Friday, September 15, 2006
Getting to Know...Samoa Hempfling
Samoa joined USI in March as fee waiver clerk in Student Financial Assistance. She and her husband Matthew fled with their son Marcus to Montgomery, Alabama, (where Matthew’s mother lives) the day before Katrina hit.
“It was a common experience, actually,” she said. “You had a little kit prepared with your essential documents, and when it looked like it might be a higher category you made preparations to go somewhere else, either to Texas or Alabama. Just the year before, we evacuated for Ivan. It was a usual thing to evacuate when it seemed like a hurricane was going to come. For anything less than a category two, we’d get the whole family together and wait out the storm.”
Matthew returned to Slidell on the Friday after the storm, but Samoa stayed behind with Marcus, who turned four months old on the day Katrina hit. “We couldn’t expose him to the bacteria and the mold,” she said.
In Slidell, Matthew found a house full of mud and mildew. “There was six feet of water in there for two days,” Samoa said. “We had just gotten a white couch and loveseat, and my husband told me it looked like there were a couple of very large Dalmatians in the living room.”
Marcus’s crib had made its way into the living room. “Things had floated around and they were thrown all over.”
Their home and belongings were a total loss, so the family made its way to Indiana. Matthew’s father and stepmother live in Newburgh.
She said the biggest culture shock was the news. “The New Orleans news is full of crime, with somebody getting shot, and some big drug bust going down. It’s so packed with crime that there is never any room for good news. Coming here and seeing that the news has time for birthdays and local community events – I’d never known that the news said anything but the bad things that were going on in an area.”
She was accustomed to working on an urban campus. “University of New Orleans is in the middle of New Orleans; the French Quarter is 10 minutes away. They don’t have the beautiful grounds and landscaping. And with the technology that’s here, anyone can be on a computer. It’s definitely not like that there; you’d be lucky to find an empty computer on campus!”
She also noted a difference in efficiency between financial aid offices. “We are very customer service oriented. Not that University of New Orleans doesn’t care, but it takes so much longer to get a response from individuals that work there.”
And though she is not a drinker, she noted that they serve alcohol in The Galley (the equivalent of The Loft) at the University of New Orleans. “You can buy a Heineken.”
She admits she misses the city. “New Orleans is so rich with the different culture: the Creole, the French, and the Spanish. I don’t think there’s an individual in New Orleans who wouldn’t think of themselves as a multicultural individual because it’s such a mesh of different cultures. I take pride in that I’m from New Orleans, but right now it’s not the city I remember. It has a long way to go, and it needs help to be the metropolis I remember. As a child I went to a city park where I would climb these beautiful 200-year-old oak trees. It’s going to be a long time before we get back to that.
“I think that the community – and I also mean government officials that were appointed to look after the little guy – needs to come together and work to make New Orleans what it once was. A sad - but good - example is how the November 6 tornado here devastated so many people, but the community just came together. Citizens of surrounding areas and government officials banded together to do what they could for those who lost their homes and loved ones. When Gulf Coast area officials can come together with the inhabitants, that’s when things will really start to get back on track. But I do miss it. I miss it a lot.”
Samoa did not return to Slidell until January of this year. She still has a lot of family there, including her mother, brothers, and grandparents. “We’re all very close, so being almost 700 miles away is really hard,” she said. The Hempflings plan to stay in Evansville, and are trying to persuade Samoa’s mother to join them.
In addition to working at USI and parenting Marcus, who turned sixteen months old on the first anniversary of Katrina, Samoa is pursuing a degree in counseling from University of New Orleans through distance education, and wants to start a support group for Katrina evacuees in the Tri-state area.