June 03, 2006

The sky is white.
The sand is white.
The trees are gray and tiny.
They have lost their shadows.
The sun is the moon,
round and soft.
We are underwater.
In a land stripped of hue,
or contrast
or emotion.
The sun burns quietly.

Even the camels are so sad
we have to sing to keep them going.
Touregs ride with their feet on the neck
and a wooden stick hidden
in the fold of their robes.

In the quietest village in the desert
I catch no sleep.
Even the stars keep their distance.

There was just too much blood
for me to help that tiny girl.
They brought her to me all wrapped up,
like an unwanted parcel,
They ask for medicine,
unable to name what had been done to her.

I think she fell down... on something sharp.
How long has she been like this?
Three days.

Here we are, just 15 km from a doctor.
Such a short walk.

I’d carry her to town
(please let me take her to a doctor...)
I don’t care about the military
They won’t shoot a Toubab with a sick girl

But I can’t play hero.
I can’t tell these people what to do or think.
How dare I?

I am not part of this community.
I don’t belong here. (what am I doing here?)

I can only do what is asked of me.
I can only act with permission.

I can’t cry or scream.
But I also can’t hide my feelings
even though I know my eyes betray my disrespect.
I’m not even sure I can stop the bleeding.

Please, no more tea.
Can’t you just touch her arm or speak to her?
Some warm milk perhaps with sugar.
Maybe she can drink that.

I am not a doctor.
Having white skin doesn’t make me a doctor.
I don’t know how to bandage a wound like this.

Maybe tomorrow she will go with you back to town.
I don’t know if she will be alive tomorrow.
I don’t know.

The chief just says,
We’ll see. Inshallah.

Mousaf is angry.
No one will sleep tonight, he says.
A half hour later I can hear him snoring.

I watch the stars

We leave early in the morning.

I am running away, back to Bamako. Anywhere.
Away from the dark eyes of that little girl,
from the face of her mother, blank and without emotion.

The open window has left half of me olive green and
painted the other half with the red clay of the road.
The window is broken
and I sit with this hot wind
damp with sweat.
Not sure if the air is cooling
or making me ill.

They say there is a herd of wild elephants left here
But everything else has been killed,
the trees felled.
Only dust remains
and the small huts of men.
Some things are actually very simple
And some sights are unspeakable.

The day makes my eyes sting and my skin peel.
It is enough to stay awake,
to keep moving.
I can't stay here.