my aunt moved to Louisiana over ten years ago that I got to truly “taste” it. My first experience in my early teens involved a lengthy train ride from Hartford to Slidell where she lived (she has since relocated to New Orleans!). The train ride was horrible in every respect except for the scenery. To my surprise, much of it was just as I had imagined: I saw many families sitting outside on their porches trying to catch a breeze, and tall magnificent oak trees that bend so graciously. What I remember most about this trip was the heat (the minute I got off the train it hit me, hot and sticky) and a tour through the bayous on an air-boat complete with ‘gator sightings! While this first trip to Louisiana was memorable on many levels it wasn’t until two years ago when I went back again to do some volunteering post-Katrina that the unique subculture, history and resilience of New Orleans really resonated with me.
My friend and I arrived in Louisiana in early May two days after our college graduation full of ambition and excitement about our plans. We had contacted a few non-profits about volunteering. We selected Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) and OnSite Relief who help to rebuild homes that were still desolated from Hurricane Katrina. It would be the work at these two organizations that drew me into the depths of New Orleans and its culture.
When you work, rather than visit a place, you become part of the atmosphere and history. My friend and I woke early every morning, stepping outside into the already humid, thick air of Louisiana and started out on our forty-five minute drive to New Orleans…most of which was spent on the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain. Our first five days would be spent at ARNO, working with the animals who had been left behind or lost in the flood. It was a very moving experience: my friend and I both being animal lovers. Our job included feeding the dogs and cats, cleaning cages, walking the dogs, and most importantly spending time with animals and giving them the love and attention they needed. A rewarding experience, but very difficult in the end having to leave all our new friends behind hoping that they would be reunited with their owners or find new homes.