The Eyeliner [1]
My Beloved lined in eyeliner effulgence
Permanent upon mine eyeless Persian face
Stumbling, a blind-dotard, the streets of reality
And this pen the cane at my hand trembling
But once drown within the whirlpool of your darkness:
Mine flickering eyes the lucent dove
Fluttering feathers of Divine Light
Your frown the vexed sable-hawk
Tearing the rubicund flesh off my heart
Unsheathe this wordless pen my Divine Love
Stab at these unbreakable chains to flee apart
Unsheathe this tongueless pen my Regal Love
Stab at these unsighted eyes to see afar
Braving the hadal waves of the orphaned tears
Dolphins of mine saddened eyes diving deep
Muffled in darkling depth of childless father’s sobs
Snatching the scattered Negra pearls of Paradise

To survive, young forced into servitude
23 novembre 2003
The Seattle Times
To survive, young forced into servitude

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Describing the beating that drove her to the
streets, Madeleine Vilma spoke as if she deserved it. "I made them mad at
me," the skinny 15-year-old recalls of the two women who had paid a pittance
for her six years ago and then put her to work as a maid. "I broke the heel
off my shoe, so they beat me with their sandals."

Dispatched to the slums of the Haitian capital when she was 9 by parents
unable to feed her, Madeleine had been delivered by a trader into a life of
unpaid domestic servitude in exchange for food and shelter. Like an
estimated 300,000 other children in this poorest of Western countries, she
had no alternative except homelessness and hunger.

The children, called "restaveks" - from the French "rester avec," to stay
with - are not servants of the wealthy but of those just slightly less poor
than the parents who sent them here.

As Haiti slips further into extreme poverty each year, the wave of
children - some as young as 4 - flocking to the cities has become a deluge,
forcing most to settle for whatever offer of shelter is at hand. Children
who are not brokered go door-to-door looking for a place to stay.

"Most of these patrons want someone they can have do anything they need done
without the conditions that come with employing an adult domestic," said the
Rev. Pierre St. Vistal, who runs a mission that houses 45 children and feeds
hundreds of others. "With kids, there are no limits. They have no rights and
can be made to do anything."

Restaveks first appeared in the capital in the 1920s and '30s, when wealthy
families, as "an act of solidarity" with the rural poor, offered shelter and
education in exchange for domestic labor.

But as the gap between rich and poor widened drastically in recent decades,
ragged children coming from the countryside became so numerous that they
were forced to work for anyone able to make the daily pot of beans and rice
go one mouth further.

"The wealthy families don't want to get involved anymore. They say this is a
form of slavery, and they don't want to be associated with it," says Wenes
Jeanty, who runs a charity that helps the children. "That has left the
children to the poor and less educated in the cities."

For most restaveks growing up far away from their families, there is no
caring soul to help them.

"The households that take these kids in see them as chattel," says Merrie
Archer, director of human-rights programs for the National Coalition for
Haitian Rights.

"Often their own parents see them as chattel, as a means of getting support
for themselves once the kids get work in the city."

Few ever escape their indentured servitude to find paying jobs.

People trying to help Haiti's enslaved children scoff at the government's
claims that it is addressing the problem. "There has been a law against
child labor for years, but it has never been enforced," says Jean Lherisson,
head of Haiti Solidarity International.

Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times


[1] In Sufi poetic tradition the ‘eyeliner’ is the symbol of something the Divine Creator did to our mortal eyes to see Its majesty, otherwise man is left blind to heavens

© 2004-2002,  Dara O. Shayda