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Stateside With Rosalea: Handbasket Central

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Handbasket Central

::Time travelling::

2003 rolled back around for me this weekend. I went to a local library and discovered amongst the donations it puts outside for people to take for free, a bundle of newspapers tied with string. They were copies of News from Indian Country, and the edition on top is dated March 10, 2003.

The lead story is headlined Preparations for War, and the photo is of Pfc. Lori Piestewa arranging her gear in El Paso prior to leaving for the Middle East. Piestewa, you'll recall, died in an ambush that led to the capture and much publicised rescue of Jessica Lynch.

For a contemporary view of that ambush, go to,2763,933586,00.html. Lynch nominated Piestawa's family for a brand new home on the ABC programme Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in 2005.


At the time the US went into Iraq in 2003, I was going to evening classes in graphic design. While unpacking some boxes over the weekend, I came across my final project, which I give you here not cos it's any good but because it's no less appropriate today, as it seems to be the only card in the President's deck.

::Soooo last millennium::

You have to wonder which US election is coming up soon when stuff like the latest Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah to-do blows up out of all proportion. Well, the Connecticut primary election--in which pro-war Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman is supposedly losing ground to a peacenik Democratic alternative for US Senator--is on August 8.

Or is this engineered escalation just some way of putting the pressure on President Putin in time for the G8 meeting? Anyone who takes the suddenly-discovered-in-2004, hitherto unknown prophesies of Nostradamus for the years 2007-2012 seriously no doubt thinks Putin is the Antichrist and we're all in for a roasting any day now, courtesy of events in the Middle East.

Me, I just have this image in my mind of two television monitors playing different shows at the satellite TV playout suite I once worked in. On one of them was a classic movie from the Seventies, one of those jaunty, modern, stylish spy movies set in jaunty, modern, stylish Beirut. On the other was a documentary about Beirut getting bombed to smithereens not too many years later.

Guys, you're all so damned boring. Get a life instead of constantly taking them.

::Forgiveness rules, OK?::

My apologies to the families concerned for thinking of their tragedy as light relief, but the one thing that has made the news worth following of late has been the local interest in the car accident that killed members of the Tongan royal family. The American fascination with anyone who has a claim to royalty, combined with the almost King and I atmosphere shown at the Bay Area home where people went to pay their respects meant the story has many legs.

Not the least of which is the fate of the 18-year-old whose driving led to the accident--she is in jail on $3 million bail--and the forgiveness extended to her by Princess Mele Siuilikutapu, sister of Prince Tu'ipelehake. The SF Chronicle reports that the princess said at a news conference on Friday:

"Because of my personal faith... I have no other choice but to extend forgiveness toward here, and I hope no extreme measure of violence or malice of heart will be exchanged between anyone" because of the crash.

::Car grazing::

Those killed were in the make of SUV that is synonymous with rollover deaths in the US--the Ford Explorer. Back in 2002, the design of the four-door Explorer model was changed so that it sits lower to the ground, and its wheelbase was widened by two inches. Put simply, the early model Ford Explorers were akin to cows waiting to be tipped because their centre of gravity was too high.

This is complete surmise on my part, but the combination of an early model Explorer and a teenager playing a game that is popular on the freeways here--car grazing--could have been the recipe for this disaster. Grazing is played at high speeds with unsuspecting motorists on the freeway. The driver has to get as close to another car as possible without actually hitting it. Many people I speak to say they avoid driving on the freeway because of the kind of games that are played there.

::The man with the hole in his head::
Last weekend, I was waiting at a BART station for a train when a stranger struck up a conversation with me. He'd obviously been to a nearby shopping mall, because he had a DVD player in a shopping bag. "Colma, one year," he said, several times. Colma is a city on the San Francisco peninsula, so I thought he was telling me in broken English that he'd been living there for a year.

Then I realised he was saying, "Coma, one year." In the conversation that followed, his verbless three- or four-word sentences told me how, three years earlier, he'd been driving with his pregnant--almost due--wife and three sons in their mini-van when they were hit by a drunk driver.

He gesticulated to show that the van was hit many times, and drew a small laminated card out of his wallet, showing on one side what was left of the van after the accident and on the other side the accident report sketch of the impacts at the scene. Other cards and gestures and words told me about his life before the accident: his kids and his wife, her job at a prestigious biotech company and his career in management for a nationwide warehouse company.

He took off his baseball cap and showed me how the left side of his skull had been knocked in. All the while, he smiled. All the while, he communicated in the few words he had at his disposal, backed up with gestures and wallet-sized cards. We didn't sit together on the train but, when he got off at the next stop, he smiled again as he passed by the window I was sitting at.

I don't know what to make of an exchange like that. He wasn't looking for pity or money, though he was clearly painfully aware of the havoc that had been wrought in his life. He was extremely trusting of a complete stranger. But above all he communicated so clearly with the limited means at his disposal that I was just astonished by his achievement. And humbled by his smiling equanimity in the face of such a total loss occurring at a time when his family's future must have seemed at its brightest.

The person or persons who worked to rehabilitate this man whose life had gone to hell in a handbasket in the space of a few seconds should be set to work on world peace.



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