Posted by: mhirdyounger | November 8, 2012

Some Poetry

In the spirit of pushing my comfort zone, I recently wrote and performed some poetry for EWB’s West Africa Night of Inspiration. It was a difficult experience, extremely tummy twisting, but in the end quite fulfilling. There’s something a well known spoken word artist says about poetry helping her work out things that she’s thinking about. These poems helped me put down some of the hypocrisies that I deal with in my work, passion and life.

The Other

Why are you ashamed of me?

I pass you, you look down. Why not greet me? You avoid my eyes.

I can pretend to act hurt, to scoff and think ‘you obviously haven’t embraced the welcoming ways of this country’. But, you know, I do the same to you. Although I am of the welcoming kind, I avoid your eyes, I avoid you. If I do meet you, it’s a brief hello, a slight nod.

And don’t get me started on the over enthusiastic hello of that shorts wearing camera round the neck khakied tourist. Embarassing. Don’t you know you can’t wear shorts? I wish I could just MAKE your shorts longer. Not into pants, but into trousers. You should know the difference.

And then there’s the girls with their fake braids, hanging out on the beach getting high with wannabe rastas who don’t even know what Rastafari is and have never heard of Hale Salase.

Why do white girls like rastas so much? my friend asks.

No wonder we have a reputation of being easy.  A reputation. That’s why I’m ashamed of you. Because you have created a reputation.

A reputation of white girls as easy, shabby, rasta loving volunteers.

So I walk down the street and sometimes I worry, that guy that just looked at me, that couple that I just walked past, do they also see me as an easy, shabby, rasta loving volunteer?

Am I an easy, shabby, rasta loving volunteer?

I think I’m ashamed of you because I don’t want to be that. I want to be different. I want to stand for something different.

I’m not voluntouring, I’m not here to take pictures of half naked children as you would the CN tower or a guard at bukingham palace. This is my home.

Let me create my own reputation, a new reputation.

I want to stand for change, for systemic change if I’m in EWB, for potential, for investment, for capacity and dreams. I don’t want to be here to save children, I want to be here to work with equals.

Not realizing the irony of not recognizing an equal in you because I don’t want to be thought of as a Peace Corps.

I don’t want lines on a piece of paper to separate haves from have nots. But somehow I let the fact that we are both on the same side of a line separate us. I’m not like you.

I see a white walking down the street. I wonder what she wants to stand for? I decide to smile and greet her. But she looks down, avoiding my hello. Why is she ashamed of me? Why does she think she’s so different from me? She doesn’t even look in my eyes, she doesn’t know my story.

I am her.


An Elephant Never Forgets

An elephant never forgets. That’s what they say.

I’d like to know what an elephant remembers, but their stories are forever sealed in their quiet minds …

As I walk past a group of old men playing checkers under a mango tree I wonder, can humans forget?

I again wonder the same thing as I kneel in greeting in front of the grandmother of my host family, If an elephant never forgets, what about an old woman?

A lifetime is a blink of an eye in the universal scheme of things, but this lifetime must have seen an eternity in her 90 years. The stages of her life have matched stages in the life of her country. Labels marking these stages, one put on before the last has been peeled off. Labels of colony, democratic, communist, poor, indebted. They pile on one another to create a history, a history that one lifetime can remember.

If an elephant never forgets, what about an old woman?

Does she remember a time of the label colony? Did she hear stories of aunts stolen and uncles missing? Of hands chopped off in payment for not enough rubber collected. Brothers and cousins taken to fight an unknown war and never seen again.

If an elephant never forgets, what about an old woman?

What about celebrations, the optimism of hope filled words like self-government and independence?

If an elephant never forgets, does this old woman remember the fight over proxies, chess pieces moved on a board without king and queen but with red and American?

Does she remember the first aid agency that came to save, shelter and feed her.

An elephant may never forget, but they do cry. Believe it. I have seen it. On national geographic, a herd of elephants circled around the body of a young, tears streaming down their temples. Dust mixing with salt water in the ridges of their wrinkled tough skin.

If an elephant cries, what about an old woman?

Has this woman ever cried for the failed hope of each new beginning that brings false promises? At the disappointment of words like communism, commercialism, pan-africanism? But are these words part of her vocabulary or mine?

Maybe this woman remembers, maybe she has not cried. But I have cried and I have forgotten.

I don’t remember.

I don’t remember that as I kneel in front of a woman I have labelled as poor, food insecure and unhealthy, that these labels are my own. Not hers. That I have played a role in her history and in shaping the world that she lives in. The oppression from which I am trying to save her is, in fact, my own.

I don’t remember.

When the new fad, like empowerment or private sector development comes in, I forget about our old structural adjustment programs that left countries with labels like highly indebted poor country. I forget about sterilisation programmes that took away the opportunity to experience one of life’s greatest gifts.

Just because our minds are our own tabula rasa does not mean that we work with a blank slate. This old woman is not a blank slate put here in front of me to fulfill my desire to help and save.  Because I have forgotten, I don’t see past labels like indebted and disempowered that lie underneath the new one I have stamped myself, unmet potential.

As I kneel in front of this grandmother I forget all that past. I am fresh, new, the first of my kind, here to change things.

If an elephant never forgets, what about an old woman?

I wonder if I sit next to her on this bench looking out at the children playing, mothers pounding and sisters washing, if I sit here for long enough, how much of her story she will share. How much her lifetime remembers.



  1. Wow Mir these are really beautiful, thoughtful pieces. Definitely able to relate to both of them very much. Thanks for sharing!

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