Poverty is a Guest
By Alyssa Rosen - Peace Corps Volunteer, Botswana (2014 - 2016)
I don't really know Poverty.
I've invited him over for dinner many times:
he stuffs his pockets with everything I've prepared
and when I go to fill my own plate,
nothing is there.
I don't really know him though,
he's only ever been a guest in my home
I've closed the door on Poverty's face more than once,
preferring to watch TV
or surf the web
instead of dealing with a slightly rude guest.
So when I meet those who
Poverty won't leave alone,
staying for weeks or years in their home
never paying rent, or even answering the phone,
I don't know what to do.
I don't know what it's like to wake up next to Poverty,
wanting to leave him
but not knowing how,
being frustrated with his demands,
as he takes all the food and rips my kids' clothes
inviting in the rats, and the bats
and taking all my money for transport,
seeing him abuse
everyone I love.
When Poverty comes over to my house, it's always just been him and me
we sit and we talk and I tell him when to leave,
I let him in cause I keep hoping to learn:
learn why Poverty takes from some, and not from others
learn how to help others escape--
maybe this garden project, maybe this small business will take them away.
But sometimes all I seem to gain from Poverty
is some amusing anecdotes to tell at cocktail-time
talking about that improvised stew, or what I used instead of toilet paper.
Poverty isn't my friend, or my lover, or my husband
he's just an acquaintance I talk with sometimes
and that's why
I fear I'll never fully know
what it's like to be someone in my village,
what it's truly like to struggle to survive.
This poem was entered in the 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.