Thursday, March 17, 2005

Real life heroes

Today we visited homes in a slum in Haiti that is built on the water with garbage. By that I mean they piled garbage atop the muck until they had "land"and they built atop this. But the problem remains that the land floods when it rains. Instead of sidewalks they have piles of rotting trash. They have lakes of green algae coated sewage. (Happy St. Pat's Day! I saw green!)

I talked to one father who told me, without emotion, that he grabs his wife and kids and runs, I mean RUNS when it floods because the water rises above the windows. The children will drown if he doesn't. He told me, "I told God, I am in your hands. My children and my wife are in your hands. Save me."

He says all this matter of factly in Creole while I am scribbling notes with the hot sun beating down upon me, standing outside his twig and rusted zinc shack, the children gathered around. I am thinking of my middle class home and sidewalks made from concrete, not garbage. Of the lake and its quiet serenity in the neighborhood, not water with raw sewage and trash and algae in it.

I am thinking that as weary as I am, this man's burden is twice as hard. He has children who live like this. Would I be as friendly, as calm, if I were in his (broken heeled) shoes?

No. I would scream. I would rage.

Inside, I am screaming.

His wife cries because they live in a tiny shack where they coat the ceiling with plastic to keep the rain from dripping on their faces. They run when the area floods, which it does at least once a year. He tries to comfort her as best as he can, but he is helpless to do anything.

I am thinking of romance heroes now. Of big strong men with muscles and good looks who are larger than life. I am thinking of Khepri/Kenneth in THE COBRA AND THE CONCUBINE. A strong warrior. An English duke. He will do anything for Badra, the woman he loves. He is handsome, striking, larger than life. Sculpted muscles. A romance hero.

I am thinking of this little Haitian man who is thin and hungry and has aged eyes, and looks far older than his 34 years. He does not look like a romance hero.

He comforts his wife when she cries because they live in this swamp of sewage and trash and they have to run for their lives when the flood comes at least once a year. He does whatever he can to keep his little family happy. He prays. He tries to sell whatever he can to feed his family. He prays to keep them safe. He loves and cares for them.

He's poor, black, thin and desperate.

In my book, he is a real life hero. You'll never read about him in a novel, or sigh over him when you finish a book, but he's there. He's real. He's a hero.

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