"Most of the throng -- like most of Brazil -- was throttled by poverty. These thousands in the city of Sobral were dressed in threadbare clothes and mud-covered sandals. Some stood on tiptoes, hoisting small children who squirmed in their arms. Others held tightly to the bicycles they had ridden across the rain-drenched roads. ''Lula, Lula!'' they shouted, relentlessly pushing forward, those closest grasping for the president's sleeve. A small bear of a man, Lula is bearded and round-shouldered with a wide neck and a thick middle. He moved from one person to the next, hugging some and pausing to hear what they had to say, patting the palm of his hand against the side of their faces. ''O-lé, o-la, Lu-la, Lu-la!'' the crowd began to sing, as if roused to a chant at a soccer game. ''You are a saint!'' cried one barefoot old woman. Her eyes were desperate and bloodshot. She was clutching Lula and wouldn't let go. ''You will help us,'' she said, and as the president bent closer to hear, she bestowed the accolade of the people: ''You are one of us.''
What she, like the others, wanted was a little attention, a little empathy, a little money. Brazil is a rich nation full of poor people, its distribution of income nearly the most unequal in the world. The next night, in another city, a young girl mistook me and my translator for members of Lula's staff. She handed us a note, begging us to pass it on. Many words were misspelled; there was a name but no address. It said: ''Lula, I have six brothers and sisters and my mother doesn't work and we don't have a father to help us. Please, my mother cries because we don't have anything to eat. My name is Adriene.''
Lula, of all people, would understand, the little girl must have thought.
And this would have been right. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 58, is the genuine article, a walking fable, democracy's classic story, the poor boy who grew up to be president"
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