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New Orleans in Need of Chicago’s hope
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 @ 12:43:25 CST by kwpnews

RavenNuke(tm)

 

                     

                 Chicago: The City of Barack Obama  and  New Orleans : A city Devastated by Katrina 

            

By: Muhammad bin Yusuf
 
 
After coming back from our overseas vacation in April, 2008, my wife and I were wondering where we could spend the remaining one week vacation that we had without costing us too much money (because we were broke).  I suggested that we visit Chicago and New Orleans, both world class cities - one was becoming more and more popular as the city that had produced, in our life time, one of the most eloquent and charismatic politicians, and one that could potentially be the Democratic Party nominee for the Presidency of the United States.  The other city made popular by Katrina in 2005 when it was hit by one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history. 


We left Toronto the first Saturday of October, 2008.  Chicago is only about 840km from Toronto, and so in about 8 hours we arrived there.  The downtown (also called “The Loop”) is absolutely amazing, it is beautiful, it is clean, and it is certainly a world class city.  Chicago has a reputation of being a "violent" city that one would think gun shots will be a norm from every corner of the vast metropolis, and therefore make it feel unsafe to walk its streets.

However, the streets of downtown Chicago, in particular North Michigan Avenue (also called “The Magnificent Mile”) are virtually packed with people and you feel as safe as the word safe means.  One thing that we noticed immediately was that there were not as many black people as we expected.  At some point we had to stop a young black lady and share our disappointment.  She said that we should go to the South Side of Chicago.  We told her that we had in fact planned to go there the next day to visit the predominantly black neighbourhood, including a visit to Barack Obama’s house. She was happy to hear that.

 
The next day our day did indeed start on the South Side of Chicago. Sure enough, the majority of people were definitely black.  We truly felt at home!  In some neighbourhoods, it was all black.  The South Side covers a huge geography with so many neighbourhoods - poor, middle class, and affluent.  One of the most distinguished universities in fact is found on the South Side, the University of Chicago. 
 
We were able to track down Barack Obama's house and actually put the address in our GPS.  But when we got to the beginning of his block, we saw a police car blocking the way.  We drove around to the other side of the street and there was another police car blocking the end of the street.  So we realized that portion of the street with about 20 houses was out of bound.  I got off the car and went to speak with one of the officers.  She said that since Obama won the Democratic Party nomination, there was security round the clock. 
 
They only allowed people who lived on the street to go in and out.  I pleaded my case that we were coming from all the way in Canada and we wanted to see the home of Barack who maybe the next President of the U.S. of A.  But she apologetically declined us.  From where we stood we could barely see the house due to the trees along the street. I predict that The Obama House will be declared by the government, at some point, a National Historic Landmark – tourists will be able to see Malia and Sasha’s room, the TV that Michelle used to watch Barack when he gave some of those victory speeches during the Primaries and Barack’s study where he wrote some of those electrifying speeches.
 
We did, however, see the beautiful house of Minister Louis Farrakhan which is pretty much in the same neighbourhood.  We also visited a Sunni mosque, not far from Obama’s house.  According to the Imam, the land was bought, by among others, Muhammad Ali, the Champion.  The Civil Rights Leader, Rev. Jesse Jackson also lives on the South Side. 
 
Still on the South Side, we went to one Supermarket just to check it out.  As we had suspected everybody was black, the customers and the staff although it’s on a major road (South Stony Island Avenue). We felt very at home but you wondered why there were no White customers. When all is said and done, Chicago (also known as the Windy City) is a beautiful city, but it does have a high crime rate. 
 
This year it’s estimated that there will be a total of 500 murders (so far it’s up 18% from last year)! The most violent month this year was July when there were 62 murders! There was one weekend in April where 40 people were shot (probably not all them died). In the last school year, 29 youth were killed by gunfire! Most of the killings involve gangs, drugs, and turf; although a lot of time innocent people are caught in the crossfire! Other violent crimes (including aggravated batteries with a firearm) are in the thousands annually. The press is dubbing Chicago, “Beirut by the Lake.”
 
We also went to the Flea Market on the South Side.  One of the vendors that was interesting to talk to was an old but very wise African-American man.  He is a veteran after having retired from the US Military.  He was posted to various places when he was serving, including Morocco.  He was speaking about McCain, and he told us, "Heroes don't get captured!  Only fools do!"  Of course, he was referring to McCain’s capture in Vietnam. 
 
 I thought about that for a long time, and I concluded that he is absolutely right.  You know Americans generally have a weird way of concluding who a "hero" is.  But this old man (who was truly a very kind man by the way, he gave my wife a gift when he learnt that we were visiting from Toronto), he put a whole different perspective of what a hero is, or a non-hero for that matter.  He, like many other African-Americans, was looking forward to witnessing the victory of Barack in four weeks time.
 
We concluded our two day visit to Chicago by visiting the Shedd Aquarium near the South Side, along the shores of Lake Michigan.  Not only is the aquarium building architecturally beautiful, the water creatures in it are so diverse and from different parts of the world - from Lake Victoria in Kenya to the waters of Australia.  It is considered to be the largest indoor aquarium in the world.  Its oldest resident is a lungfish from Australia which was brought to the aquarium in 1933.  It was a pleasure to see a fish that is 75 years old!  This fish was brought to this aquarium the same year that one of the most distinguished African Thinkers, Prof. Ali A. Mazrui, was being born in Mombasa, Kenya. 
 
The aquarium is certainly one of those "must see" if and when one visits Chicago.  And Chicago's lakefront is certainly beautiful and you can “take it all in” from just outside the aquarium.  We also visited the tallest building in the United States, the Sears Tower (108 Stories).  The Sears Tower was designed by Dr. Fazlur Rahman Khan.  This talented Muslim-American who died in 1982 is regarded as the "Einstein of Structural Engineering" and he is considered "the greatest structural engineer in the second half of the 20th century." Dr. Khan also designed the 100-story, The John Hancock Center, at 875 North Michigan Avenue, also in downtown Chicago.
 
By the way, when it comes to eating, Khan BBQ Restaurant, located on Devon Avenue in kind of "Little Pakistan", is an excellent place to sit down for Halal South Asian dinner.
 
We left Chicago for New Orleans with a one night stop over in Nashville (Chicago – Nashville 750km; Nashville – New Orleans 850km).  In New Orleans we were determined to basically accomplish three things - visit the hardest hit region by Hurricane Katrina - the lower 9th Ward; the famous French Quarter; and drive along the longest bridge (38.42km long) - Lake Pontchartrain Causeway - which we did.  It's just hard to imagine a bridge almost 40km long!  This famous port city is located on the banks of the Mississippi River.  The other name for New Orleans is "The Big Easy"; the name fits perfectly well with the non-hectic life that the city enjoys and for being the birth place of Jazz.  Probably the most famous Jazz musician is Louis Armstrong, considered to be a founding father of Jazz, or at least one of those who put Jazz on the world stage.  The New Orleans International Airport is named after him.
 
The French Quarter is the oldest and most famous neighbourhood in New Orleans.  The architecture is breathtaking.  Paris has probably the best architecture my wife and I have ever witnessed, but within the United States the French Quarter is absolutely unique and truly historical.  Ironically, the architecture since 1794 is really Spanish following huge fires in 1788 and 1794 that destroyed almost the entire city. 
 
The thing that we probably appreciated the most was the elaborate ironwork on the galleries of these historical buildings - most of them are residents on the two top floors while the bottom floor is filled with stores.  Some parts of this historic district were slightly flooded during Katrina, but at this time we could not really see any evidence of the damage.  It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. 
 
Within the French Quarter there are hotels, motels, outdoor restaurants, shops, and historic streets.  You can catch live Jazz music at some of the outdoor restaurants while having lunch or dinner.  At the outdoor market, a few of the vendors were South Asian Muslims, and there were even fewer black vendors. By the way, a good Middle Eastern restaurant in New Orleans where you can get delicious Halal food is Cleopatra Restaurant.
 
Finally, we visited the part of city that was hit the hardest by one of the worst Hurricanes in U.S. history - the Lower 9th Ward; it is a neighbourhood which is part of the Ninth Ward.  The Lower Ninth Ward covers an area of about 4 square kilometres and at the time of Katrina in 2005 there were about 5,000 houses (the population was around 18,000 residents).  As it is now, we drove block after block, and 99% of the houses are still abandoned over 3 years later. 
 
 It is said that only 1,000 residents have come back, that’s how painfully slow the rebuilding is! It is literally like a "Ghost" town.  You could not help but think how on earth the U.S. Federal government was going all over the world poking its nose into various countries - destroying and wanting to "rebuild" cities like Baghdad, when they have refused to rebuild one of its most historic cities!  You will just be amazed seeing the houses the way they were destroyed three years ago as if the hurricane just hit the previous week!
 
Some of the residents, the few who have had their houses rebuild either by themselves, or their churches, or private organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Make It Right, when you asked them what they thought of their Federal government.  Their response was, "what government?"  And some of them (e.g., an old lady whose house was among the first to be rebuilt by her church) will go on to say that the flooding was "man made", i.e., it was the government engineers that created the problem in the first place by purposely causing a breach of the levees especially in the lower 9th ward, the poorest area of New Orleans in order to cause other affluent areas to get less water! 
 
Over 1,800 died, about 1,600 from the state of Louisiana (majority from New Orleans of course, and lower 9th ward in particular), and about 250 in the state of Mississippi.  There were very few deaths, if any, in Alabama and Florida.  Over 700 were considered missing.  The total damage was estimated at over $80 billion.
 
One organization, Make It Right Foundation, founded by the Hollywood star, Brad Pitt (Angelina Jolie's husband) is in the forefront of raising funds to start rebuilding some houses. His ultimate goal in the first phase is to build a total of 150 houses on stilts. So far they have built about 10 houses, all energy efficient homes (and they have collected funds for 90 houses).  One house was just about to finish and in about three days Melba and her husband were supposed to move in.  In fact just the day before we arrived there, Melba and others told us that Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney and other stars were in the neighbourhood to see the progress of the construction.
 
Now just behind Melba's house, you could see the new concrete levee over 7 feet high.  We also met Mr. Robert Green, whose mother, Joyce Green, and his three year old grand-daughter, Shanai Green, were killed by the flood waters outside their own home on 29th August, 2005 when their home was swept away.  Joyce whose nickname was Hilda was 73 years old (born: 8th Nov., 1931).  She was actually trying to save her great grand-daughter, Shanai, from being washed away when both of them ended dead.  
 
Mr. Green has set up a temporary memorial where their house once stood (he now has a trailer which is his new home).  The nicely curved stone with the names of the two victims says, "Till the end of time, we miss and love you both."  And next to the stone was an "Obama '08" lawn sign.  And another sign which is probably a statement that Mr. Green was sending to himself and to the world, says, "I am Home! I will rebuild!  I am New Orleans!" We also saw, in another part of the city, the Louisiana Superdome, which came to international prominence when it sheltered thousands of Katrina victims.
 
People were hopeful that an Obama presidency will be good for the residents of Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans in general.  I truly hope that they are right because they truly deserve to have their homes rebuilt by a government that knew for decades that the levees were not strong enough to withstand a category 5 hurricane, and every administration has refused to deal with the issue until Katrina came and caused more damage than what it would have cost to prevent it!
 
In conclusion, as we now know, on 4th Nov., 2008, Barack Obama, a Luo from Kenya, a first generation African-American, was elected to the highest office in the United States.  Good for him and hopefully good for the country and the world. 
 
As President, will he deliver what he promised?  Well, we just have to wait and see.  My concern is certainly on Foreign Policy as opposed to Domestic Policy.  I cannot wait to hold him accountable on four things - the closure of the prison in Guantanamo Bay and give the detainees their day in court on mainland USA; the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq; U.S. sitting down with Iran in a setup of mutual respect.  
 
Finally, see what he will accomplish on the issue of a "two-state solution living side by side" – Israel and Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem. We shall see if the U.S. Foreign Policy will be Obamafied (Obamanized) in the next four years, or will it continue on the same path it has been for the last 60 years?
 
In our lifetime so far, I think we have only seen two politicians who captivated and electrified the masses in every corner of the world, and for one reason or another both have been black - Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. Coincidentally, both became the first black president for their respective countries, and both inspired and touched the hearts of every race in every country.  And both countries have had a history of being among the most, if not the most racist towards black people. 
 
 Mandela left the presidency and he has remained very popular and a world citizen darling.  I truly hope that when Barack concludes his presidency in four or eight years, he will equally remain very popular and world citizen darling.
 
All in all, my wife and I had a splendid trip after driving a total of 5,250km in one week.
 
 

The Writer is an avid traveller and commentator of African and Middle Eastern politics & social issues

 

 


New Orleans in Need of Chicago’s hope | Login/Create an Account | 1 comment | Search Discussion
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Re: New Orleans in Need of Chicago’s hope (Score: 1)
by Mujahid on Thursday, November 13, 2008 @ 19:42:28 CST
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Kenya Weekly Post,

Mr. Muhammad Bin Yusuf, thank you very much to share with us your experiences and insights. Very well articulated.

M. Jahazi




 
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