07 May 2008

Like the Blink of an Eye

I grew in a small town in Southwest Mississippi, about an hour south of the state capital Jackson and 2 1/2 hours north of New Orleans. I thought our town had a population of 18,000, but the census has it at a little less than 10,000 and our county at around 33,000. Growing up in a small town had its disadvantages to be sure, but one thing I'll always remember is how everyone knew everyone, or at the least knew of them and recognized them. I don't get back there at all anymore, what with my parents moving to Memphis after I was in college and all.

The death toll in Myanmar/Burma is now estimated to be 22,464 with almost 41,000 missing. It is as if my entire hometown and county have been wiped off of the face of the Earth. I don't watch the news, so I haven't seen any of the images from this, just reading about it on the web. My entire town, dead.

The people in Myanmar are a poor, backward people. They look different than me, talk multiple languages. 55,000,000 people live there in a country slightly smaller than Texas. These tens of thousands of people lost are a drop in the bucket in a place where life is always tough. The value of these lives is so much less than the value of the lives of people here in Atlanta or the US.

At least, it's easy to think that way in our inner-most thoughts.

No, these aren't 22,464 nameless, faceless, strange, poor people who have been lost. I've searched for an hour to find the name of one of these who have died, but nothing comes back. A 12-foot wave crashed down on these tens of thousands of people, but that's too impersonal.

No, it was a young father who huddled in his shack with his wife, two daughters, and two sons (ages 8-3). He had steered clear of the military and earned money as a day laborer, picking up money doing everything from hauling trash from construction sights to carrying boxes of goods to market. The mother took care of the young children, sewing children's clothes to put a bit more food on the table. There were no paychecks to regularly cash, so neither of them knew for certain if there would be enough food for them or if it would go to the children each day.

Their life was drastically hard, but no different than anyone else in Labutta, this remote place over 100 miles from Yangon. They prayed that Saturday as they held one another, prayed until their shanty disappeared in the foam of the waters higher than a basketball goal. And each of them, this father and mother and daughter and son and son and daughter, children who could be running in and out of my house if they had only been born in Suburbia, each of them has been separated from their loved one. You see, these six humans are among the hundreds now floating in the Pyarmalot River.

Nameless, faceless victims, half a world away as I drink my coffee and go on to the next bit of thinking and typing and figuring out what I'm paid to do. 22,464 and counting.
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