The worst street in the world- in New Orleans

•April 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment


The most embarrassing thing happened to me. It was one of those, “roaches don’t come until you have guest at your home” moments. Some colleagues of mine from Houston followed me to New Orleans in their car. I asked them if we could kindly stop at my house before making our final destination at the University of New Orleans. I slowly entered my street in the 7th Ward. I thought they would notice how slow I was going, and follow suit. They didn’t. About the time I maneuvered my way through our pot hole ridden street, I heard a terrible noise “scrap !#!#%!%# bang, “ I turned around and saw my friends getting out of the car to look. Not a good sign.

They, like hundreds of other amateur pot hole drivers didn’t make it 1/2 way through the block without the bottom of their car scraping against one of the sink holes in the street, which by the way, looked like an earth quake hit it – 10 years ago. This section of this street has put many cars out of commission. It is called the “build-in speed bump” by my neighbors.

This incident was a great embarrassment to me. I couldn’t blame Hurricane Katrina, because the streets had been like this for over 15 years. Each year it got worst and worst. About every 5 or so years the city would do a little patch up job. Kind of like putting a band aid over the wounds of an open heart surgery patient.

I wondered how the city went about choosing which streets to repair. A few have been repaired in the area. If those streets were worst than mine, I wouldn’t have a problem understanding that we would have to wait until our turn on my block. The truth is, the streets I have seen were nothing like my street. I wonder, did they pull straws or flip coins in the government to decide which streets to repair?

Oak Park is a pretty good area, with so much potential. We are a community that is near the bayou, near the lake and was greatly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. We are also in the fringes of Gentilly ( a historic area in New Orleans). For the life of me, I can’t understand why in the years I have lived in the area, my street has never been repaired.

Keith Oberman has the “Worst Persons in the World,” on MSNBC. Well, we have “The Worst Street In the World,” in New Orleans, Louisiana.

My solution:

Use some of the traffic light camera revenue Mr. Mayor and FIX THESE DARN STREETS

My Banana Story

•April 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment


Once about a time in the spring of 2001 I ventured off on my bike for a nice spring ride in my neighborhood in New Orleans. I noticed a stump of some kind just trashed in the front of a house I passed near the curve . I did a double take, and turned my bike around to take a closer look. I was a little curious because during that time I was interested in finding something new to plant in my barren yard. I was especially interested in bamboo plants, elephant ears and banana trees. These things grow so wild in this semitropical climate. Many folks dug up these trees in a vain attempts to control nature.

Looks like I hit the jack pot, I thought to myself. Upon closer inspection I was able to verify that it was a banana tree of some sort. There are so many different varieties grown in New Orleans. Heck, it could have been a plantain tree, I wouldn’t know until it bore fruit.

The stump of this banana tree was huge. I wondered, how in the world am I going to get this thing on the back of my bike. I was determined and wasn’t going to leave that place until that stump was on my bike or in my position in some form or fashion.

Someone neatly placed this tree on the curve. I finally commandeered a way to attach it on the back of my bike. As I rode home, I prayed that this big stump wouldn’t fall off. It was a challenge, keeping the bike balanced, but I did it.

I was so happy when I made it home with this wonderful prize. I have always seen these lovely Crescent City Banana trees gracefully adoring the yards of many people through out the city.

Let me tell you a quick story. One day my mother and I drove to the post office near city hall. I went out of the car for some reason and in front of me were the most beautifully ripped bananas just ready to be picked. As I recall this little story which took place in my youth so many yeas ago, I can almost picture the entire scene in slow motion. There I was reaching slowly for a nice ripe banana, and from a distance, I heard my mother screaming “Cara, noooooooo,” and my hands froze in time just before I touched those beauties- and the story ended. I have no recollection of what happened next. I have never seen those banana threes at city hall since those days.

Well now I finally had my own banana three, compliments of some unknown neighbor in the 7th Ward.

I planted the tree stump hoping it would take root and grow. I had no idea what to expect. It would have been wonderful to have a beautiful graceful tropical tree in my yard. I don’t know how long it took for that huge stump to take root, but once it did, there was no stopping it. This tree grew like crazy. To date I have never seen a banana tree as tall as this one. In fact , let me make a correction. This tree happened to be
something like a plantain and a banana mix.


The tree became my pride and joy. It bore so many countless bananas. It fed many birds and people. As one grew, a younger one was ready to take its place in my yard. I positioned this beautiful tree in different locations in my yard. In the front, back, side of the house.
Right before I left New Orleans my wonderful tree was loaded with about 50 bananas or more. I cut the branch, and sat the entire stalk on my kitchen counter top. I don’t know why I did this. It was the last time I saw this tree alive. After Katrina all my banana trees died. I prayed that they would return to their glorious state one day after the earth settled, and was cleansed after the toxic stew left by Hurricane Katrina.

Year one, no banana trees in site, year two, no banana trees, year three none.

The irony of this story is that when I came home on one of my numerous visits recently four years after Hurricane Katrina, I noticed a banana tree growing in my neighbors yard. Some how one of my banana tree had made its way through its root system in the neighbor’s yard. I asked myself many questions as I look at MY BANANA tree. I was a little ticked off. The darn thing even had the nerve to position itself in between the fence and the neighbor’s unfinished garage in clear sight for me to see, but not them.

Upon close inspection I noticed one of my red banana trees had come up. After four years. This was the one given to me by a dear neighbor who had left the area after Hurricane Katrina and sold her home.

I had already planted new banana trees given to me by my neighbor Anita.
I walked around the corner and helped Anita dig up about four red banana trees. I placed these trees in the same spot my other ones had grown.

Post note:

I just located these old pictures and this lovely story I wrote many years ago. I updated it a little as I remembered. I added the story about my mother and I. I thought I had lost these photos with the storm. By chance I had them stored in an old computer.

My yard was like a part of my soul. It was my refuge.

see more:

Thank God Starbucks don’t dominate here

•March 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

img_0251I am back in New Orleans again only after 2 weeks. After sending some friends off to Houston and not really ready to turn in I visited a popular coffee spot in the city called CC’s which stands for Community Coffee. Community Coffee has a manufacturing plant here and imports its famous coffee that is probably well over 100 years old.

This joint is located on Esplanade St. in the By-Water area, a part of the city I really like. It was opened when I arrived and I had cappuccino and a biscotti (with pistachios). Read a paper checked my messages on the blackberry and enjoyed the place throughly.

I overhead an African American lady talking about show biz in LA, the ins and outs. Yes I was listening. She was so loud the entire place could hear her. I think she was interviewing someone for a camera position. She might be a producer, wasn’t sure. When I saw the DV camera neatly placed on the table, as if to tell everyone walking by ” look at me I am important.” I decided two could play that game so I went to the car and got my camera. Not to show off, but to go through the shots of the day to delete the ones that I didn’t like so I wouldn’t waste time doing it later.

I wanted so badly to take a photograph indoors, but I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. This place has an interesting shape. It is like a shotgun house in an odd shape that seems to get smaller towards the back of the coffee shop.

This is a really hot spot for all sorts of people from the police the the previous mayor. It is usually crowded on the outside, but it had been extremely windy that day. I didn’t have a tripod, but decided to take a photograph from outside. A fisheye / wide angle lens would have been so great at that moment. I just couldn’t get angle I needed.

CC’s is located in a historical part of the city. Very close to the first American French Impressionist Degas’s house. You will find the same style of homes found Uptown. You won’t find Starbucks on this block or the next one.

Missing New Orleans on a Monday

•March 20, 2009 • Leave a Comment

My emotions are catching up to me. I have this deep feeling to come home to New Orleans, but I am asked about the possible of another hurricane, as if New Orleans is as disposable as a piece of toilet paper- so I counter, by asking them, “how about another earth quake in California” or “a tornado in Kansas, or another Hurricane Ike in Houston?” I don’t see anyone telling folks in California to leave because of “the big one” (earthquake) coming in the future, nor do they tell people in Houston, or the majority of the large American cities that are in the flood zones to leave. These same people complain about the government helping New Orleans (what a joke), as if we are some 3rd world nation inconveniently located in the middle of America. Do they complain when the oil fields in Louisiana sends their state oil in the winter?
If you are not from New Orleans, then I know you can’t possible comprehend the magnetic force that pulls us New Orleanians back. We are like no other people in the United States you have encountered. Our culture is different, even our people to some extent look and sound different. Our culture has touched many places. I have even seen Tabasco hot sauce in Chennai, India. Houston calls it’s self the bayou city – um I will leave that one alone. I see cajun restaurants all over this city. There is even a beignet restaurant. Where do you think Jazz came from, or even Gumbo and Praline? We certainly have our own issues, such as political corruption, crime, education and high poverty rates, never-the-less, there is no denying that New Orleans is an enigma.

I have this tremendous urge to be around people from New Orleans, share with them, tell them my story,hear their stories, tell them how much I miss New Orleans, how much I miss my neighbor, Mrs. Mc Conduit’s muddy Mississippi Community Coffee (just like the kind my mother used to make), how much I miss her oranges, and those Chinese Plums (Loquats or Askadinya) she used to raise in her yard. Those bags of grapefruits in their own season, her stories, her sassy advice, her good old southern cooking, her strength her pride. (she is now 80 years old)

I watched the film about the Faubourg Treme’. And I am glad I watched it alone before I invited others . It was very personal, and touching indeed. It was like having a conversation with an old timer in your neighbor who has been around for a long time. This film made me proud to be a part of the New Orleans African American legacy.

I spoke to a few of my neighbors on my last visit, like always. “Hey ya’ll,” (New Orleans dialect) they want us all to come back home. We can share together, build together and start a new reconstruction era, a new black renaissance , a cultural and intellectual awakening. All we have to do is look back at our history , it wouldn’t be the first time.

Something is happening right under our very feet. Others have another idea about New Orleans. The real estate developers are buying up New Orleans like crazy, while the residents struggle to find their way back home, or rebuild their homes even after 4 years. The poor were doomed from the start. The powers were salivating at the opportunity to finally tear down the St. Bernard Project. Even I had a different take on it at one time. I do realize a home is a home, no matter what part of the city a person comes from. What happened to the residents of St. Bernard Project was a crying shame.

This American nation has no idea what the country is loosing if they loose New Orleans to corporatism. Those big ideas are tearing neighborhoods a part, tearing away at the fabric of our culture, our identify. Once corporatism takes its ugly roots, our city will be another Starbuck cookie cutter city in the U.S.A . end of story. All we will have are salvaged photographs and jacked up videos we sent to that cousin in Chicago of the last Mardi Gras, or a second line on South Claiborne in the Treme’. Memories, that’s all, just memories.

I remember the days when my mom used to take me to Drydes St. where all of the Black businesses were located. There was a children’s clothing store called JoAnn’s. I am shocked that I actually remembered the name (with out even thinking). The lady that owned the place would always measure me with her eyes in some mystic way to determine my size. She didn’t get it right all of the time, but these old timers had an art for just looking at a person and knowing their size. The old timers at Krauss would get an old measuring tape, and at JoAnn’s the lady would come back with all sorts of clothes for me to try on. Maison Blanche wasn’t so old fashion in my day. I really didn’t like these shopping trips for clothes too much. Id’s rather be home playing with the kids on the streets in the 3rd ward- uptown near the Magnolia. ( if you are from this place I need no explanations), or around the corder at the snowball stand contributing to future cavities, and some rich kid’s education- because those darn showballs were sweeter than sugar cane in the French Market.

Back in the day a child was free, we didn’t worry about the things in today’s world. Even though times have changed in America, New Orleans was always a place that time forgot.

Those were the good old days.


Just a redbone, uptown girl turned 7th ward girl.


emerge past katrina

•March 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This blog represents a personal journey though the post Katrina’s recovery. I will share my story, thoughts, observations, news, projects, videos and photographs as I emerge through this process victorious. For the nation, Katrina is just yesterday’s news, for me and so many others, the recovery process lives on.

Sadly the city of New Orleans has lacked in repairs

•March 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

In the case of New Orleans, one could argue that it is like the tale to two cities- one for the residents, and one for the tourist.

I can go to certain parts of the city where there has been no change in the condition of the streets in over 15 years -including this Oak Park neighborhood. You might think I am talking about a poor area, quite contrary, this street is actually in a nice neighborhood. The city seems to always find enough funds to make repairs or make improvements in areas that are not even 1/2 as bad as this one.

Visiting the French Quarters would leave a typical tourist to believe that New Orleans is moving on quite nicely. All it would take to enlighten the public was a trip in the neighborhoods outside of the tourist hotspots to realize that many homes are still vacant, and the streets are in poor condition through out the city. Note, this is not to be blamed completely on Hurricane Katrina. This particular street pictured has been in decrepit condition for over 15 years. I can attest to the patience and perseverance of the people in the Oak Park Neighborhood.

In the city’s defense, I could say that they have quite a job on their hands, however I could also say that they have allowed real estate developers the opportunity to go on a buying frenzy. Certainly these purchases only serve corporate interest who only care about making big profits, and don’t really have a vested interest in the well being of our historic city.

I am also hearing very negative things about the City Council from friends. They are complaining about laws and city ordinances that don’t really encourage the right of return of the citizens of New Orleans. They believe that the ordinances serve as obstacles, and thorns in the sides of New Orleanians who only want to rebuild, and return to the city.

I heard of laws that fines homeowners for tall grass, bans on trailers within city limits, in addition to excess fees on Sewerage and Water board bills, higher energy cost.
I hope that the city leaders realize who they are in office to serve. Special interest or corporate interest is short term, serving the interest of the people benefits the city, and the nation in preserving one of American’s hidden treasures, the culturally unique city of New Orleans.

Looks Like I am moving back home

•February 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

img_9592_1I came to Houston after the storm hit. I was in Baton Rouge for the worst part of Katrina. All of the ugliness unfolded during that period. I went through a few transitions however fortunately, I found stability early on. After 4 years, I am still living in the same apartment I moved in after about one and a half months in limbo.

It took some time to adjust to Houston because it was so different than New Orleans. Houston was a huge city, within a city, within a metropolis. Every section of the city seem to have a mini business district equipped with tall buildings and shops. The highways were massive, and quite intimidating coming from a 2- 3 lane highway in New Orleans. Houston was constantly building and growing and expanding. It is not possible to see that kind of development in New Orleans .

After I settled in and adjusted to Houston I was determined not to return to New Orleans. I’ve been there and done that before. New Orleans represented the unchanging past. There was so much deep pain and hopelessness post Hurricane Katrina with everyone.

We were all scattered all over the place from cit to city, just trying to cope and swollen the pill of reality. I thought people who had ventured to stay in New Orleans were crazy, and out of their minds. There was so much chaos and political drama in the city. There was a military presence as well. People were still dealing with some of the horrible things that had taken place in the city, and it was morbid.

I passed the landmarks seen on TV at the heart of the crisis. Places where dead bodies floated. Places where people begged for food and water. I can’t get that picture out of my mind every time I pass the Convention Center. I can’t forget how the Police Chief ordered the removal of everyone’s guns in the most insane moments following Hurricane Katrina. Eddie Compass you should have known better, Ray Nagin you should have known better.

What was more shocking about this period was the amount of anarchy and police abuse going on. I got so sick of it and pretty soon I just tuned it out. I was determine not to return to the city for some time. I did not go to my house until January.

I had a lot of work to do. I had to mentally prepare myself for the trip. I really did. I can recall how far reaching Hurricane Katrina was, and two weeks or so Hurricane Rita hit. I had to drive pass Lake Charles LA, and other towns that were smashed by these storms. It was amazing the gradual damage I saw leading up to New Orleans.

I never forget passing the swamp near Boute before entering Kenner. My heart beat faster and faster. The city of Kenner looked horrible. Hundreds of signed polluted the ground. It was an unbelievable site to see.

I drove down Veterans Highway. Taking the long way home. My eyes could not believe the site of Metarie, LA. I said if Metarie looks like this God help me. The place looked like a war zone. You could see the water lines on each house with mud and yuck mixed together. I call it yuck because I don’t know what that crap was. As I made my approach to West End Blv. and then to Robert E. Lee.

It was like the Trail of Tears. I just didn’t recognized the foreign place. Trash was piled up to the sky on West End. Blv. and the smell was like a toilet that hadn’t been flushed for weeks. It was so horrible and thick. I needed a face mask just to leave my car. The stench was unbearable.

My neighbor tried to get me mentally prepared to enter my home. I entered my house and was horrified at the site. I didn’t cry or shed a tear because I was in shock and had mentally prepared myself for the worst.

For 4 years I hungered to find my place in Houston. I had met a lot of people (mainly Muslims). I quickly worked on building a life for myself here, as well as building Iqra Newspaper. I opened an office last year, however when the lease ran out I decided to pack my bags and retreat.

The economy was so uncertain, and I felt I just couldn’t get the type of support I needed to make this thing work. The city was just too divided across cultural lines, and there had not been a paper quite like Iqra who tried to tear down those walls that divide. It was also my goal to create something that Americans – whether Muslim or not could relate to.

It was just not enough to sustain an office, and I didn’t want to take a risk of getting deeper in a financial hole. Since I no longer had the lease to worry about, I began to rethink my presence in Houston.

It took forever and a day for the Road To Home program to process my application. But you know there is an old saying. God doesn’t always come when you want, but He is right on time. Well, it seems that the timing was right.

I went to New Orleans a few days after about an 8 month hiatus. I felt a release in my soul. Something just felt right. I had a good talk with the neighbors, something that is just unheard of in Houston (with a few exceptions). They urged me to come back home. This time I listened.

All of the things I searched for, the outdoor coffee shops, the sense of cultural belonging, the water within walking distance from my home, the yard the house were all there in New Orleans. New Orleans felt like a new frontier with so much potential only if people took advantage of it.

I visited a public housing project that had been torn down. I photographed this place on each trip. I also filmed a bit on the last trip and was determined to film the progress of the demolitions and rebuilding. I lucked upon some previous St. Bernard Housing residents who just passed by in a car to see their old home. The scene really touched me like never before.

I spoke with them while they were still in the car. It was about 4 family members I believe. They spoke on camera about their feelings. I could feel the pain in their voice of loosing their homes. I really couldn’t understand it before. In a 7th ward elitist perspective, I felt it was just a project. Why would someone want to return to the ghetto! Why not use this opportunity to get out of the St. Bernard. I now understood that they were no different than me. They lost and I lost. They wanted to regain something I was looking for in Houston and couldn’t find. This was their home. Who was I to judge?

I wrote a company about rebuilding. The lady told me she would advise me to move out of New Orleans. She just couldn’t see the sense of returning to a Hurricane prone area. She said nothing about Houston’s venerability and you know I mentioned it, but that isn’t the point.

New Orleans is a city like no other in America. The history is rich, the city is unique and old. It brings you back a few hundred years. The culture is different, the homes have their own style, the food is the best in the United States. People come from all over the world to experience New Orleans. My memories are here, my childhood…..

I am returning to New Orleans for the time being. Only God knows what lies ahead. I want to emerge myself in the community. Giving something back. I told that lady in the car that I would make sure the world knows about the St. Bernard Housing and the people’s saga. I would like to make a documentary about it. In the process of rebuilding my home and my life.


See photographs of before and after the St. Bernard Housing project in Flickr img_9508