ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the December 1, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] chanter_greenie. It also fills the "frustrated" square in my 12-1-15 card for the Defining Character Bingo fest, and the "sunshine and blue skies" square in my 6-10-15 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"People Who Were Gone"


Abrihet Senai was surrounded
by people who were gone.

Her father and mother had died
in Eritrea, along with most
of their extended family.

In the refugee camps there were
people who were still walking,
but all gone on the inside.

Then there were the people
who went away and never came back.
Maybe some of them made it
to a better place, or
maybe not.

Every attempt to make matters better
was frustrated; disappointment
became a way of life.

Abrihet was surrounded,
but she never surrendered.

She went hungry,
but she never starved.

One day she got a chance
to escape in a little boat with
a few dozen other people.

They huddled together
through the blustering storms
and baking sun and gloomy fog,
sometimes wondering if they
would ever see land again.

It was miserable;
the refugees were always
too cold or too hot and there
was never enough food
to go around.

They were more than frustrated;
they were beginning to despair.

Then one night when the fog was
so thick they couldn't even see from
one side of the boat to the other,
Abrihet began to glow.

It was a soft, silvery shine
like moonlight or starlight,
and it seemed to come from
everywhere and nowhere
all around her.

The other refugees murmured
and tried to touch her light,
but there was nothing to feel --
no heat, no tingle, only cool silver
tinting the air where she sat.

At least now they could see
the boat and each other's faces.

From then on, whenever it got foggy
or dark and they needed light,
Abrihet would start to shine
and it would help.

It wasn't much, really.

It didn't even do anything --
couldn't give them food
or water or fair winds or
any of the supplies that
they were missing --

but it gave them hope.

Hope was the thing that
they needed most if they
were not to become also
people who were gone.

They began to speak again
of the future and of what
they wished from it.

The refugees who spoke English
began calling her Hope, and
before long, everyone
was doing it.

She did not mind so very much.

It was nice to hear things in
a language she might need someday,
and besides, the little lessons helped
pass time on the boat and gave her
an idea what school might have
been like if she had gone.

Then one misty morning,
they heard the sound of
a low, strange horn and
they saw another boat --
quite a bit bigger than theirs --
looming up beside them.

It was white with red marks, and
its searchlights were so bright that
Abrihet's light paled in comparison.

One of the men who spoke Italian
jumped up and began shouting
in that language, which Abrihet
only knew a little of that she had
learned from the other refugees.

"It is an Italian ship, their Coast Guard,"
said the man's wife. "We are saved."

The Italians lowered chain ladders
to the refugees, helped them aboard,
and put their little boat in tow.

"Does anyone need a doctor?"
a sailor asked in terrible Arabic.
"Is anyone here injured or ill?
We have plenty of food and
water and dry clothes."

Abrihet was certainly hungry,
but she wanted dry clothes more,
so she got into that line first.

"How did you even find us?"
she asked the woman sailor
handing her a folded pile.
"The sea is so big, and
our boat is so small."

"We saw a strange light and
came to investigate it,"
the sailor replied.

Soon the morning mist
burned away, leaving behind
sunshine and blue skies.

Ahead of them lay a coastline
crying with seagulls, and the waves
broke blue and white against a sandy beach
where people played in the warm sun.

"Welcome to Italy," said one of the sailors.
"We will take you to a shelter, where
people will help you start new lives."

The refugees smiled
and hugged one another.

Hope had saved them after all.

* * *

Notes:

Hope (Abrihet Senai) -- She has cinnamon skin, sherry-brown eyes, and nappy brown hair. She speaks Arabic and Tigrinya fluently, plus she has begun learning English and Italian from other refugees who knew some of those languages. Abrihet has no formal education and minimal knowledge of the world, but great faith in people. Her superpower gathers ambient energy and releases it as a silvery, starlit glow in the dark.
Origin: On a desperate refugee trip across the Mediterranean Sea, she began to glow.
Uniform: Street clothes. As a Muslim woman, she covers her hair.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Optimist, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Muslim, Good (+2) People Person
Poor (-2) Uneducated
Powers: Average (0) Starlight
Motivation: To give people hope.

* * *

"In refugee camps around the world, I met people who were gone. They were still walking around but had lost so much that they were unable to claim any sort of identity. Others I met found who they truly were, and they generally found it through service to others. They became teachers when there was no school, books or pencils."
-- Deborah Ellis

Eritrea is a country on the horn of Africa. It's enough of a mess to create a lot of refugees. They often flee in small boats like this in hope of finding rescue.

Light Generation is a minor superpower.

The Italian Coast Guard ship Fiorillo patrols to rescue refugees.

Refugees are people fleeing war or persecution in their homeland. They have specific legal rights, but these are often violated.

Boat people pose a problem for various countries, as they are among the most vulnerable refugees. In Europe, a large portion of boat people come from Africa. In Terramagne, Somalia tops the list of the worst countries for people with superpowers, and some other African countries suck almost as much. It's impossible to fix everything, so a majority of superheroes and supervillains have concentrated their protective efforts on countries that are large and/or influential; the worst offenders tend to be small undeveloped nations, except for China.

Local: People have a right to leave their country of origin. However, they do not have a right to enter any other country. Countries have sovereignty over who may enter or stay within their territory. Some countries have signed agreements guaranteeing sanctuary for political refugees; this excludes economic and often other types of refugees, even if their lives are in danger.

Most developed countries signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which makes obligates them to accept genuinely persecuted refugees. However, countries routinely violate the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ framed in that convention. For example, the European Union denied 75% of claims for sanctuary which it received during 2013. Ironically Pakistan, NOT a signatory, is by far the most welcoming country for refugees.

Terramagne differences: Nobody may be forcibly returned to their country of origin, or anywhere else they believe themselves to be in danger, except via extradition for an officially charged crime. A few countries have offered sanctuary to refugees in general.

Most developed countries signed the 1946 UN Refugee Convention, which obligates them to accept genuinely persecuted refugees. However, countries often violate the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ framed in that convention. For example, the European Union denied 51% of claims for sanctuary which it received during 2013.

Unauthorized boats may be turned back if seaworthy and properly provisioned. If not seaworthy, they must be accompanied to a safe harbor, where people may be turned over to appropriate authorities. If not properly provisioned, they must be stocked with sufficient supplies (including a safety margin) to reach a safe harbor. It is not legal to abandon people in situations where they are likely to die. So you can see that Terramagne is in somewhat better shape on this.

The Italian Coast Guard has a mixed reputation regarding refugees. It has rescued thousands, but sometimes has to cut back efforts due to low resources, despite high need. Refugees often arrive in small, marginally functional boats. In Terramagne, part of the improvement was spurred by the disgraceful incident of the MS St. Louis in 1939, something which Whammy Lass and other activists harped on until they managed to shame world leaders into agreeing to do better in the future. Sometimes the Coast Guard rescues refugees, some of whom have gone on to join it themselves. There are ideas for repairing the asylum system in Europe. In Terramagne, Italy has ways of integrating immigrants immediately into the economy, tax rolls, health care, education, employment, etc. The real problem is not the people, but having them rattling around loose instead of being productive members of society. Italy also has the advantage of being one of the top-ten most soup-friendly countries, in place #8 with official recognition and a visible population. The police force likes to recruit strongmen and speedsters in particular.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-06 06:19 am (UTC)
chanter_greenie: a starscape, including a spiral galaxy (on a quest for a jewel)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
Oh wow. :) I have the bittersweet warm fuzzies, if that's even a thing.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-12-06 06:39 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
Now I want to know more about her life after landing in Italy. I'm imagining her learning to read in Arabic and Tigrinya (and possibly Italian), getting basic schooling in general, and... oops, now my mind's jumped to her integration into a wider refugee community, soup and nary. Eritreans and Ethiopian ethnic minorities, Somalis, persecuted Muslims from the C.A.R., queerfolk Nigerians and Ugandans. I am in big trouble, I am. Basically, all the refugee stories, because I can't do a damn concretely helpful thing in local reality, and I am that girl who wants to know and tell all the stories ever. I'm very much like Sandy, that way.

In a related vein to integration, somehow I cannot imagine Abrihet getting involved with the Marionettes or similar. Just plain doesn't work.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-12-07 01:46 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
That poem snippet made me smile, gave me the spark of an idea, and brought on a resurgence of the bittersweet warm fuzzies, all in one. :) Thanks.

Re: literacy: I love the deliberate bilingual literacy concept. I really do. I may very well prompt for this later!

Re: Abrihet's future profession: Ooooh yes, I can see this. Yes, I think you'll be getting a prompt or two about her integration into the wider community, her continuing education, and someone suggesting eventual coastguard work to her, even if that's a few years in the future at the time of suggestion.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-06 02:42 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
What a wonderful new character!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-07 06:20 am (UTC)
thnidu: Tom Baker's Dr. Who, as an anthropomorphic hamster, in front of the Tardis. ©C.T.D'Alessio http://tinyurl.com/9q2gkko (Dr. Whomster)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
I feel enthusiastic about this story and Abrihet in much the way that other commenters do. But there's also a special bit of serendipitous coincidence in it for me.

Yesterday I stopped in a coffee shop in my neighborhood for a sit-down with a hot drink after rather too much walking around in the cold. (I'm getting over a bad cold.) As I was finishing up, I heard two men at another table speaking a language I couldn't place at all, which is a bit unusual for me. So on my way out I asked them, explaining in my usual way that I'm a language researcher (clearer & more accurate than most people's perception of "linguist") and always interested in unfamiliar languages. The man who answered me said "From East Africa, Eritrea." "Ah," I said, "Tigrinya?" "Yes, it is Tigrinya."

I think they were a bit surprised at that, and of course I was pleased to have been correct in my (educated) guess, and to have gained a bit of an auditory handle on yet another language.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-09 03:32 am (UTC)
chanter_greenie: a starscape, including a spiral galaxy (on a quest for a jewel)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
Oh, that is *cool!* That kind of synchronicity is just a marvelous thing. :)

Not entirely unrelated, you occasionally talk to strangers in coffee shops too? Glad I'm not alone in doing so.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-06 06:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rix-scaedu.livejournal.com
I always thought that the boy in "Sky High" whose only power was that he could glow in the dark had a great future in mine rescue. His light was never going to trigger an explosion.

Yes...

Date: 2015-12-06 06:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Exactly! The usefulness of a superpower is all about the context.

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