A girl's daily struggles inspire this poem.

By Katie Pepiot - Peace Corps Volunteer, South Africa (2007 - 2009)


walks to school
clinging to her bag of books
(and dreams)
it's still dark out,
so she hopes she can blend in
as she trudges by the
all-night tavern.
she has seen friends stop by there before,
but she is about the business of Learning
and Surviving.

So she carries on.
lucky to have avoided the usual catcalls and come ons,
she takes note of her morning chores,
silently confirming their completion.
kids washed and fed...check.
wood collected...check.
water fetched...check.
homework finished...check. of those seems out of place.
or maybe it's three.
things have been hard
since Mama and Daddy died.
but we get by.
We get by, she thought.
and she carries on,
wondering what it would be like
to be a lawyer or a doctor or an actress
like in those books she reads
mind focused on the future
the "past" of childhood
already too far gone to recall
but there has got to be something more
She insists.

And so she carries on.
after an hour of walking
she reaches school
an hour early.
it's her duty to help clean
all of the classes (and the admin block today)
so she collects her bucket of paraffin wax
and silently bends
her bare bony knees
to the cold, unforgiving
concrete floor
where she stays for the next hour
the boys arrive 10 minutes before the bell
and are kicking around a home made ball
and she wonders what it's like to play.

But she carries on.
class begins with
5 strikes to the hands
because half of the class
did not complete their homework
(which Mosetsana did)
but the sting goes away quickly
(or maybe her hands are too calloused to notice)
and it's time for science.
today's subject, the faces of the moon.
Mosetsana smiles, because
she often dreams about what it would be like
to star gaze from the moon
she absorbs every bit of information
just in case her dreams come true

Until then, she carries on.
during break, she tries to get
the morning's homework done
she's alone in the classroom,
but she doesn't mind.
it's nice to be alone with her thoughts.
classes continue and then school is over.
she quietly laments the end of
the part of the day with the
Least Responsibility.
now she heads back home,
ready to don the Mama hat
after checking her brothers' homework
and consoling her sister
(who still misses mommy),
Mosetsana makes bogobe and milk for dinner
no meat today.
maybe next week?
as the kids fall asleep
(all piled in Mama and Daddy's big bed)

Mosetsana wonders

And she dreams

And that's how she carries on.

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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