"Nomadic Life" Lesson

Students will examine the imagery in a rich, spare poem about an interlude between two women of different cultures in rural Niger.


  1. Read the poem aloud to the class, asking them to listen carefully. Then, before reading it again, ask students whether they can answer the following questions:
    • What happened to the sugar and the M&Ms? [Aisha took all the sweets off the table.]
    • Why do you think the poet mentioned the tea cups? [To give a sense of time; i.e., the writer was out of the room preparing tea, which gave Aisha the time to help herself to all the sweets.]
    • Would you have taken all the sweets at a friend's home? Why might Aisha have taken them all?
    • What does Aisha's taking of the sweets tell us about her? Her culture? [Point out that it is not necessary to make judgments about what Aisha did; what is important is to interpret her behavior in an effort ot understand something more about what Aisha knows, what she has, what she needs, what she has learned...]
    • What is the dust storm of light? [Perhaps a shaft of light illuminating dust inside the home]
    • Why would Aisha examine the insides of ice cubes? [She probably has never seen an ice cube before.]
    • Do the women know a language in common? How do you know? [They know some language in common, because the poet knows that Aisha has asked about "strong" and "weak" water. But their communication is somewhat restricted; the poet says they had to invent common words between them.]
    • What does the poet mean by referring to "strong" or "weak" ice, in Aisha's terms? [ice or liquid water]
    • How does the poet feel about her guest, Aisha? What evidence do you have? [She feels admiration for how Aisha manages in the desert. We get a sense of the poet's awe because she says she wants to trade places and have the know-how to navigate the desert.]
    • What does the poet think Aisha will think about after she leaves? [She thinks Aisha will discuss the oddities of her host's home—the ice, the refrigerator, the picture of the snow—and wonder what life is like for Susan Rich, just as Rich wonders what the life of a nomad is.]
  1. This poem does not rhyme. What makes it a poem? [The imagery, the suggestiveness of the words, the impact of what has been left out, along with what has been provided.]
  2. Why did the poet choose to title her poem "Nomadic Life"?
  3. Now read the poem again, or pass it out to the students and let them follow as you read it. Discuss whether it means more, now that they have closely examined the imagery. Do they see other points they would like to raise? You may wish to review the questions again, now that the students have the poem in front of them.

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