I’m not gonna lie, when Katrina happened, I didn’t give a shit. I was a few days into sophomore year, and my 18-year-old mind was more focused on frat parties than on actual human suffering. I was stupid, I’ll give you that.

Anyway, flash forward six months. Apparently over the course of sophomore year, I had gained some sort of sympathy for my fellow man and signed up for an alternative spring break trip to NOLA. Twenty-two hours after our Coach bus departed from the UMD Hillel, we arrived at a FEMA camp set up in the middle of a field in Chalmette, Louisiana.

I used to think alternative spring break trips were BS, just an excuse to go somewhere cool with your friends and pretend to do work. But let me tell you, those trips are no joke. At least ours wasn’t. Nine straight hours of backbreaking work each day, literally tearing down people’s houses, people’s memories. Prying those memories from the walls and floors and what remained of the ceilings. The former residents of the first house we worked on were avid hunters. In what remained of their kitchen, we found a refrigerator full of rotten meat, game that had been shot in the months before the hurricane hit. Keep in mind that this fridge hadn’t been opened in at least six months, and for a portion of that time had been underwater. The plan was to tape the fridge shut, then tilt it on its side and wheel it out of the house. Well, apparently we overestimated our abilities, because in tipping the fridge on its side, we accidentally nudged the door open. It was only open for about two seconds, but that was long enough to fill the house with the most disgusting stench I’ve ever smelled. One of the guys working with us barely had enough time to run outside and around to the side of house before he vomited.

So now, three years after Katrina, and two and a half after my last visit to Louisiana, I wonder what happened to the houses we worked on, to the people who lived there, some who swore up and down that they’d never leave, that they’d rebuild, and others who said they were done, that they were going to move north and never come back. And now I wonder who is still there, and if they’ll be there next week, or next month, or next year.

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