There are millions of people in New Orleans that can tell you stories about how they’re struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
But a different kind of story here hits close to home for me because it’s about my brother Salman. He’s a resident physician and moved to New Orleans for a job shortly after Katrina in midst of going through a severed marriage. As he was getting adjusted to his career in this city, he started his new life here alone.
“Sometimes it felt like a hurricane was going through my own life,” he said.
The details of what happened to him, frankly, are irrelevant. Because when relationship issues take their toll, there are no winners and losers. But living here among other people struggling to rebuild in this city helped my brother put the pieces back together in his own life.
“I remember working at the hospital and hearing stories about people swimming home after the flooding to find their children dead,” he said. “It puts everything in perspective for me. I know my child is safe.”
My four brothers and I are very close, but we’re also fiercely independent and prefer to cope with problems on our own. I can’t even imagine what these three years living here in New Orleans alone have been like for him and the journey he’s gone through to be at peace with the life he lives now.
When his situation first happened, I remember him telling me he’d sometimes come to tears when he’d see a father smile and embrace a child patient inside the hospital. But my brother isn’t the kind of person that will let that intense pain bring him down.
“I could have packed up shop and moved back home to Mom and Dad and cried about it,” he said. “But the people that truly love me, my friends and family, don’t want me to quit. The people that love me want me to be the best doctor I can be.”
He said coming home to an empty apartment is a feeling he’s never gotten used to, but training to be a doctor helps him cope.
“We’re taught in medicine to treat our patients as if they are family members,” he said. “So taking care of other patients at the hospital has been therapeutic for me. It’s love by proxy.”
My parents were in town to visit my brother too so spending time with all three of them was probably the first time I’ve felt fully relaxed on this trip. Together, we broke our fast at Masjid Abu Bakr. It was one of the only mosques in the New Orleans area that wasn’t hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.
Before the storm, the Muslim community here was very segmented. Like many communities across the country, the Arabs would frequent one particular mosque, the South Asians would frequent another, etc. etc. etc. But after the storm, Masjid Abu Bakr became a rallying place to bring people together, because frankly it was one of the only places where people could worship.
My brother has lived in multiple cities across the U.S. and said what makes New Orleans Muslims special is their resilience.
“There’s a welcoming spirit here that people don’t complain,” he said. “If there’s a problem, people say ‘We got through Katrina, we can get through this.’ That’s always the trump card.”
He added just being in the presence of these welcoming Muslims helped him cope with his own problems.
“I don’t really like talking about this stuff, but it was a comforting thing knowing I could with people here,” he said.
I love teasing my brother about how big of a medical dork he his. He carries hand sanitizer wherever he goes and keeps Lysol in just about every room of his place. But I’ve always looked up to him for his undying love for helping others. It’s that relentless drive that defines him, not the problems that he’s encountered in his lifetime. But one thing is for certain, no matter how tough life will get for him, he’ll always have his family to help him weather the storm.