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i did not expect
in Mother Africa
that i would need my winter jacket
and a hat

i did not expect
the photographs of the round grass huts with dirt floors
from my sixth grade history book spoke truthfully
the paltry mud walls a poor barrier
to keep the darkness out and the shade in
mothers off to work the thirsty fields and gather water
while fathers drink til sundown
children sauntering to the crowded school that has no plumbing
no food no lunch hour no lunch and usually not even breakfast
the little ones left behind play games outside on hardened ground

i did not expect the dry
the brown cloak that would cake my clothes my boots my skin my hair
the taste of dirt coating my tongue
if you go, do not worry whether you should drink the water
there is no water

i did not expect the unfenced immediacy of nature
a single breathing organism perfect in its totality
the beating drum of the one heart
our dancing interconnectedness so palpable
how one act indeed affects the whole

or the soulful chestnut eyes that speak of hunger and drought and sickness
but also kindness and laughter and humble acceptance
there are no victims
nothing given nothing owed

i did not expect to see the proud fourteen-year-old child bride walking home
her sleeping baby slung upon her back
dried mice heaped in the basket on her head
just enough to feed her husband and his family
we stopped to give her a ride of course

i did not expect to take home with me
the baby the mice the girl that moment
and that expectation would choose to stay behind instead

~jennifer sundeen, june 2016