It has been almost five years since my husband and I moved from Vancouver, Canada to Houston, Texas. When we told our friends that we were being transferred, they almost seemed apologetic. “To Houston?!” was the response. We were warned that life in Houston would be very different to Vancouver. Well, they were only partially correct. Yes, moving away from our two daughters, family and friends was hard. And I left my job at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, where I had been teaching for 20 years. But we quickly found out that Houston is very similar to Vancouver. Houston is extremely multicultural. It is full of museums, art galleries, and has a huge entertainment scene. And the restaurants in Houston are unbelievable! There are more restaurants per capita than any other city in the world! Apart from the noticeable difference in the weather, living in Houston was very similar to Vancouver. It did not take me long to get involved with a camera club, take on a volunteer position at the Wildlife Center of Texas, and make some great friends.
Just shy of two years after we settled in Houston, came another move. This time to Gautier, Mississippi. Where is that you ask? Gautier, pronounced “go-shay” and not “go-tee-ay” or “go-tee-er”, is approximately 450 miles east of Houston. It lies right on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. With just over 18,000 people, Gautier was a far cry from Vancouver and Houston. At least with this move, we were used to the heat and humidity! But as I quickly found out, the weather was the only similarity between Houston and Gautier!
I was born and raised in Vancouver. I am a big city girl at heart. And as we quickly found out, being an outsider in a closely knit small town is not easy. I spent many afternoons in tears wishing I was back home in Vancouver. It took me over a year to feel like I was starting to fit in. The folks in Mississippi are genuinely warm and friendly, but they are also very guarded. Apart from the other expats and transplants who also found themselves here, I found it hard to make close friends. But I knew I had to make an effort. I was not going to sit around and feel sorry for myself. This move was an opportunity, and I had to take advantage of it.
I began teaching photography at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs, 10 miles to the west. I started to volunteer at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, where I made some great friends. And I worked hard at building a client base of private photography students. Paul and I took every opportunity to explore the nearby region and learn the rich history of the area. We loved taking drives down the coast and also up into the Pascagoula River Watershed. We explored southern Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. And if you read my post on New Orleans, you will know that we loved to visit the Crescent City.
One thing we had not realized was how the Mississippi coast fared during Hurricane Katrina. The publicity we saw in Vancouver led us to believe that the hurricane hit New Orleans, but that was not the case. I don’t want to minimize the devastation in New Orleans, it was horrible. When the levees breached, over 80% of the city was flooded. But the eye of Katrina slammed head-on into the Louisianna/Mississippi border on August 29, 2005. The Gulf Coast of Mississippi suffered near total devastation when a 28-foot storm surge and 55-foot waves pushed casinos, hotels, fishing boats and debris into the coastal communities. Over two hundred and thirty people lost their lives along the coast. Driving along highway 90 the first time, which hugs the coast, was eye opening. Ten years after the storm, there are still thousands of empty lots, concrete slabs, and staircases leading nowhere.
Mississippi Memories – Time to Say Goodbye
In two weeks, on May 4th, Paul and I are being repatriated back to Vancouver. Our move came up very suddenly, and we were surprised to be told we were heading home with two years left on our visas. As we pack, I am already missing Southern Mississippi! Although it took a bit of time for me to adjust, I have grown to love this little city on the Gulf Coast. I looked back through the photographs I took during our stay and felt that these best illustrates what it is like to live on the Gulf Coast. Sunsets, old piers, bayous, cypress swamps and cotton fields. These are some of my favourite Mississippi memories.
The Streets of Gautier
When I started to pursue street photography 18 months ago, I admit that I found it hard living in a small town. Without the concrete and steel of the city, I was struggling with how to find subjects. But once I realized that street photography is not just about “streets,” it became easier. Street photography is loosely defined as capturing candid shots of people in public places. So I went to the most popular public place I could think of, the beach. The beach is where people meet to socialize, swim, walk the dog and relax. The beach became the background for most of my street images.
A special thank you to all the locals. Mark, Lisa, Mozart, Erin, Khaki, Erik, Vona, Greg, Pamela, Jeff, Joe, Becky, David, Larry, and the many others that welcomed me to their corner of the country, thank you for sharing. I hope that I will be able to visit again one day.