Education

10 January 2009

I watch the women and children breaking bricks with small hammers  in the hot sun,

In this city in the south of Bangladesh, a few pennies per day for their struggle to survive,

I photograph the women washing their clothes by hand in the Kara river,

In this city in the north of Togo, the brown water of the river swirling with the sewage of a hundred thousand people, themselves fragile life on the edge of that struggle

I jog early morning for miles in the predawn darkness of Kolkata,

Careful not to step on the bodies of the sleeping multitude,

Lying threadbare on the silent cement sidewalks, their entire lifes possessions in a bag,

And under the filthy, ragged blanket.

As we drive, the poor, on the coast road of south Sri Lanka, after the tsunami, search through the rubble of their former homes, looking for a memento from their parents, a precious photo, or a little food.

We hike to a shanty-house in the northern Nicaraguan country side, walls of bare scrap boards and plastic sheeting, no out house except the bushes, no water but a nearby stream,

I try to talk in my unknown language with the street children of Dhaka city, two girls ages 9 and 12 with plastic sacks on their shoulders, bare feet in the glass ridden city streets, garbage pickers, they told me through an interpreter, who live with their mother in a nearby slum.

I stand on a bridge in Chennai where a river pours into the Bay of Bengal,

And watch the swirling sewage of 12 million people rush to the sea, while in the distance pour fisherman drag nets from small skiffs trying to harvest some food from the sewage-laced sea water.

I speak with the woman serving our meals in the hotel in Takaradi, Ghana, how little she is paid for her work, her shanty home not far, her desperate life.

In Bangkok, girls in store windows along the street, scantily clad, beckon for passing men to enter,

I visit the Mosque of the bay in Mumbai, the pier leading to the mosque covered with crippled, deformed, and dying people, hoping for alms, hoping for a few rupees to survive another day.

The children in the municipal dump of Managua, scavenging with their handmade rakes,

Brother and sister they told us, aged 9 and 11, their filthy bodies as brown as the filth in the dump, no schooling here, living in the shanties ringing the dump, scavenging each day, hungry.

I ask my three wheeled taxi driver to take me to a slum in Colombo, he says, you mean the zoo, I say no a slum, he says you mean a shopping mall, I say no a slum, so he takes me to his home to meet his family and neighbors.

In Old Havana, in a poor neighborhood of crowded small apartments, some neighbors pull me into their simple home, you are an American, they say, you must know why your country is doing this to us.  Why does your country want us to suffer, to live in poverty?

How do I answer the entreaties in the faces and voices of the poor?

How do I live?    What must I do — in the face of this education?

My unique education and its searing responsibility,

In the face of these images I cannot forget? 

 In the face of these images that I cannot come to terms with?

How do I live? 

How do I use these poor hands, this meager mind, these pitiful resources,

that draw me forth, day by day,

like dreadful waking  dreams?

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