“REALLY, why would you move to Baton Rouge?” My dear friend Dana asked me in total shock “WHY would you leave a comfortable lifestyle here in North Carolina? What about your house? Your friends? This makes NO sense!” she said without blinking.
That was right after I told her I decided to relocate with IBM to Baton Rouge in May of 2013. Honestly, I did not know what to expect, where I was going to live, and did not know anyone there. I even had to search online to find where Baton Rouge was located. One-by-one, my friends, just like Dana, were calling to ask the same questions with the same shock. Simply put, I decided to move because I was offered a great role with IBM. It was my dream job so I accepted it without considering the location as a factor in my decision process.
Then, two years after my move to Baton Rouge, I resigned from IBM and start my own business. However, I decided to stay in Baton Rouge and that decision prompted shocked questions on a daily basis from friends and even total strangers:
“Why did you decide to stay in our city?” “You could’ve picked anywhere in the world to live…WHY Baton Rouge?”
My answer was always along the lines of this: “There is something about this city that I love. It feels like home to me, and I have not experienced this feeling since I left Jordan twenty years ago,” I laughed and told them afterwards, “I am Cajun at heart.”
The truth is that I love the people here: their generosity, their year-round festivities, the uniqueness of their culture, and their food. However, There was something so special about this place that I could never vocalize to people.
It wasn’t until two weeks that it all became clear to me what that special aspect of Baton Rouge was. On August 12, dark, menacing rain clouds rolled in and covered Baton Rouge and surrounding cities. Later, these clouds began to hammer large, swelling raindrops onto our city. We thought it was just a normal thunderstorm…but we were wrong. By the very next day, most of Baton Rouge was consumed by floodwater. Families had to evacuate with very little notice. Homes, cars, valuable possessions, furniture, clothes, school supplies, memories, hopes, and dreams were all lost to this flood overnight for tens of thousands of people.
Baton Rouge’s response to this tragedy has made me realize why I love this city so much and why I decided to stay. This community is resilient and strong yet full of compassion and generosity for the people who live here and total strangers as well.
Despite the devastation from the flood, I have seen my community rise above that devastation. During the flooding, locals, later dubbed the ‘Cajun Navy,’ took out their boats to rescue people stranded in their homes. Community members have opened their dry homes to the families that were impacted. They are donating money, food, clothes, and anything that is needed to insure that the shelters have enough supplies to support the 30,000 people that were rescued. Total strangers showed up to help people clean and gut their homes. No one waited for the state or federal government to rescue or help their friends, family, and neighbors. Instead, everyone, and I mean everyone, took immediate action to be part of the solution, to extend a helping hand, and to rise above the flood together.
Before the flooding tragedy, I couldn’t put my finger on what it is that tied my heart to Louisiana. However, when I saw this community respond to devastation, my heart felt like it was being tugged on from whatever it’s tied to, and my eyes even become teary. Not just because it’s a sad situation, but mainly because my community is moved by something greater than themselves as individuals. The compassion and love for our community goes far beyond race, religion, gender, and other identities. Because of that overwhelming feeling, I couldn’t help but be filled with love and pride.
I love Louisiana for its joie de vivre, its delicious food and its unique culture. However, I’ve made Louisiana my home because the people here have embraced me, and they have now shown that there is nothing they won’t do to support their neighbor in hard times and uplift their community.
Now, I am calling to the global community to help this beautiful place. Many of you have experienced Louisiana’s culture when you visited and have told me how much you loved it. Also, many of you have been dreaming of visiting our beautiful state. If you have experienced Louisiana, dream to one day, or even understand this feeling of pride and belonging somewhere else, I’m asking you to help my community. Louisiana needs you. We need all the help we can get from everyone in order to recover from this terrible flood and to stand up again dry, rebuilt and proud.
I ask you to extend your generosity to my community, to my people, friends, and loved ones here. I ask that you take the time to donate whatever amount you can afford. Here is a link to a fund that is helping with the recovery efforts. If instead you wish to contribute directly to local families, just email me and I will be more than delighted to connect you.
The Cajun Middle Easterner