Several years ago I sat in a room full of women. It could have been a room in Halimah and Rania’s Khartoum home! I listened to them chatter, laugh, eat, relax, and play with the children. One mom broke off from the group to perform her Muslim prayers while her child pulled on her scarf and tried to get her to pay attention to him instead of her ablutions. On one metal bed sat an old lady. She couldn’t walk and I suspect her eyesight and hearing were losing momentum as well. She held a little baby and I noticed the beautiful contrast: old and new. Later I wrote this poem about the pair (who are pictured above):
Tough brown skin, wrinkled and scarred
From years of work and a life that was hard.
Oh the stories I might tell, if only I could.
My gnarled, arthritic and calloused hands
Brush back hair streaked with silvery strands.
Oh the stories I’d tell, and maybe I should.
My eyes are cloudy and vision is low
My voice is rough and words come slow.
I wonder if anyone would care to hear.
My body is bent and strength is gone.
But there is hope in this little one.
And that is why I hold him dear.
Healthy and new is his soft shiny skin.
His years are before him: a life to begin!
Just holding him seems to give life back to me.
Active and wiggly hands and feet
Clamber and grasp with energy sweet.
I wonder what he will grow up to be?
His eyes are black and bright as stones
As if ready to take on all the unknowns.
And, who knows? Maybe he really can.
Soft curls cover his little round head.
He is the hope after my life is led.
I felt free to go when his life began.
But holding him now, I have to resign
That his life will be just as hard as mine.
What will his choice be when life turns sour?
Right now he is soft but scars are in store
That may mar his skin and his heart even more.
Will he have the strength in his toughest hour?
Ah, to share my experience, that is my dream
To help this boy build his strength and esteem.
To tell him who and what and where…
But that’s not real life, not if I give it.
Life is experience, you have to live it.
So I hold him close and whisper a prayer.
(from VILLA IN THE HILLA)