Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog

Akeel, Peteh, and Asante, smiling thru this lil trouble. Akeel is Peteh son from a previous relationship.


Hurricane Ida turned us–the famous and fabulous “Big Easy”–into the BIG UnEasy.

And don’t be trying to get no gas. In the time of no electricity, damn near city wide, finding gas, especially for those trying to work off of portable generators that function on gasoline in order to output electricity, well, there’s nothing easy about it.

Peteh and my daughter Asante left early this morning, driving to nearby Mississippi to fill up vehicles and portable gas tanks. They could have got in lines that literally stretch as far as the eye can see for a $40-dollar or so limited supply of petrol–plus, no telling if the station will still will have gas left by the time Peteh and Asante get to the head of the line. So it was a better choice to burn a quarter tank in order to have a no hassle, no limit fill up.

By the way, Peteh spent all yesterday, landscaping, fixing the roof in the apartment converted from a garage, and shoring up fences. The boy was talking about how good the sun felt–must be his West African heritage kicking in. Anyway the grounds and those surrounding are impeccably manicured.

Peteh loves, absolutely loves, working with the soil, is deep into agriculture and such, ain’t no wise afeared of hard work outdoors–he also is a former Nation of Islam soldier. He had us rolling talking about his long trip to get a small supply of gas on Tuesday. I won’t attempt to even give you the gist of it on account of I’ll leave out an important part of the travail.

Your boy Odyssey had it easy compared to what Peteh went through–well I will tell you this part, and it ain’t even the hard part. He had plastic, thinking that if the gas pump was working they had to have a working generator to pump the gas and knowing that those pumps were powered by electricity, so therefore he could use his card, except once he got close enough, he found out the policy was “cash only” and a $40 limit.

Not to be deterred, Peteh found out a nearby Lowe’s store–and Peteh was no where near by where we staying in New Orleans, actually was over in the next parish (county is what they call those jurisdictions in the rest of the USA) and none of the ATMs were working–anyway, he found out that if you went to Lowe’s made a purchase with a card, and then returned the purchase, you could get cash back, but Lowe’s had something like a $20 limit on cash returns, and, well you get the picture. Peteh had to make three small purchases in order to get the cash to get the gasoline, where his place in line was being held by. . . oh, but wait a minute, how Peteh got his place in line held by the clerk is a whole other story, helped along by an “Inshallah” or two, and if you don’t know what that means, you never would of got to talk to the man in charge, who was making the decisions about. . . you dig?

No more water, it’s the lack of power this time–especially if you’re cooking with electric, which, fortunately, the house I’m currently hunkering down in cooks with gas.

My now deceased father, who made his transition back in the last century, used to bath or shower with cold water (really ground temperature water; during the summer time in Louisiana, that was not so bad). I don’t like that but I can do it if I absolutely have to, howsoever I would choose to go unwashed for a couple of days rather than shiver under a spray of tap water in a shower.

Speaking of which, metropolitan areas are really hard hit when there’s no electrical power. Although the water systems were generally working, faucet water and toilet water flowing, the hard part was that the sewerage and water department had a major breakdown in the near by parish. Both the back-up generators at their waste treatment facilities failed: the back-up and the back-up to the back-up–and, no, I’m not making this up. The authorities ended up dumping untreated sewerage into the Mississippi River. I need not say anymore about what a disaster that is. But something had to be done with the waste.

Ida has left us in the Big Easy with no easy choices about how to live.

The Louis Armstrong Airport is a modern, recently-opened facility, not too far from the previous commercial airport, however, with the lack of electricity out that way, the airport is unusable. Indeed, that’s the story of metro/urban modernity all over the country, especially at modern airports, no ‘lectric, no fly, stay your ass out the sky.

On top of no gas, if you were thinking about driving far away–and Louisiana is not only an oil-producing state, we have major gasoline-producing plants up and down the river, and all across southern Louisiana, well, if you were thinking about driving way-aways, and you didn’t have gas or you were trying to (emphasis on unsucessfully “trying” to rent a car, nada. No such luck. You just stuck, Chuck.), well the real deal is there ain’t no deal.

The siblings were ready, willing and able to kick in to get an airline ticket to get their mother out to the East Coast except you couldn’t fly out of New Orleans. So my grandson, was volunteering to drive Tayari over to Gulfport, Mississippi, which did had commercial flights to and fro-ing.

Jahi, my grandson, was staying in that sliver of the East in New Orleans which had electricity recently restored. Dig, flying out is a major operation. The deal was not just transporting Mama Tayari to the airport, but Jahi had to have enough gas to make the round trip and. . . well I won’t even go into tale of a long car trip when Jahi along with Mika (his significant other and Stefan, their newborn) broke down somewhere near Phoenix, Arizona when they were trying to drive from San Diego, where my son, and Jahi’s father, lives. 

Ain’t nothing easy these days. I believe Tayari got out this morning. No definitive word yet–Flash update. Tayari does not leave New Orleans until Saturday, will be staying with Jahi & Mika, who are staying with his grandmother around the corner from my nephew. They have food and water and electricity.

Meanwhile, also just spoke with Asante who left earlier to get gas. They found a station in Sorrento, near Donaldsonville, Louisiana, which is where my father was from (he literally walked to New Orleans to get an education at McDonogh #35 High School. That school, as well as a number of other schools in both New Orleans and Baltimore, Maryland were underwritten by the largesse of John McDonald, who was a big time slave trader back in the day and willed millions of dollars for education. It’s a complex story and I have only given a brief peep at a multi-faceted and interlocking aspects of the story originating in slavery times (which certain White folks, euphemistically and rather fondly, simply refer to as the Antebellum era).

The whole convoluted “no electricity / no gas” tale reminds me of that famous line (I believe it was from Shakespeaer’s “Richard III” when your boy was sent a-tumbling to the ground, “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”. Well here we are in the Crescent City hollering “electricity, electricity, our city is suffering no electricity”. And even if you have a generator, you got to have gas to run that. If Richard lived here, he probably would be on the neutral ground (what that is, is another story for another time, let me just say, “a wide median” separating the lanes on a multi-lane highway or major divided street), anyway, we unfortunate souls are crying about the killing lack of no electricity.

Of course you know, some kind of way, they–the powers that be who can made such things happen–they found a way to power up the French Quarter, which counter-intuitively was actually originally built by the Spanish, but that too is another story for another time and partially explains why the historic ceramic signs on the sides of antique French Quarter buildings refer to the streets as “Calle” rather than “Rue” this or that.

By the way,  just to show you how deep the colonial influences flow, my birth name, Vallery Ferdinand III, is French on the first half and Spanish on the second, and when people try to tell me my Swahili name “Kalamu” is strange for an African American, I just smile. If it’s strange for us to have African names, how much stranger is it for us to have French, Spanish and English names?

My nephew Kamau (along with his two daughters Laini and Asilia) lives in New Orleans East, a much derided area of the greater Metro area, his parents live on the other side of the I-10 expressway, just a couple of miles from him. He has electricity, they do not. He lives on a different grid from them–and so it goes, on and on.

This is not meant to be a “woe-is-me” tale of a crippled city. As rough as it is right now, especially if you ain’t got enough gas to keep your generator fired up, assuming that you have a generator, no matter, if you walking, driving or flying (of course, them dirty mother. . . let me not get started on how the rich not only are not suffering, they are prospering, kicking back on yatchs and such, cruising up and down the river, or lounghing about on the Gulf of Mexico, even though the Cruise Lines are beset with a different set of Covid-related problems.)

Oh yeah, Covid. Well Louisiana is a big center of Covid, and. . . well, let’s just say if Ida didn’t kill you Covid is waiting to finish you off.

But, all in all, we are surviving, steady striving. We may be suffering but we ain’t giving up. Mama said there would be days like this, and we best survive this little trouble so we will have some entertaining stories to tell our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, bless their little souls.

More in a minute, time to go drink some cool water. Got to stay hydrated,

By the way, I feel sorry for them folks up in the Northeast who have to deal with the tail-end of Ida. It’s been a long time, maybe even never, since they seen hard times like Ida brings. So like my man Ed Brown used to say, when you are nearly at the end of your rope, don’t just struggle to hold on, tie a knot in the end of that sucker, and swing!

Keep swinging good people, keep swinging. This too shall pass.




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