In August, 2005, I was in another world. I lived in Uganda then, splitting my time between Kampala and the jungle of Murchison Falls National Park.
I was not only in another world physically, but at that time was going through a personal crisis the likes of which have not (thankfully) been seen before or since. I keep trying to write about it for "Curse of the Hippo." I keep giving up.
Meanwhile, a world away, Hurricane Katrina was building.
Yancey's family is from New Orleans. I remember an email from him that said that it looked like the worst of the storm was going to miss New Orleans.
Then somewhere among the lost emails from that day, while I grappled with my own problems, there was the last email from Yancey that I got for a while. "August 29, 2005. My birthday will now always be the day that my hometown was destroyed."
I remember the shock of the Ugandans as they watched the images on the news. I remember being incredulous that Uganda was giving funds to the US for Katrina aid. I also remember being completely out of touch with what was going on, feeling confused and disconnected by reading news stories and seeing only a few images here and there. And because I was caught up in the immediate situation I was in, I didn't really grasp what was happening.
Last night, on the recommendation of pudu-aficionado Bob Harris, I went to the see the documentary "Trouble the Water."
I think I have a better idea now of what people were going through in the Ninth Ward while I was in crisis 7,000 miles away. This documentary is about a poor, streetwise couple who had just acquired a video camera that they barely knew how to use, and—along with several neighbors, since there was no public transportation—didn't have the money to evacuate.
They taped the rain, then the floods. They climbed higher and higher in the house, stepping on furniture to access the attic. Finally, a heroic neighbor moved everyone he could find into the highest house in the area. He probably saved dozens of lives that day, swimming with what I think was a floating punching bag.
Official help never came. The ragtag group somehow found a boat. They tried to get help at the naval base and were turned away. They were able to rest at the high school.
"No offense but civilians just don't know how to survive." You want to clock the ignorant, clean, white soldier who says this to the filmmakers about the street hustler survivors who had just lived through hell and improvised their way out of it. About the husband who couldn't swim, but who acted as a human propeller for a boat full of survivors, never getting in the boat himself.
Eventually, the couple somehow acquired a truck. There is a dead silence when asked about this acquisition, so it is probably not totally legal. But who cares? When you have to evacuate 30 people, including senior citizens and children, you do what you have to do.
The dramatic events in the attic and the evacuation were riveting, but the most fascinating part of this documentary is how it shows that this couple, and some people around them, were given a new chance to start over by Katrina. They even discussed it, how the events of that day changed them and showed them their own potential. These were people who had absolutely nothing going for them except for community. But community, I think, is the one thing I truly crave.
The filmmakers were present at last night's screening, and they asked the audience to spread the word if they liked the movie. I didn't just like it—it blew me away. My mind did not wander for a single second during the screening. Kim Rivers Rogers, the star of the show, didn't need to say it as she did in a song she wrote when she was depressed, but she's amazing. And her husband is less showy, but by the end of the movie, I was even more impressed with him. He shows a level head, which it seemed like he developed from the experience.
Go see it, if you can.