Apartheid Bread

A Volunteer learns about the conditions of apartheid by way of bread.

By Brian Minalga - Peace Corps Volunteer, Niger (2008 - 2010) and Namibia (2010 - 2012)

The last loaf cools on the rack.

I reach, but her snatching hands are quick,

rigged with veins,

knobbed with knuckles.

She’s scrubbed iron with steel wool,

snapped chickens’ necks,

sliced umbilical cords.

Tjirumbu wants brown bread!

she cackles with mad wisdom.

Everyone looks at the white

foreigner. She straightens her spine

inside seven layers of patchwork,

a dress she sewed

out of rival scraps:

fish scales, paisley, vines, daisies.

She’s rolled a newspaper,

stitched it into the same crazy fabrics,

twisted it into horns she wears on her head,

declaring pride in her cows.

She tells me of times

when black skin, white skin

stained the desert red.

She speaks of laws so deeply superficial--

how they hacked off her hair

for eating white

bread. Between us she holds

the loaf the color of her skin,

digs hard fingers into its crust.

Tjirumbu

she says, splits the loaf in two,

you take the larger half,

presses hot bread into my hands.

For now we know

she whispers,

eyes sparkling like minerals in a cave,

white bread humors the heart,

brown bread makes it strong.


This poem was entered in the returned Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. The contest received more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.

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