Carlos y Elegua – a road that noone knows how to begin or to end: A Poverty Hero Series Story


POOR correspondent - Posted on 25 June 2010

Lisa Gray-Garcia and Rodrigo Jimenez
Monday, January 1, 2001

Ibaro Ago Juba (Song for Elegua)

Eshu Eshu – his body felt wet – wet and yet covered –wet and cold in a new way – in a dead way – was he awake? …. The orisha Elegua was waking him up.. Eshu Eshu Layiki. he heard the first words, the praise name for Elegua- a road that no one knows how to begin or to end….

As he slept last night 47 year old Carlos’s small awning under the 24th street bridge had given away slowly to the onslaught of rain and he awoke to a sleeping bag which was heavy with moisture, he stepped gingerly out of it – careful to not touch the sides of the nylon- if he moved slowly the inside would stay dry – or at least the inside of most of his clothing layers- He slept at a right angle facing up on a slope against the 280 freeway dirt mound. A stray piece of paper flew past him – he grabbed it quickly and put it in his "trash bag" – noone could understand how much he loved this place. After two years of random doorways, benches, jail, shelters and the bus station, assault robbery and police harassment – this was his place – he was never bothered here- in fact almost noone could see him at all. The ambient whir-swoosh-roar of the traffic above him became a symphony - a peaceful sound.

He slowly put on a second set of "outside" clothes- preserving another clean set for later-after dressing he groped in the dirt for his breakfast- a leftover burger from last night he unfolded the thin paper wrapping-from his remaining whopper- he loved burger king because they were on his recycling route, included a free cup of hot coffee and never asked him to leave if he stayed longer than his burger eating time, as he was almost ready to leave a voice called out, " Hey .. yeah…. you - with the hat- you need to come out of there right now", the voice like a knife sliced through the air. Was it real? How could it be? How could anyone know he was here?

Choncho abe ko lori eyo’ (a pointed knife protruding from Eleguas head)

"are you talking to me senor?" Carlos answered quietly- he was a soft-spoken man who refused to raise his voice for anyone.

" Hey you - yeah I am talking to you don’t try to pretend you don’t hear me.." , the man’s tone was layered with disdain, hate or both, "I know you live in here and I really don’t care but you have get your things and leave"
" Why do I have to leave?"
"Did you hear me - get out of here-pendejo"
"I am only asking for a reason - senor?"
"Ok you want a reason- because we have to clean this whole area under the freeway"
"Ok - I will wait on the sidewalk.."
"oh no you can't do that - we have to steam clean the sidewalk as well.."
"But…. its pouring rain, Senor"

Carlos did as the man said and quietly left - he was only able to take a few things - all the rest of the stuff the man threw triumphantly into his truck - including his wet sleeping bag which Carlos could not carry on his back -

Carlos walked numbly through his usual route - collecting over 300 hundred pounds of cans and cardboard - and transporting the whole load 7 miles across town to the recycling center - he made $34.00.

At 10:00 pm he walked slowly back to his "spot" The Asphalt was shining like glass with rain - the wet night sky was smoke colored - the intermittent rain dripped down his wet clothing into unseen crevasses.. and competed with his streaming tears for space on his face" Please don't be gone..he whispered between gulps - please don't be..

And then he was there- in front of what he knew would be there.. What he could taste and touch and yet did not know for sure until now… Illuminated by the passing flash of headlights - glistening in the rain - was a giant steel fence surrounding his space?

He reached up to touch it " dios Mio - why have you let me down? Elegua - why do you trick me so? - What can you gain by this .. Where will I go? "

He fell into the cement - burying his face on the sidewalk his hands stretched out in front of him- his body shook as he repeated the screams..Where will I go? Dios Mio where will I go?

Eshu Eshu.. Layiki

It started as a light -a random headlight from a passing car on the freeway above that lingered a little longer than the rest and then the light showered Carlos’s body - and as it grew brighter Carlos became warm-the warmth turned into a burning heat and then his hands grew away from his body - sailing into the night sky - climbing on the fence motioning for Carlos to follow…

Carlos stood up, following his hands to the fence letting his body fuse slowly into a new version of his hands- hands lined in pure gold - he watched them rip the fence apart -one tier at a time- effortlessly as though it was made of paper - the fence fell away to the ground- Carlos walked through….

Eshu eshu Layiki.. Eshu.. eshu

The Poverty Hero Project

What is a hero? What does it mean to perform an act of heroism? Or to live your life heroically? In Greek religion a hero was a famous person who after his or her death was worshipped as quasi-divine – noblemen who were valiant fighters. In classic English literature heroes were created as mythical warriors capable of bravery and gallantry. In American literature, Hemingway defined the code hero- as a man who lives correctly following the ideals of honor courage and endurance in a world that is sometimes chaotic, often stressful and always painful-

In our society many people judged by these classical standards have been heroes and heroines- Dr King, Mumia Abu Jamal, Cesar Chavez and Rosa Parks to name a few, enduring and overcoming great odds and achieving great things- but at POOR we have developed a new kind of non-traditional literary hero – the Poverty Hero – the Poverty Hero has also withstood overwhelming obstacles – and achieved great things – but from another lens – in other words – the obstacles might be multiple evictions – homelessness and gentrification- welfare dependency and institutional systems abuse, racial and economic profiling , incarceration and assault –the heroism could be surviving a life lived in poverty -through an existence fraught with misery and suffering- the Poverty Hero could be a mother on welfare who has successfully raised her children – an Abuela in Mexico who borrows the electricity of Sony Corp to power her Tijuana shanty village– a houseless person who creates art – an elder who is fighting an illegal eviction- a homeless child who helps her mother care for her siblings.in other words The heroism of survival itself through THESE great odds.

We have several goals with these presentations, one of which is to furnish all classes of society with a new way of "seeing" and understanding people in poverty – while also addressing and confronting the issues these folks face everyday just to stay alive and as well to empower the poverty hero themselves with a new feeling of pride rather than shame for the resistance of survival, the heroism of survival.

The Poverty Hero Radio and web-based Narrative Project is the culmination of a series of workshops that POOR has been conducting in collaboration with Community Defense Inc, a non-profit legal defense organization, in group homes, schools, community organizations, shelters, jails and in the streets and will culminate with the Poverty Heroes anthology and the web based 2002 series, which will be published later this year. We will be presenting a different poverty hero over the next twelve months on PNN’s radio show aired each month on the last Monday of the month on KPFA’s Morning Show @94.1 FM at 7:30 am–Each one will be a literary narrative replete with imagery, myth and magical realism.. so please tune in !!!

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