By Lesa Caldarella-Wong
In 1994, I traveled to Africa on two separate occasions during one of the most tumultuous times in the history of that continent. My usual assignment was stateside in marketing and communications, working with volunteers and churches to raise funds and awareness for humanitarian causes. The purpose of my travel was to gain insight into the needs of the people we served, to visit projects currently sponsored by the organization, and to deliver supplies to children who had survived the massacre in Rwanda.
In that capacity, I was able to witness firsthand the impact and tragedy of poverty, war, famine, landmines, and the awful genocide in Rwanda, as well as rejoice in the election and inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president. The genocide in Rwanda was unique as the most horrific systematic murder of people in a 100-day span as the world stood by, watching without action and turning a blind eye to the holocaust. I am humbled and grateful for the trans-formative and sobering lessons of that journey.
And although the poetry in this volume is not strictly autobiographical, it is inspired and informed by my experiences and,in some cases, directly reflective of my trip notes and journals. My experiences in Africa have shaped my world view over the last twenty years. I am forever mindful of mankind’s responsibility to look beyond their own world and to live lives of compassion and awareness.
About the Author
A Southern California native, Lesa Caldarella-Wong spent more than thirty years working for non-prof it organizations. She has a passion for people and the issues of social injustice, war, hunger, natural disasters, and human rights. In her work for non-prof it organizations, she has traveled throughout the world and facilitated national and international campaigns to aid victims and refugees of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the Rwandan genocide, 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.
Diving into these words was an exercise in bearing witness to a part of the human experience I had only read about in the newspapers. I remember reading about Rwanda. I prayed. But I was removed. Reading Real Bread was a journey into the darkest parts of humanity; haunting and harrowing, yes, but bearable and illuminating because Lesa Caldarella-Wong bore witness with love, with the eyes and heart of God as embodied within as a “woman from the West.” These poems are potent and relevant reminders for all of us today, twenty years later, of the suffering that still exists around the world…and the loving actions of the extraordinary ordinary people acting to bring light and love in the form of medicine, bread, water, kindness. I am impressed by the eloquence of the language, the depth of connection, and how Ms. Caldarella-Wong was able to convey the unbearable with such grace and dignity and respect for the country and its people.
~ Sheila James, Mediator and Collaborative Attorney
Poet-Author Lesa Caldarella-Wong offers in Real Bread: Poetry and Prose Inspired by the Famine of the Moment, a profound “pageantry and truth/served in the finest cups.” Her thinking “lives in a moment of being,” where pageantry and truth survive in “a place where children are fragile birds.” In Ethiopia, “without pretense to adorn my fears,” she writes of crushing poverty that pierces deep into her soul, to the homage of spirit catching tears, and presents us with the grateful and sincere “last remnants of civility.”
~ Gordon Preston, Author, Pieces of Monterey Bay
Lesa Caldarella-Wong feels intensely, and that is at the core of her gift. It is a gift that gives her the ability to use her feelings and words to paint indelible pictures for the reader. It is her journey, and it becomes our journey, too. In the poem Sparrow Child, the words are so raw, sparse, and real that they left my mouth agape. In Glow on the Hill, I can feel the wrenching passion of a mother’s experience at King Faisal Hospital. And in the beautiful Acacia, one can’t help but feel a somber peace for scores of people who live on in hope. This is an amazing first book of poetry and prose. It is definitely one that you will want to share with friends.
~ Marguerite Minor, Poet-Author
Caldarella-Wong’s keen insight into hearts of the babies, children, teens, and adults she witnesses first-hand is breathtaking; she is an extraordinary storyteller who uses masterfully selected and poetic words to help us feel empathically for these desperate and very proud souls. Her gift is in never stripping anyone she observes of their dignity—always holding them in the highest. Caldarella-Wong’s powerful words take the reader to the same places that touched her soul. Without preaching, she writes in such a way that I feel her heart. I’ve known Lesa since we were in junior high and joined an after-school Chinese class. Even then her curiosity about people who live in cultures much more diverse than our almost 100-percent Caucasian, small–Southern California town burned passionately. Taking the curiosity and compassion I know she has for people in all corners of the globe and turning it into the art of lovely poetry makes the words take on an elegance that contrasts with the difficult things she describes.
~ Sue Breding, Award-Winning Journalist
Caldarella-Wong’s songs of experience are at once a blend of immeasurable passion, frightful imagery, and unending hope. Her words are a beacon to those who would sacrifice for the betterment of our planet, and the strength and purpose of her message will tingle the very fiber of your soul. Bravo!
~ Kevin Connard, Teacher and Author, Hollymac