By Adrian Croke – Peace Corps Volunteer, The Gambia (2008 – 2012)
She had twins. I was at a friend’s house when it happened. She was smart to go to the hospital, as most women give birth in a doorway at home. She was only five months or so along. The girl died right away. The boy—small enough to fit in my hand—held on for just a few days, kept alive in a makeshift incubator. There is no room in Africa for something so small. Nor are there words in Wolof for how I felt. At least, I hadn’t learned any. At the hospital she fumbled around, offering her food to everyone else first. She looked tired and gaunt. The other women ate, and I looked at her, with more honesty and feeling than I’ve ever showed my own blood, and I said the only thing I thought to say. “You, everything, it’s okay?” She looked down. Nervous by my eye contact and persistent concern on such a simple matter as life and death. Her head lowered, eyes to the floor. “The girl was to be your namesake” she said, and took a spoonful of porridge.
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.