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POSTCARDS

from my

country

2011


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POSTCAR DS FROM MY CO UNTRY 2 011

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Front Left to Right: Ngone Mbengue, Abdourr Ahman, Chi-Chi Offorbuike Back Left to Right: Jihan Asher, Mylanie Adua Engowei, Irma Nkwain, Jack Slattery

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POSTCAR DS FROM MY CO UNTRY 2 011 Featuring the work of student poets from Northwestern High School under the direction of Rebecca Roberts, ESOL teacher A collaborative project of the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House at the University of Maryland and Northwestern High School of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Student mentors: Jack Slattery Katie Taylor Jihan Asher Program Coordinator: Jesse Freeman Journal Design and Layout: Grace Toulotte and Meg Eden Teaching and Administrative Assistance: Robyne McCullough Administrative Assistance: Tafisha Edwards and Sohayl Vafai Postcards From My Country is supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive, and by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency which believes that a great nation deserves great art.

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Ngone Mbengue at her father’s desk in the Central African Republic. She is hiding a broken arm.

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Dear Reader, The journal you now hold represents a year of hard work by students dedicated to becoming better writers. These students attend Northwestern High School in the Prince George’s County Public School System in Hyattsville, Maryland, and most of them have immigrated to the United States. A few were born here but are the children of immigrants. They all share the experience of living under the sway of at least two cultures. Postcards From My Country is a service-learning initiative from the Jiménez-Porter Writers' House at the University of Maryland. Students from Writers’ House mentor the Northwestern students in small groups. Ostensibly, they help guide the composition process, but the bonds go deeper than that. The university students help their mentees express their experiences, locate their pride and come to terms with their new surroundings. Of course, it’s a symbiotic relationship. Our UMD students grow more confident in their ability to teach and to connect with people of different cultures. The Northwestern students have enlightened us with their unique perspectives, and perhaps more importantly, they have demonstrated true resiliency. This year the program moved to a self-selected model, meaning the students come for mentorship of their own accord after the school day ends. The result has been a very motivated and diverse group of writers. Sixteen students representing twelve different nations have joined us, and work from many of those students appears in the following pages. Their progress has been remarkable, but that is only because their commitment has been outstanding. Special thanks are in order for Northwestern Principal Jerome Thomas, as well as for Rebecca Roberts, ESOL teacher at Northwestern and our angel of an administrator. Thanks also to Johnna Schmidt, Director of the Jiménez-Porter Writers' House, for her expert guidance. The greatest thanks go to the mentors and students who have worked so hard throughout the year. Take some time to enjoy their poetry, just as we have enjoyed watching it deepen and refine. Sincerely, Jesse Freeman Program Coordinator, Postcards From My Country

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“Cero Green,” a dormant volcano near Kenia Cordova’s home in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador

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TAB LE O F CO NTENTS Irma Nkwa in Bushfaller 10 Belle 12 A New Life 13 Myla ni e Ad u a En g ow e i I See You 15 Unconditional Love 17 An Event (About We) 18 Garri 19 Abdo ul Ka d e r Ca m a ra Is Love Your Name? 23 Blood Is Thicker Than Water 25 Rhyme, Breeze, Rhyme 26 Josel y n Ca s t e ll a n o s El Dolor 28 Un Sueño / A Dream 30 Chi-Chi O ffo r b ui ke In My Pastime 34 Suda i f S a d i q November 9th 35 Ngon e M b e n g u e Baobab 37 Let Me Be… 38 Unbreakable Chain 41 Cath e r in e N yo n g o l e Lapa 42 Endless Love 43 Abdo u r r Ah m a n Dreamland 44 Nightmare 46 Reawaken 47 Buba ca r S e id i No Excuses 49 Every Man’s Dream 50 Ackn ow l e d g m e n t s 5 3 9


B USH FALLER* On a sunny Thursday morning, I went outside and brushed my teeth for the world to see. In my short pink nightgown, I kept dancing. I heard my name being called. Go and take your bath so we can go out! I stood there, thinking about what my new life overseas would look like. My sister needed a belt to wear with her new trousers. We spoke so loud and smiled with all our teeth showing, Laughing before we were separated.

-Irma Nkwain Cameroon English/French Mentor: Jihan Asher

*Bush faller is slang term used in Cameroon for people who emigrate, especially to the West 11 10


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Christian Mosquea’s photo of La Vega, Dominican Republic, where they grow strawberries and other fruits


B ELLE Having lots of thorns depriving people of the treasure it has inside. So tall its tree grows and falls down when dead. Its strong smell draws flies towards it. To know if the fruit is ripe, you tap your belly and tap the fruit. If they both sound the same, then you’ll know the fruit is ready. Eating it makes you feel as though you should not stop And eating a lot of it makes you want to throw up. It’s brown and slimy seeds swell like a pregnant woman and the fruit tastes so sweet. Oh Jack fruit how I love thee. When the fruit has been cut off you hear kids screaming “Belle Belle Belle eh ehhh” -Irma Nkwain Cameroon English/French Mentor: Jihan Asher

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A NEW LIFE On a sunny day during the dry season, I sat in the living room watching  “African Magic” cracking up at the jokes made by the Nigerian comedians. Coming towards me on the phone was my Aunt: Lee, get ready we have to go to these new girls boarding school for your interview I replied, not paying attention to what she said but just laughing. She said it again for the second time. I was happy with the constant thought of knowing I was now going to experience a new version of life— So happy I was finally going to cut my hair and be a little miss independent. Finally, I was going to have more than enough money for my pocket allowance.

-Irma Nkwain Cameroon English/French Mentor: Jihan Asher

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Mylanie Adua Engowei with her brother Raphael on vacation in the village of Batibo in Cameroon 15 14


I SEE YOU Everywhere I go—my class, the cafeteria, chilling with my pals—I see you. Even when I am shopping with my family, I see you. You never pretend that you do not know me. Whenever you see me, you keep on singing the same song I do not want to hear your ugly chorus, But you got me thinking about the rhythm of the old song. All I want is for you to vanish and never return.

-Mylanie Adua Engowei Cameroon French/English Mentor: Jihan Asher

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Mylanie Adua Engowei with family members and her nanny in the city of Doula in Cameroon 17 16


UNCONDITIONAL LOVE Every morning, every evening, every day I hear love, I see love, I feel love. I am filled with love like a cave filled with rocks, seeing you two sitting in the cinderblock bar you owned in Africa. Love is the sound of a secret whistle you both shared, echoing whenever a parent returned home. The fresh smell of egg and cheese makes me wonder if this world is full of love. There must be something or someone that created it, but who might that be? Some say unconditional love never ends but some say it does end. Who should I believe? Anytime I think about it and watch what it is to give to one another, I choose that unconditional love never ends. Whenever I come home, feeling low and troubled, You give me comfort, you promise me that everything will be okay if I just believe in myself.

-Mylanie Adua Engowei Cameroon French/English Mentor: Jihan Asher

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AN EVENT (ABOUT WE) We shopped, we cooked, we decorated, we drank, we danced, we laughed. Having something to do with everyone is like the clouds coming together for rain. We discussed, we cried, and we learned. We leaned on each other’s shoulders.

-Mylanie Adua Engowei Cameroon French/English Mentor: Jihan Asher

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GARRI Peel, grate, and squeeze the cassava; dry directly under the sun or in an oven. We eat garri when we are hungry, it helps in breaking down my hunger. It can be prepared as a family dinner. We do not bite it like any other food— Like cocas, yams, plantains; The best way is to eat it with the hands. We swallow it like tumm tumm. How delicious it is with eru. It tastes better when sour, You’ll enjoy it best soaked in water, sugar, and roasted peanuts. -Mylanie Adua Engowei Cameroon French/English Mentor: Jihan Asher

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A friend of Kenia Cordova celebrating her Quincea単era 21 20


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Young friends of Kenia Cordova in San Miguel, El Salvador


Abdoul Kader Camara’s grandmother in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

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IS LOVE YOUR NAME? A bright cold and sunny day, they say you are. A dim and rainy day, I say you are. What are you? Many ask. A conflict to many. Resolution to few. What are you? We still ask. Trace of your being we still find. But your origins are still unknown.

-Abdoul Kader Camara Ivory Coast French Mentor: Jack Slattery

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Abdoul Kader Camera with his cousins at a beach in Port Bouet, Ivory Coast

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BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER A river that will never dry out; that is what I feel for you. For me you crossed a thousand miles of water. To you, I will give my flesh and blood. you who gave me life you who cared for me you who stood up for me you who got hurt for my mistakes For you, my love is the clear spring water of the heavens.

-Abdoul Kader Camara Ivory Coast French Mentor: Jack Slattery

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R H YME, BREEZE, RHYME As various as the fish that fill the ocean you are known. The core that fuels our being, The hero of the morning. Though you are as varied as the fish in the ocean, I have eyes for only one. I have eyes, for rhyme, for the sound, for the verse, that get me to focus as the power of a thousand suns that burn within, I always thought of you. -Abdoul Kader Camara Ivory Coast French Mentor: Jack Slattery

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Abdoul Kader Camera with his cousins at a beach in Port Bouet, Ivory Coast


EL D OLOR I. It was 2 a.m. Finally, I fall asleep. 4 a.m Awake again. Now, the restlessness, has turned to pain. 6 a.m The pain in my stomach, cada vez peor. Empiezo a llorar. My movements and tears wake my mom. Worried, she rushes me to the doctor. 7 a.m In the hospital, I wait for my name to be called while playing with my little brother and pretending to be fine.

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II. The days and the hours pass. It is time now and I’m scared, waiting for el doctor. My mom says in a soft voice “Don’t worry, todo estará bien” Everything will be fine. The doctor comes in, I lie down, with nurses all around me. He places a plastic mask over my nose and mouth and asks me to count from one to ten. Wishing that this is a dream, I stare up at the operating lamp. uno, dos, tres, cuatro… I never get to ten. -Joselyn Castellanos Guatemala Spanish Mentor: Jack Slattery

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UN SUEÑO / A DREAM I dreamt I was missing, you were so scared. But no one would listen, because no one else cared. After my dreaming, I woke with this fear of the home I am leaving, when I’m done here.   It was only a dream. But I still felt so afraid,   So scared to lose you That I don’t mind missing you.

-Joselyn Castellanos Guatemala Spanish Mentor: Jack Slattery

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Joselyn Castellanos at age three 31


Joselyn Castellanos with her father at her cousin’s Quinceaùera 33 32


Tony Lopez’s cousins getting ready to play soccer in Soyapango, El Salvador 33


IN MY PASTIME In my pastime, I like to dance. Whether it be to sway like a leaf in the gentle breeze Or jump like a wave upon the shores. My love for dance crosses many borders, Dips into many genres, Dives into many seas, From tap to bachata to contemporary, The grace of ballet, The vitality of salsa, The power of African traditional. I love to dance. Dance is me.

-Chi-Chi Offorbuike United States/ Nigeria English/Igbo Mentor: Jack Slattery

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NOVEMBER 9TH On a cold November night, a friend request suddenly appears on my Facebook page. Here I am, seeing you for the first time after the boys and girls were separated. It was you after six years of unlived life.

I felt refreshed, The love fills my heart The moon turned to sun My heart wants to go to you, but if it left me, I would die. The cold I feel beside me is slowly fading, The tears dry on my face. The things I have been through mean nothing to you.

-Sudaif Sadiq Iraq Arabic Mentor: Jihan Asher

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Ngone Mbengue with her brother Abdul and her sister Emelie during a family vacation to Paris

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BAOBAB Very huge and enormous, it can reach up to the size of a fifteen-story building. It is known as sacred (and also evil) by the people because of its use by witch doctors, who use it for voodoo rituals. Despite its evil and mysterious reputation, this precious tree blossoms and bears an odd but delicious fruit, which is rare to find on the market. It is one of the biggest and oldest trees one can find on earth. -Ngone Mbengue Ivory Coast French Mentor: Katie Taylor

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LET ME BE… Let me be your love. Let me be your sunlight, So I can warm up your heart, brighten up your days, and make you laugh. Let me be your favorite song, So I can make you escape and make you feel free. Let me be your angel, So I can fight your demons and make everything in this cruel world seem right. Let me be your everything I want to be, So I can make you happy and glad. But mostly, let me be yours And say, “I love you.”

-Ngone Mbengue Ivory Coast French Mentor: Katie Taylor

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Ngone Mbengue’s sister Emelie; photo taken when the family was living in Mali

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Ngone Mbengue with her sister Emelie and her brother Abdul; photo taken when the family was living in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

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UNBREAKABLE CHAIN My family has amazing moments. The vacations and Sunday dinners Reinforce our bonds and strengthen The weak links in our chain. However, it’s not always a fairytale. Sometimes dark clouds come along And fill the atmosphere with tension. But the sunshine always comes out. No matter how strong the storm, That chain will never Rust or break.

-Ngone Mbengue Ivory Coast French Mentor: Katie Taylor

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LAPA Lapa is a famous fabric in the African Continent, But now foreign designers are trying to make it fashionable. Lapa is elegant and expensive, Colorful and patterned With flowers, stars, animals and faces, In yellow, black, purple and red. Lapa is common clothes for the Royal Family, And other Africans wear Lapa when dignitaries visit, In Traditional weddings and for special dances. Lapa is long and rectangular With brand names at the side, And a message in the design Like: “A mother’s love never dies,” “Pride for Obama” and “God is good all the time.” -Catherine Nyongole Tanzania Swahili Mentor: Jesse Freeman

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ENDLESS LOVE A mother’s love is hard to find But she is the person I can trust. I Can feel it in her touch, in her tender hugs and such, her Deep devotion, sacrifice and pain, her Enduring love sustains, For nothing can destroy it. I Get love anytime I look into her eyes. In Her faith and love I always confide. It pours Joy into my heart and Keeps me safe when she Lends an ear. My Mother’s love can’t be explained. No matter what, no matter where, it Overjoys me and brings me Peace when all others forsake me. Quite certainly, my mother’s love— Right along with Faith and Truth— Shines like a crown and Takes care of me. She Understands when I fall short, this Very precious woman, who the angels Were fashioned to be X-actly like. I will return Your love, which gives me the Zeal to become a good woman. -Catherine Nyongole Tanzania Swahili Mentor: Jesse Freeman

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DR EA MLAND I feel lost in my dream. Finding my way back to reality is complicated. Where there is no light, she will always wash over my lost dreams, like an angel’s light washes over you. You are the light that keeps me going on. Without you, I feel lost, scared, and confused. “Where is my light,” I ask. “Where have you gone?” “Why did you leave me?” I thought our love was stronger.

-Abdourr Ahman Cameroon French Mentor: Katie Taylor

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The terrain in an area called Juan Yanez near the home of Etelinda Maribel Henriquez in El Salvador


NIGHTMARE A voice called from in the death house. It said: “Come to me my children. Get some of those fruits, and come inside.” When they stepped in, the door shut closed. Nowhere to run or hide. Darkness fell within the room, like the darkness of a cemetery. Creepy screams started to come from the floor— it was the lost souls. They were longing for more souls to come to stay with them. The children’s souls were lost forever in the house, waiting for others to come.

-Abdourr Ahman Cameroon French Mentor: Katie Taylor

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REAWAKEN Within me lives this shadow that slumbers deep in my heart, waiting for the day to awaken. When he arises, the world I know and my body will fall into destruction. And without balance in me, he can control all my actions. The shadow and I are one. The fear of seeing him free makes me insane. Everything I love, my friends, my family Will all fall one by one. Not even I can run from my fate. Please, don’t let your heart control your actions, or else you will lose who you are, and become a different person.

-Abdourr Ahman Cameroon French Mentor: Katie Taylor

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Bubacar Seidi’s sisters in Senegal

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NO EXCUSES There is a time I put my head up And a time I put my head down. I hate excuses. Excuses are nightmares. They fight my heart and lower me down. I hate excuses. I feel weak and distracted When I know I am wrong. I hate excuses. But I have a heart of a lion When my stars are shining. I hate excuses. The words of my integrity Sound like those of noble praise. I hate excuses. The light of my righteousness Shines throughout the world. I hate excuses. -Bubacar Seidi Senegal French/Wolof Mentor: Jesse Freeman

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EV ERY MAN’S DREAM I heard a lot about you Before I arrived. I heard you are the world premier. I heard you are where every man could better his life. But I am not surprised. I may say I believe in what people say, But I am not surprised. The world I left behind Does not have many open doors. Still, I am proud of the world I left behind. It does not have as much as you do, But we have God, peace and love. We are proud and we live with respect. I cherish my country.

-Bubacar Seidi Senegal French/Wolof Mentor: Jesse Freeman

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Bubacar Seidi’s parents at home in Dakar, Senegal


The fishing boat of Kenia Cordova’s uncle off the coast of La Unión, El Salvador

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ACK N OW LED GMENTS This project could not exist without the generous funding received from: The College of Arts and Humanities, University of Maryland The Maryland State Arts Council The National Endowment for the Arts The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

We are also grateful for the help we have received from: Stuart Eisenberg, Hyattsville Community Development Center Dean James F. Harris, College of Arts and Humanities Associate Dean Elizabeth Loizeaux, College of Arts and Humanities Vivianne Salgado, Assistant Director of the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House Nicole Paoletti at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Indigo Ink, Columbia, MD

www.writershouse.umd.edu

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Postcards From My Country  

POSTCARDS FROM MY COUNTRY is a service learning initiative through the Jimenez-Porter Writers House at the University of Maryland. The progr...

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