Poverty is a Guest

from a Peace Corps Volunteer, on economic privilege

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.

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