The boys

A poignant reflection of a Volunteer’s students

By Jerr Boshchee - Peace Corps Volunteer, India (1968 –1971)

Ashok Kumar
committed suicide
 
     but . . .
 
ten are shopkeepers
two are teachers
three are bankers
 
     and the sweeper’s son
     outranks them all
 
they were 11 then,
and 12,
learning English for the first time
 
     I was 23,
     petrified,
     dumped in an Indian village
 
now they wait
at the gates
of the school,
garlands ready
 
now they greet me,
with hands raised,
palms together,
and tell me their names
 
     youthful faces
     peering at me
     from weathered skin
     and memory 
 
and in the street,
others bend to touch my feet!
 
I taught them
on dirt plots,
in sheds without walls,
in my home
 
     scruffy little kids
     with brown uniforms
     and ear-splitting grins
 
I scheduled eye exams,
bought them glasses,
watched all but a few
 
     discard them
 
I took them on tours
 
     to Delhi and the Taj
     and then,
     for a month,
     to southern India
 
          village boys!
 
I chattered with them
in broken Hindi,
broken English
 
sent them scurrying on errands,
brought them books,
visited their homes
 
and all the time,
I wondered
 
     did it matter?

Kaku Ram,
unbidden,
tells me it did
 
Molar Ram
appears in the morning mist,
with his family
 
Dharm Pal
takes me to his father
 
and Baldev says they’ve been
telling stories about me
for 25 years
 
I still don’t know
 
     but they remembered

This poem was selected as a finalist in the returned Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. It was selected from more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.

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