Monday, April 8, 2013

Where I Was 30 Years Ago Part Two: A Poem in Memory

In my last post I noted that I was in the Peace Corps in Malawi 30 years ago.  I was a teacher.  Recently  a student found me on the Internet and sent me a letter.  I included excerpts from that letter.  Since then I have had a few more emails from my student.  He listed ten students from my class who have died of aids since I was last in Malawi.

When we were there Steve would come home from the operating room covered in blood to his underwear.  It ran off his body in pools of red in the shower.  The sterile gloves were used over and over again.  He often tore his finger through a glove doing invasive procedures.  We did not know about aids then.  When he got home and began reading the medical literature, Steve knew he had to be tested.  Malawi was one of the places where aids had been initially discovered.  Blood could be deadly.   In retrospect we were lucky.

Much later I wrote a poem based on my teaching experiences in Malawi.  I offer it here in memory of my ten students, the many others, friends, some like family, others co-workers who we know have died and those we do not know about.


                                                           Nsanje Malawi, 1980

Bat guano leaks through
                                    the ceiling onto pages of my
notebook writing it’s own story.

And school boys jump up
                                    to move the desk of their teacher, they
 carry my books for me, call me Madam.

In the ass end of this country, in the still dark morning they
 come, uniformed in frayed  white shirts( dotted with pin prick
holes from the sparks of coal irons).

Where we study Solzhenitsyn, browned pages falling
                                    from one single copy and 40 boys sit at shared wooden desks cannot  hear  the teacher, rain a drum pounding, their heads down.

Where President Banda is for life and we dare
                                    not discuss politics, wide eyed smiling, shining black
broad muscled, 25 year old “boys” still in secondary school.

Praying to god and to the spirits because
                                    they have seen hyenas turn into witches and fly
through the night in baskets meant  for winnowing the rice.

Where it is the only rain to fall in one year
                                    because God has forgotten us and if only
our fore fathers had been slaves we would be Americans now.

I love your eyes, your voice like music  they write in love
                                     letters to me and  I lie to them and say, you
 can be anything you want.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Many metaphors, many thoughts and emotions, thank you, Nancy