I Don’t Need a Scar to Remind Me

A Volunteer reflects on the hospitality of his host community in Mali.

By Sanjay Mathur - Peace Corps Volunteer, Mali (1991 - 1993)

I cut myself with a sickle,

The blade was so sharp

I scarcely knew it at the time,

Until I saw the drops of bright red

On the green stalks of grain clutched in my hand.

Standing up, I exclaimed “I cut myself” to no one in particular.

A companion whose name I forget now, twenty years later,

-          And almost any Malian in that setting would have known -

Looked at me and said simply, “Na yan,” come here.

Taking a machete, he found the grass he wanted to cut.

Cutting it, he asked that I stretch out my hand, and

He squeezed the juice from the grass onto my little finger:

The bleeding began to stop.

Come here, he said again, leading me to a tree,

And cutting into it sideways, a white sap oozed out.

He placed my finger below it:

The swelling began to go down.

Cutting a strip of cloth, he tied it onto my finger,

And said, “An ka baarake”, let’s get back to work.

It is not that I am proud of the scar.

I never look at it, because I do not need the scar

To remind me of people I once knew, and carry with me still,

Who took in a stranger like me, a citified young American,

And taught me so much about their land and their way of life,

Almost making me one of their own.

They might say I helped them, with the wells and water supplies,

With the matrône and maternity or the mill to grind grain,

But it is the servant who is healed and forever enriched,

In this case by village hospitality, generosity, and kindness,

Villagers whom wealthier societies would think have little to give

Yet who give everything they have.

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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