*Third line of each stanza is read rapidly without pause.
Smiles are bright on brown faces I have known, eyes crinkled against the sun;
Home is a shack with thatch for a roof and a barrel that caches the rain as it runs;
An old woman sifts rice in the shade of acacia as her husband and sons fish from a boat not far from an island littered by war where the great guns and towers stand silent and rust.
Her face worn and weathered from a long life of labor she’s known since she took her first step.
Her hair is just graying, her teeth are not white, she brushes away a wisp of hair as I draw nigh;
Palm trees are tall and sway in the breeze and the dust that blows in from the bay;
The long hot walk down from the tricycle taxi and the bus on the highway that serves as a link to a world that seems worlds away from the life that she lives with husband and sons and daughter.
Her careworn manner belied by a pride in appearing without wrinkle or gray.
She offers me greetings from her seat in the shade, I see youth in her eyes, a beauty that’s never abated;
I sense that once she wore fine-patterned lace and danced to the moon with abandon and grace;
Eyes closed to the feel of deepening joy she whirls and spins to the music inside as the people make way and she moves to the song on her lips and vibration and thrill of the sound that surrounds her.
She smiles at me then and walks toward the house and bids me come in through the gate.
Mindful of custom I step from my shoes, dusty and worn from the walk, and I place them beside the door;
Her home isn’t large, the ground laid with palm to cover the sand hard-packed for a floor;
The furnishings sparse and arranged with a care that tenders a message that poor is not gloom and people with little are not people in need but are happy and used to their way.
Over my head a platform for sleep, a sink and a tap, and a bare pipe for water that drips through the day.
The old woman’s young daughter walks gracefully in with rice on the tray in her hands, we sup on fish from the bay;
We join the townsfolk and walk after dinner to stroll ‘round the town as the sun slips away into dusk;
My heart skips a beat at the young lovely girls in long flowing dresses with bright pretty flowers and smiles on their faces who walk about laughing and casting coy glances at beaus.
Couples walk slowly, the damp air oppressive, the strengthening breeze blows hot in the night.
The hour is late and I must be away, not wanting to leave but expressing my thanks, I’m one of the family now;
My pack’s filled with food for the bus ride back and I’m plied with gifts including a joy that warms me within and without;
The old woman smiles and gives me her hand as with tears in our eyes we embrace and I tell her how thankful I am for a people so humble and dear;
I turn in my seat to look back at this village where smiles are bright on brown faces I know, and memories return year after year.