Page 1




Back Row l-r: Alpha Keita, Nick Merriwether, Queen Alike, Irma Nkwain, Ngone Mbengue, Jihan Asher, Nidia Rivera, Samantha Reich, Hannah Strakna, Oldudolapo Demuren, Ted Sim. Frotn Row, l-r: Melanie Oppenheimer and Lenaya Stewart


POSTCAR DS FROM MY CO UNTRY 2 012 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: Ted Sim Hannah Strakna Delapo Demuren Melanie Oppenheimer Jihan Asher Nick Meriwether Lenaya Stewart Queen Alike Samantha Reich Program Coordinator: Eva Freeman and Mario Escobar Journal Design and Layout: Melanie Oppenheimer and Ted Sim


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

Irma Nkwain with her cousin in her arms, and Victory Lyonga and Suzie Endeley in Cameroon


Dear Reader, On April 18th, students from Northwestern High School and the University of Maryland took the stage at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, MD. Some were nervous, others exhilarated but all spoke. There was something powerful about seeing so many young people before the microphone. There was a hint of urgency to their voices, a longing to speak the truth. Brought to the States by their parents, these high school students shared tales of dislocation and alienation. Just as their work reflected distress and loss, it also reflected a multifaceted world view and a deeper insight into the proverbial “ways of man,” the direct result of having moved between two cultures, often two continents. The performance at Busboys was the culmination of a semester long service learning program between Northwestern High School and the University of Maryland called Postcards From My Country. On a weekly basis, undergraduates met with the ESOL students encouraging them to write poetry about their experiences. Often the UMD mentors simply listened to their mentees’ stories of travel, the reasons behind their departures, their longing to return and most importantly, their understanding of what it means to be an American. We found that for all of us “American” was an elusive term influenced by our parents’ and grandparents’ experiences but ultimately shaped by our own. Did learning take place? I think so, for all of us. And so it is with great pleasure that we present the result of those discussions, reflecting both our personal and national efforts to be more inclusive and compassionate. Special thanks are given to Northwestern Principal Jerome Thomas and Rebecca Roberts, ESOL teacher at Northwestern and Postcards’ founder. Also, thanks to Johnna Schmidt, Director of the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House, for her enthusiasm and support. Sincerely,

Eva S. Freeman Program Coordinator, Postcards From My Country


A Young Alpha Keita in traditional dress 89

TAB LE O F CO NTENTS Ir ma N k w a i n Venus Flytrap 10 Grandma 32 School Picture 40 After a Busy Day 44 Ngon e M b e n g u e Yellow 13 One-Way 14 Midnight 17 Singe 18 Blue Dress 21 Alph a K e i t a Untitled 22 Untitled 2 26 Nidia R i v e r a My 15th “Quinceañera” 31 Cuco, My Beach 36 Keni a Cò rd o v a A Tear 35 Ackn o w l e d g m e n t s 4 7



Every flower has that treasurable nectar that draws flies to it. just like all mothers draw people to them. -Irma Nkwain Cameroon French

11 10

Sarah Lyonga, Irma’s mother holding her sister Victory Lyonga in Cameroon. 11

Ngone in second grade at a Christmas party in school in Cote d’Ivoire 13 12


I have gone on green Stopped on red But he was yellow. I did not know whether I should go or stop.

-Ngone Mbengue Cote d’Ivoire French


O N E - WAY As soon as I saw the one-way plane ticket on my bed A smile from cheek to cheek bloomed on my face. Seeing my blue dusted suitcase again Seemed like an Aaaah!! moment Of the so long forgotten song That just popped on the radio. I could now envision my definition of freedom. Just like hearing the roar of the waves Rolling onto the shore, In a conch shell souvenir. You just got to believe it. I have the chance to live a new adventure And a new start in Uncle Sam’s land. Not sad to leave. Not much attachments to my roots.

-Ngone Mbengue Cote d’Ivoire French

15 14


Ngone, her sister Emilie and her brother Abdoulaye on New Year’s Day in Cote d’Ivoire, 1996.

Ngone’s parents, Ibra and Maimouna, in the Cote d’Ivoire

17 16


Laying on my bed. I stare at the white walls and wonder if I might not be able to Turn off my laptop at 8:45 AM And throw away the bag of Lays Laying on the floor. I wish I could wake up the next morning, July 2007, in Ibis Hotel, Ready to scream my lungs out In Disney World Paris.

-Ngone Mbengue Cote d’Ivoire French


S I G NE Under this century old tree Is a paper-white swan. Graciously aggressive, Always on her guard, untouchable.

-Ngone Mbengue Cote d’Ivoire French

19 18


Ngone Mbengue, her brother Abdoulaye, and her sister Emilie in Bordeaux, France (this should go with the accompanying poem about the swan)

Ngone holding her little sister Aissatou in Cote d’Ivoire. 2001.

21 20


brought from Paris by mommy, this pretty, princess blue dress with a bow right in the middle. My eyes were glazing at the sight of it. But there was a problem! Why are there two dresses in the package? Obviously, for my big sister too. However, i despised to see myself in double. As if i was looking at myself In the mirror With a different head. That was the beginning of our World War III.

-Ngone Mbengue Cote d’Ivoire French



Today is Saturday Here we are in the morning Her yelling at me And trying to sleep I already know how living that day could be I’m feeling so lazy, groggy and sleepy. Then the smell of her cooking. I remember she always cooks that day. I am moving slowly so she won’t look my way. She calls me and I know it means trouble. Telling me to come help her in the kitchen. The kitchen my worse nightmare Because when she done I’ll have to clean, mop and scrub it But for now there is that sweet smelling Food, food, food my brain thinks But no, no, no my heart says.

-Alpha Keita Cote d’Ivoire French

23 22

Alpha Keita with his older brother Cheick Keita in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire 23

Alpha Keita at Northwestern High School with friend, Estelle

25 24


Alpha’s older brother Cheik Keita and his cousin Aboubacar Dombia


I tried my best Everyday fighting for some rest Nobody can choose his son I guess I tried everything since I was born I tried everything to be that person That perfect son that you desire I guess if it was for a job, I would have been fired They say every mother knows their child But you don’t even know anything about me Do I have a right to be?

-Alpha Keita Cote d’Ivoire French

27 26


A young Alpha Keita, 2 years old

Irma’s Uncle holding Victory Lyonga. Cameroon.

29 28


Sarah Lyonga, Irma’s mother in a pharmacy in Cameroon.

Nidia Rivera wit her mother at her Quincea単era.

31 30


During a great month, November 6, 2010, is my Quinceañera, celebrating a big special day, lovely music to play. Happiness reigns in our hearts, my mother hugs my brother and he holds my hand. Looks like a beautiful family, my mother full of emotions with her green shirt, my sweet wondering what is going on with brother’s black suit. I feel like a princess wearing my tiara, getting the attention of the whole world. My dress is white, flowers pink, the perfect mix that a girl can have for a special day like a Quinceañera. An unforgettable moment: music and dance, tears of happiness falling, smelling cake, ready to sing my birthday song. In El Salvador, this is the best memory a girl can ever have. -Nidia Rivera El Salvador Spanish



You were by me through it all, during the good and bad times I knew there was always a shoulder I could cry on. You always told me nothing is too difficult for God to handle A smile could brighten up the lives of a thousand people, that hard work and humility are the keys to success. Under the rain and sun, you strove to get something for us to eat Even with the struggle and stress of a long busy day, you still wore a smile. When I fell sick, you told me I had authority over illness, I could triumph over it with no stress. What you’ve taught me has given me so many reasons to be grateful for the life I have.

-Irma Nkwain Cameroon French

33 32


Irma Nkwain’s mother in purple in the center, Sarah Lyonga, her grandmother Charlotte Eposi holding Victory Lyonga and her aunt Lucia Lisinge

from l-r, boy, older woman, Kenia

35 34


Each day that passes another tear passing my cheek. Each day that passes I express a tear to say it all. Each day that passes I scream with a tear to call my grandfather. Each day that passes a tear wants him in my arms. Each day that passes I close my eyes I see his smiling face saying: I love you, care for your brothers. Each day that passes a tear is dreaming he is here with me. Each day that passes I have a tear on my face shouting: I love you, grandfather.

-Kenia Còrdova El Salvador Spanish 35

CUCO, M Y BEACH I can see the beauty of your landscape I love your shape. I try to see your end by flying on a plane, beautiful beach decorated by sky and cloud I can see the mountains. I can smell the fresh air, there is a hint of fruit from the trees. As I turn my head I can smell fish and chips. I can touch the freshly wet sand by the sea, the water is warm. I can taste the delightfulness of the fruit, coco is my favorite. When I am on the beach, I can hear the waves crash I want to swim on such beautiful sea. That’s my beach, that’s where I went to play with my friends Cuco is the name of it I miss so much your beautiful landscape.

-Nidia Rivera El Salvador Spanish

37 36


Beach in between El Cuco and Intipuca, El Salvador (this should go with the accompanying poem about her favorite beah - Mi Playa)

large group photos from l-r, boy with baseball hat in flannel, girl in blue shirt, boy in stop racism shirt now, kenia (?) and older woman.

Joselyn Castellanos at age three

39 38


Irma Nkwain second from right with her cousins and Uncle in Cameroon.


The Photographer is finally here. Everyone is rushing, trying to get their makeup on. I’d never had my picture taken here at Mt. Carmel High School. My best friend and I take our leave to preen before the camera In Sunday attire, flowers behind our ears, classroom in the background.

-Irma Nkwain Cameroon French

41 40

Irma Nkwain, class photo, 15 years old. Cameroon 41

Irma’s mother on the far right, Sarah Lyonga with relatives. Cameroon. 43 42

Irma’s Aunt’s wedding procession, Victory Lyonga, Irma’s sister is in front.


A F T ER A BUSY DAY The big brown Dining table With the wooden fruit Basket on top Containing bananas, grapes, oranges And a multi color table cloth Reunite the family back And stories of a busy day are shared.

-Irma Nkwain Cameroon

45 44


Christmas in Cameroon. Irma Nkwain is second from left.

47 46

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 Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Barry P. Gossett, Chief Executive Officer, Acton Mobile Industries

We are also grateful for the help we have received from: Dean Bonnie Thornton Dill, 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 Henry Mills, Host, Borderlines, a bilingual (Spanish and English) Open Mic, Busboys and Poets


Postcards From My Country  
Postcards From My Country  

A collaborative project of the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House at the University of Maryland and Northwestern High School of Prince George’s...