I’m not a poet. I’ve only recently started reading poetry, and I’ve only written one poem so far. It still needs work. I wrote about a very dear friend. A short version of her story follows. To preserve privacy, I’ve changed names. I attached photos I took while visiting her in Kenya, but the photos are of people who are not involved with the story.
The Missionary: Poem
Frail body homes hollow birdie bones, conquered and malnourished
Schools crumbled, monies squandered, children lost, objectives never flourished.
Now daughter gone and husband’s betrayal, you return an unsmiling shell,
Depressed and weary, wary and done, and doubting that you served God well.
We once were so alike, our curly hair and curvy hips, on a mission to save the world of sinking ships.
And then you left, built a school, saved a baby, smiled bravely as your parents pursed their lips.
All the while you called me hero, though myopic eyes expel
I wept from haven far away for you, who served God well.
Now returned, fractured heart with cast of wisdom
Of minute oppressors shaking hands for an edge on freedom.
Back to school you work again, with cautious tale to sell
Because intent by one alone is enough to serve God well.
(Above: Here is a crumbled school. She helped the village to build a new one, since every time it rained school had to be canceled.)
The Missionary: Story
Sharon said one long prayer, while silent tears fell to the floor of her stone apartment. The prayer was to hold back the tears when it came time to give up her six year old daughter, Mae. If she ever hoped to get her back someday, she could not look weak today. No tears.
After the prayer, she filled a pot of warm milk and placed it on the stove. They would have tea first and a plantain each. When reaching for the plantains, she remembered that there was only rice and peas for dinner tonight. Perhaps she could convince Sean’s sister and their housekeeper, Trudy, to bring her a piece of fatty pork in exchange for a little beer. Pork could be added to the rice and peas to make pilau.
“Maewati, come here. Your tea is ready.”
A shorty, stocky dark girl came sulking into the room. Her eyes yellowed from HIV, and her tightly braided hair kept it from needing washed more than once a week.
Sharon handed her a mug of scalding milk with a tea bag placed inside. “Drink, and don’t sulk. You don’t want your dad to whip you, do you?” It was cruel, but she had to prepare Mae. She wasn’t going forward into a good world. The tears started to well up again, but Sharon remembered her prayer for strength and placed a plantain before Mae.
How did she ever come to live in this country with this life? Only six years ago, she came here to build schools. To save the world, that is what she thought she was doing. It was funny to even think about it, especially since now she saves money to bribe the police just like the rest of the citizens. The kids who get an education take off to America, never to return. Why would anyone return, when they had food and money and luxuries for working much less?
She came here and found a baby. The baby looked alien. Ten months old and ten pounds, the skin stretched across the bones of that tiny, ugly thing, with large eyes bulging from the sockets. She fought for an explanation and got one. The mother died from AIDs, and the baby, also sick, was considered cursed. The father and grandmother stopped feeding her. When Sharon took over, the baby ate voraciously, vomiting every time. By the age of one, she was instructed by the doctor to hold food back from the baby; she had become too fat in the last few months. At first, Sharon cried every time Mae cried for the bottle, but when the other mothers told her she showed too much emotional weakness to care for a baby, she forced herself to laugh instead. She even sent a video of the fat babe crying for the bottle.
Six years later, and now that Mae was healthier, the dad and grandmother wanted her back. There was a small chance that Sharon would get her once again, and she was prepared to fight for that chance. The agency said that if the natural family cannot attend to the medical needs of the girl, she would be given up. The family couldn’t. She wouldn’t be able to either if she hadn’t received special help from the states. Mae was slow, behind the rest of the kids. She was often sick, became injured easily, couldn’t hear very well, and needed regular medications. That family couldn’t afford it. They won’t, and she’ll suffer. Oh God, my poor baby.
Be strong. Sharon sipped her tea. Mae watched her closely. She had asked some questions a minute ago, but Sharon didn’t remember answering them. Focus, stay focused. You will not get her back, if they think you are weak. Where in the hell is Sean? Please don’t make me do this alone. This is your country, not mine. Please.
“Why do I have to go to that man?” asked Mae.
“He’s your natural dad,” Sharon replied in Kiswahili. She better get Mae used to speaking Swahili again. She’ll be able to talk English all she wants in school, but at home it will be Swahili.
“I thought Sean was my dad.”
“He is. You have two dads. Eat your plantain, or you’ll go hungry until tonight. Now, I won’t have you showing weakness. You need to be strong, okay?” Jesus, please make sure she doesn’t go hungry tonight.
“Yes, Ma.” Mae wrapped her arms around Sharon’s neck, without crying. Sharon recited a memorized poem in her head in order to ignore to divert the tears. She can cry again when she returns. Sean has seen her do it before and will be alright with it. But not now. Now, she has to be strong for her baby.
(Above: The view from Mae’s home before leaving.)