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Creekbank Stories: Stories Worth Telling
A word from Curt
It means exhaustion.
An inability (or desire) to stop.
An unwillingness to not go on.
A refusal to go back.
Today’s story compares storm fatigue on two continents.
I’ve seen this emotion on folks all along our Louisiana coast and beyond.
From Venice to Grand Isle to Pecan Island to Holly Beach, Johnson’s Bayou and onto Texas.
It followed the epidemic of hurricanes we experienced in the last decade.
This past year, I saw that same shattered look in the eyes of Dinka, Nuer, Murle, Anuak, Bari, and more.
The following story links those heartbroken people together.
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I’d suspected it when the tall Dinka woman was putting the finishing mud touches on a granary at Mirle Camp.
She was planning on being here a long time. She had storm fatigue.
I asked, “When will you go home?”
“I won’t be going home.”
She kicked at the red soil. “This is where I’ll be.”
Most of these refugees had been here before. They’d filtered home in the years after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
They’d left camps like Mirle.
Or exile in Khartoum, northern Sudan’s capital.
Shelters in Ethiopia and tukuls in the Kenya desert.
Even many of those who’d settled in Europe or North America returned to help build the New Sudan.
They came home full of optimism.
They finally had their own country, free of the Arab Islamic North.
Many of the younger ones had never been to South Sudan. All of their lives had been spent as refugees.
Now, with their new country only two-and-one-half years old, civil war had erupted.
Many of the refugees were back at places they’d never expected to see again.
Had hoped not to see again.
Their dreams shattered. Their hopes gone. I recall Poppa Pipe. That’s what I call him. One look at the photos above tells you all you need to knowabout his name. He’s Dinka from Upper Nile State—scene of the some of the worst of the fighting. Knowing the situation and his age, he’ll probably never touch the soil of South Sudan again.
It’s storm fatigue.
And it makes me think of Cameron Parish, Louisiana.
Cameron Parish lies in the extreme southwest of our state, about seventy-five miles south of my piney woods hometown. But it’s a thousand miles away in culture and geography.
It’s a beautiful, lonely place.
Much of the parish is marshland with the population living on natural ridges called cheniers.
It’s a haven for waterfowl, seafood, and fish. The small population consists of hardy Cajuns who love their homeland dearly and cling to their independent lifestyle.
Cameronites are the kind of people that may be hard to get to know, but once you know them, easy to love.
Up until 2005, Cameron Parish residents divided life into “Before and After the Storm.”
The Storm was Hurricane Audry.
The time was late June 1957.
Books have been written about the hurricane and what happened.
Over 600 people lost their lives when the storm swept in and the rising water trapped residents. Every family lost someone close.
It changed Cameron Parish.
Some folks moved north, never to return. Most returned and rebuilt their lives. Many, as insurance, bought homes in our upland inland area. A place to go when the storms came.
I recall the lines of a song about the Cajuns, “Acadian Driftwood”:
Some stayed on to finish what they started.
They never parted, they’re just built that way.
The next fifty years were mostly kind to Cameron Parish.
Most hurricanes veered to the east or west.
Several clipped the area but there was nothing like Audry. Life carried on as “before Audry” and “after Audry.”
Until Summer 2005.
Louisiana was dealt two blows on its eastern and western borders. Youknow all about Katrina and New Orleans.
Katrina didn’t even bring rain to Cameron Parish.
But rain came three weeks later when Hurricane Rita hit SW Louisiana.
Cameron Parish was in the storm’s sights. Fortunately, there was no loss of human life. Older residents hadn’t forgotten Audry and evacuated early.
After Rita, most returned to find their towns and villages were devastated.
Even the marshes were changed forever. Salt water now existed where it had never been.
They began rebuilding their churches, stores, schools, and homes. Everything was built according to new building codes, hopefully putting dwellings above the flood line.
Then in 2008,Hurricane Ike came ashore to the west of Cameron Parish, directly striking Galveston, Texas. Even though the SW Louisiana coast was spared the strongest winds of Ike, the flooding was worse than Rita.
Hundreds of newly constructed homes and businesses went under. This time Storm Fatigue set in.
Many people had had enough. They just didn’t go back.
That’s what we’re seeing in the South Sudan camps. Storm fatigue. They’d had enough.
Observing the difficulty of refugee camp life, DeDe said it best, “For people to willingly live and stay here makes me wonder how horrible were the things they fled.”
There is one group that still plans to return. It’s the young people.
I’ve always loved teenagers and enjoyed being around them. Every refugee camp has a group of teen boys. They have a hard look when you first meet them. But as we sat among them and listened, one thing became apparent: their desperation to resume their education.
They know camp life has little future for them. They must get back in school. Somewhere. Soon.
I asked them the same question. “Will you go home?”
Every one of them, without exception, replied, “Oh, yes. Not now. But later when things get better, we will go home.”
They also glance northward. “South Sudan is our home. We will go home.”
They look to a future when the storm has passed and storm fatigue is only a memory.
This wonderful photo by our colleague, JoAnn Bradberry, is a favorite of all.
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To our Louisiana friends: what Katrina/Rita/etc story do you still tell?