If you ever follow the curvy wayward Mississippi River, she’ll lead you right there. To a city with a real soul. The city of my birth place, New Orleans.
And if you’ve ever been there, then you already know there is no other place on earth quite like it.
But she has scars. Deep, terrible scars that we can’t quite forget. And while we’re slowly healing right along with her, I’d like to dedicate this blog post to the event that forever changed my life and so many others.
You can live in any city in America, but New Orleans is the only city that lives in you.
10 years later and half a world away, when my clients ask me where I’m from, the first thing they recall and ask me about is Hurricane Katrina. So here is a little about my experience and the 10 piratical life lessons it taught me.
1. Collect Experiences over things.
Could you imagine taking only a suit case of the most important sentimental things and forever loosing the rest? Some survivors of Katrina don’t even have that much and have had to start over from scratch.
If you’re anything like me, you know how easily it is to collect “stuff”. I bet you’ve even heard this advice before. I remember when the news started coming in over the emergency radio (Normal local radio was out because all of the stations and towers were gone). The places we knew and grew up around and in, completely gone. Just like that. Some as if they had never existed. Homes became empty skeletons of what they once were, littered with ruined personal possessions. People and loved ones missing. A bad situation becoming increasingly worse by the hour. Levee’s were breaking, flooding was out of control. Later we would see entire chunks of pavement were missing. Bridges knocked down as if a toddler had played dominoes. It was so hard to make sense of. It truly felt a bit like the end of the world. But when this happens your view changes really fast on what’s most important.
Don’t get me wrong, some things have extreme sentimental value. Especially when there are people and memories associated with them. Things, including photos can act as gateways and reminders to those memories, but memories and the experiences are what gives many of those things importance. Experiences keep with you forever and will always be shared with the people you had them with.
Katrina taught me to invest in less stuff and more experiences. That chaise lounge I’ve been dying to get can wait. Life doesn’t. I don’t want to have a home or life that is empty, but space for the things that are truly valuable. Even a bad experience can become a great story, adventure, or life lesson.
2. Learn how to Photograph Experiences
Today’s camera savvy visual world is uploading no less the 1.8 Billion photos a day. That’s a pretty big number. Since we’ve become digital it’s easier to do then ever, and less thought is given into making a photo special like we did when we were using costly film. Take it from a pro photographer who wants to celebrate every detail of life’s adventures, you don’t need 30 photos of your child sitting on a bench. Like with stuff, when we collect too many we become overwhelmed, and we miss the value of the really important ones.
Make a highlight reel. Choose only the best photos that truly remind you of an experience. Print them out, create albums, share them and let go of the out takes.
3. Back up those Photos!
You’ve heard it again and again, and you’ll hear it again. Have you done this yet? What are you waiting for?
Sadly, we can’t back up or always save all those precious little things that are important to us. You may not be susceptible to a hurricanes and as much as we love to think it will never happen to us, flooding, house fires, burglaries do happen. But we can back up photos of those things and memories. And that includes scanning in the older photos too.
When I say back up, I mean back up that back up! An external hard drive and online cloud are the 2 best banks you’ll ever invest in. It helps when you’ve got only the highlight reels to work with. Having a small portable device or hard drive is one way, but in the event of a house fire (water damage or burglary) and you’re unable to save those memories, you’ll realize that cloud is heaven sent!
A tip in getting started: Do the major life events first, such as weddings, births, graduations, and photos of loved ones who are no longer with us.
4. Back up Documents.
Medical, Birth records, graduation certificates, marriage licenses, special letters, writings, and recipes. These are just a few of the things people lost in hurricane Katrina. It’s easy to think that there will always be another copy out there some where online. Except, when there’s not. Many of the public and municipal buildings were flooded and suffered extensive damage and the original back ups were lost. Talk about a fiasco.
Like the photos, back them up! All you need is a scanner and some time, but if you choose the most important ones you couldn’t imagine living with out, it could really help someday.
Tip: Sip on some of Café du Monde’s savory iced coffee to help keep you cool and focused! And to be safe, add an additional safety password or lock.
5. Have an Emergency Fund.
Immediately after Katrina, the power was out and there was no access to online banking or ATMs. Desperate looting happened, but in other places people resumed business as best they could using cash. Insurance companies were completely inundated from the storm. No one ever really thinks about the extensive complications like not having clothes, habitation, food or enough money for those things.
I’m not talking about rainy day or play money. I’m talking about emergency money. Both a small stash of cash in your home and in the bank for living expenses from 2-6 months. It may sound silly or excessive to you, but one day, when and if you need it, you’ll be grateful that you decided to play it smart.
6. Have an Emergency Plan.
I don’t care if yours includes a zombie apocalypse scenario. Have a sit down with your family and discuss what to do when things go wrong. Where will you go, how will you meet up and reconnect? We sadly live in a world where terrorist attacks and large disasters both man made and natural have become the norm.
Don’t become a worry wart, just lay out a plan. Be prepared. Include smaller children on a need to know basis and maybe purchase some identity bracelets or tags for them. One of the most heart wrenching experiences of Katrina were parents who became separated when they gave their children to the last place in a helicopter.
7. Have an Emergency Kit.
We sat there in the fading light, keeping each other company in the humid silence, waiting. Hoping. Praying. In many ways, hurricanes are times for survival mode. You have to be careful with what you eat, what you drink, how much you ration. You have to be on alert for high winds, tornadoes, falling trees and floods because if a medical emergency arises, medical services might not be able to get to you.
My friends in Holland laugh at me because I still have a hurricane kit. This is a box of non perishables, such as canned and dried foods, bottled water, emergency medical supplies, candles, and the basic hygienic necessities. I slowly reuse and replace things as they get close to their expiration dates. They may laugh now, but when and if the time comes, you know who will be playing board games and enjoying tuna salad? Me.
8.Help how you can. But help!
Oklahoma was really my home away from home and I am forever grateful for the beautiful support network with some of the biggest hearts I have there. I was housed, clothed, fed and cared for. Before Katrina I had just relocated, moved and was starting university so was not at my proudest financial point in my life. Thanks to them, and despite not having much money after investing in all those university books and registration fees, I was finally able to do something. I immediately started helping to raise awareness, funds, and programs to get other displaced survivors the same luxuries I had.
Every little amount you can give helps. After the birth of my first son, I had found I more time due to my maternity leave when the 2011 Tsunami happened in Japan. It felt like Katrina mode all over again when I connected with 3 Japanese girls and together we, with Dutch businesses created an initiative for Japan Helpen Kan.
It’s easy to become numb or passive to all the things happening in the world today and even easier to become distracted with real life when it’s not us or some one we personally know facing extreme tragedy. Find a small or large way you can help when you can. Many small things add up to make a big difference in the lives of others. I’ve seen it personally from both ends.
9. Take part in your Community.
It’s really strange how disaster and loss can bring a community together. No city knows this better then New Orleans, the gulf coast and it’s surrounding cities. But taking interest and part in your community can help you stay aware and maybe even help to avoid mistakes in the future. You don’t necessarily even need be political yourself, but be involved where you can. Even if it’s from half a world away, say, in Amsterdam.
One of the best things to wake up to after having my beautiful son was the news that the Saints had won the Superbowl! If you ever find yourself in New Orleans (or any part of Louisiana) on a game day, you’ll be able to spot the outsiders and tourists pretty quick. Hint, they’re the ones not in black and gold.
10. Enjoy the Here and Now.
Enjoy the heck out of the hear and now. If there is one thing we’re really good at in the South… they will tell you: Indulge a little. Go on and embarrass yourself shaking it to some dirty funk and Jazz. Occasionally eat those cheesy grits and don’t pay mind to the 2 cups of full creme in them. Suck the head of a crawfish. Life is for living. Make those memories even if you don’t have a camera on you. Or if you do have your camera phone on you, don’t forget to put it down and live on the other side of the screen for awhile. There will always be good and bad times. Make the most of them! And like your favorite Louis Armstrong album, Repeat this list from one.