memorial to a dead catechist

in a field, far from you

looms a skeletal, rusted cross planted in concrete

an emblem of murder.

Imagine the way

his body hung in the seat belt,

bullets shattered bone & glass

eyes closed in a light sleep

or staring open, haunted with last loss?

Were there people who screamed for him?

See how the blood ran out, over the seat and pooled

probably by the footbrake

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grading curve

Part I: Sunday

It is my first day back home. I have risen slowly, taking my time to wake in my own room, in my own yard. Your cries startle, bring my eyelids open, so I shuffle out of my round, thatched-roof room to meet you.

Sunday. Sunday boy, your mother calls you. She waves a sudsy hand up at me – “Good morning!” and plunges it back into the wash basin with our slough of grimy, travel-stained clothes. My tired glance finds you, a little bundle perched on our lawn in the shade, a pile of material around your little legs. Your perfect spherical eyes are glazed over, gazing up at my glowing visage as I tousle my hair out of my eyes to see you more clearly. Sunday boy, your skin is perfect chocolate and you are so cute.

In my dazed half-awake state, I realise that lifting you in my arms is better left for later. I have two months to hold you, I think to myself, smiling in security. I am not leaving for a while. We have weeks to get to know each other. I tear my eyes from yours – brown on brown – and walk towards my morning coffee.

Part II: Monday

I am working on my final paper for the semester, on the night it is due. I am revising my thesis with a friend after a warm meal with guests. A mug of tea is in my right hand and I am glowing with the knowledge of finality, the end of a day and a semester.

My mother gasps, startling us. The next few moments blur by, the question WHY resounds in my bones. They did all they could. It was sudden, unexpected. No one saw it coming; he was so healthy. This is the second child they have lost this year.

The paper, my world of the past few days, lies forgotten before me as the computer screen blends into a single white glow in front of my eyes. My hands shake, and I cannot force myself to care about theories of modernity when I never held him. I never picked up Sunday boy. He is gone and I never held him.

Somewhere, his mother is wailing in the night; I am pressing send on a half-finished paper and we are all crying out to God in the dark to spare us this heartache that has been cut out of us so quickly.

Part III: Tuesday

It is one of my last days in Uganda, and I am waiting, watching in the corner of the back room of the clinic. The doctor is beside me, giving instructions in a loud and firm voice. Our white gloves are sticky with blood and fluids as a woman I have never seen before in my life swears violently on the table before us, clutching her knees as her abdomen heaves.

I will spare you the details, but the first thing we see is his hair. Tight curls, damp against his scalp. Quickly, suddenly, his face squirms out into the world. His cries light up my heart. He is healthy, beating the air with tiny fists.

All sorts of things that I don’t understand are happening around us. Clamps, towels, scissors, and you wailing, little new boy. Welcome.

You are weighed and wrapped, little one. Your reflexes are perfect. You are placed with gloved hands by your mother’s side, where she embraces and nourishes you. Not my hands – I never held you.

Tiny, unnamed boy. Culture says you will remain nameless until it seems you are here to stay.

Stay, child, until I can return to hold you.

mbale (ten days)

My family has spent the past few days in Mbale, the first town we lived in when we moved to Uganda.

The market is wonderful:

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it started to rain and a few drops hit my lens:

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As I was leaving, an old man asked me to take his photo:

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and we rounded off the day by a drive up Wanale to see the sunset (which we missed, unfortunately)

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I love being home.

drowning

When I first went to India, I wrote a piece concerning drowning and being drowned in a culture that was not my own:

“Each of her parents had gone their own way. Her mother had walked out of an icy, damp land, hair blowing in the wind – Ireland, the place she mentioned with longing sighs and wistful glances out the door. Her father had stood tall on the decks of ships way out across the Caribbean, traversing the dangers of South America, a land that had chiseled him down and made him a man.

So it was only natural that, after they’d all been together on the plains of Africa, that she would dive off the deep end and drown herself in the madness of India.

The drop into India was longer than she expected. She fell silently, her eyes open and her arms outstretched, until she crashed into the water with a mighty SPLASH, where it tore at her clothes, ripping out her hair. She sank swiftly and silently, shooting down by her skeletons of dreams and tattered kelpy thoughts, sinking deeper and deeper into darker and darker waters.

She came up for air in Agra, where she found a sort of life raft named Andy which carried her along for a while so that she could wipe her hair out of her eyes and catch her breath. All the water she’d swallowed stayed down, and he told her that she should keep it there because it would keep her alive.”

(2008)

Now I am melting, falling into this wasteland that says I belong,

I am overcome with memories and confusion

this constant reminder of You Do Not Understand,

You Do Not Belong

even though I look and speak like a native

I have perfected this chameleon act, blending

speaking this language to communicate a modicum of thought.

 – And yet, it is never enough.

I am exhausted of getting everything wrong, failing

in work friendship conversation class assignment meeting

I truly just want to get back to a language I can speak fluently,

speaking the truth into every ear, bold in faith

knowing that I am wholly loved and that I love wholly.

Let me fight this current, hold down this fiery water that burns my lungs

offensive, grating, I will breathe it

and swim to summer shores

then from there learn how to breathe air again.

in the face of all this dreary snow.

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About a year ago, I was on vacation with family – out in the plains of Kidepo, the best place for going safari that I have ever been. On the first morning of our trip, we rose early to go out on an early game drive, since dawn is the best time to see wildlife.

Being two metres from a  pack of full-grown lions is a wonderful way to start any morning.

moving forwards

A new family has moved to the town in which my family first lived when we moved to Uganda, the beautiful town of Mbale.

The mother of this family has some lovely photographs that make me completely nostalgic every time I look at them.

They are coming to grips with the enormity of the culture gap:

different clothing

crazy workshops, in which you must sit for hours waiting for the car to be fixed

learning to exist in a place where being white is being a racial minority

learning to appreciate the ragged beauty that is everywhere

traveling, seeing all the fantastically beautiful natural landscapes

adjusting the schedule when the power goes out

experiencing the unpredictable road conditions

and learning to understand the often times crazy culture of the beautiful people.

(they’re even taking care of the old cat)

(all photo credits go to D. Tuininga)

breaking

My hair is brown, my eyes are brown, and my skin stays papery-pale, thin enough for word pencils to break right through every time I get an idea of who you think I am.

I love you more than my own blood sometimes, I am willing to let it flow out over this scrap paper, sticking with dirt and thorns, clotting over my thin wispy hair, weak.

Because of you I got horribly lost, lost in the stereotype of the dumb white girl who could get lied to over and over again and give and give herself away before realizing that she was stuck and trapped and loved you way too much to let go of what we had.

Friendship? What does that even mean? Is it clinging to the IV of your baby while we fly over the dusty roads in the back of the car, praying, splattered in someone else’s blood,  holding puddles of vomit in my lap while your wrinkled skin grows weaker and paler, carrying your family’s food for kilometers with your hand in mine? Is it sitting together on the dark damp floor of a hut, passing around the pitcher until our vision gets blurred, words slurred, the sun dropping into our gaping mouths over ages of confusion?

Because that’s what we had.

And what is now? What is this, what I’m doing? Scribbling down endless facts, shoving words into my ears and mouth until they bleed, overflowing with things that I think I might understand. If you could see me you would laugh and peel off all these layers I’m trying to keep myself warm with, slinging your arm around my shoulders, holding my hand and never once worrying about it being awkward. You would help me re-start the fire in the burn pit in the backyard, tossing in all the assignments and ideas and stress and orders and arguments, saying, “It is nothing.”

Whatever the outcome, we’ll have a little bit of time to clean me up before I crash back out again. I hope this time you’ll remember me and we’ll be able to scribble a little something short-hand in another one of our whirlwind, photo-snap relationships, where I don’t worry about being awkward or uncomfortable and just lean on your ribs and sleep.

I am on my way home to sunlight, to burn away these snowflakes caught in my brain and heart, freezing muscle, tensing and curling up in fear – those will fall away in the equatorial sun in water from my skin, perspiring toxin from my blood. I will sing my heart out into the wind, filling my lungs and exhaling all the cold into the breezes. I will stand and dance, fill my arms with family and friends, tangling fingers without worry, pour love into ears and eyes until they overflow in tongues. I will raise my arms to heaven and cry out in thanks for all of you.

And we will laugh at everything.

re-reentry.

two weeks from now, Nakor(u) will return

she will throw on old tshirts, run barefoot,

drink chai and kahawa and bottled sodas

walk for miles into the hills and villages

shoulder gunny sacks, sling toddlers up onto her hip

roll through gritty, dusty syllables of truth

spitting the sunflower seed shells from cracked dry lips

hang off of the back of open pickups and little dirtbikes

bathe splashing from basins, rubbing the rusty earth from skin

sit up late at night with only hurricane lamps and candles

sleep outside under trees and stars.

….

there is so much she’s missed

not gonna lie, there is so much that hasn’t been translated

through the tea strainer of chilly mornings

into what can be understood by real life.

why there’s always salt in my hair,

hair that’s been cut shorter and dyed,

the way my arms and legs are paler from lack of sunshine,

the layers and layers of clothing that are never enough

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but most importantly, the 10mg of hope

the cast for my heart

the bit I toss back every day with my afternoon coffee

 – how will I explain?

my last day in my village

The last time I was able to go out to the village near my home to visit many old friends, I made sure to document it.

One of my friends had just recovered from a very difficult premature birth.

the new baby

the children climbed all over us as we tried to talk

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the boys next door, their cousins, played with tires, rolling them around the yard.IMG_0754

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while the older brother did the dishes, waiting for their mother to come home.IMG_0761