My study abroad trip taught me how
to drink cheap rum from half a pocketknifed waterbottle
and not much else, I was
a tourist disguised as a student,
my whiteness a lucky charm
everyone wanted to rub.
The woman I called mama
asked me if my freckles hurt,
I asked her why you can buy
hair from an entire aisle at the supermarket;
there are things we do not know about each other
that we don't know we don't know
until our lives planecrash together.
The Swahili word for the eiderdown
that duvets forearms is the
same as the word for "angel"
and in this place my AIDS-campaign name was hung like hope
on city billboards;
in bars made entirely of tin cans
it was also lifted with shot glasses: to long life
or deep life, or wide or tall -
Swahili is a small language
that borrows from itself
and at first I could not tell its Arabic edges apart
from the native Kikuyu the people I called family
mixed it with
to make it potable.


A/N: In 2008 I spent four months living and traveling in Kenya and Tanzania. This is recent reflection poetry.