In the States I didn't know

A poem about the vast differences between life in America and life in Mali.

By Sara Litke - Peace Corps Volunteer, Mali (2009 - 2011)

In the States I didn't know

that statistics correspond to breathing,

living people.

That poverty is a crime

we all perpetrate.

 

In the States I didn't know

women who have their genitals cut.

Here it is almost every woman I pass.

 

In the States I didn't know

people whose houses are burnt down

and they are left with nothing -

not a bank account or back-up plan or asset.

Just the clothes on their back, the

love of a community and the

strength in generations of knowing that

to HAVE is not to BE.

Here my best friend rebuilds his charred home

of sun-dried clay bricks and stones.

 

In the States I didn't know

couples who have lost their children

to things like

diarrhea malnutrition malaria.

Here, in one week I have spoken to two

couples who have buried three babies each.

 

In the States I didn't know

people with

goiters, birth defects, infected wounds

that go untreated, uncured.

Here I wonder if my offering of aspirin or rubbing alcohol

acknowledgment or empathy

really helps.

 

In the States I didn't know

people who, without warning,

lose their minds to paranoia, schizophrenia, insanity

speaking tongues or empty words to no one at all

- or to the self they have somehow lost –

Here it happened to my brother in one day – today – Eid-Al-Adha – Tabaski –

The day of Sacrifice

(who knew he would sacrifice his mind?)

 

In the States

we say such occurrences are cases of

falling through the cracks

of a safety net

a social welfare system

a health care system

government infrastructure

 

I didn't know

that in some places

there are no cracks.

there is no net at all.

 

In the States I didn't know

We don't even see these people falling.


This poem was entered in the returned 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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