'They Should Have Sent A Poet'

Dateline: Wed 09 Sep 2009


And they did. Although, perhaps, they have no clue.

Her name is Meredith Brooks, and she is a 25-year-old Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland, arriving there by way of Indianapolis, Bloomington, Seattle and the world.

Her story unfolds in her unique blog, "They Should Have Sent A Poet," which she began last spring with "The Departure."

Since then, she has used her words and boundless energy to give shape, life, beauty and terror to the African landscape, where HIV dominates every aspect of Swaziland existence, and dogs are as likely to be rabid as not (but still infiinitely cherishable to an incorrigible dog-lover) and all relationships meaningful, even questionable ones.

Starting at the beginning of her two-year journey with Peace Corps lectures in Washington, D.C., Brooks -- a feminist, an idealist, but as light as a fairy with her ideology, never heavy-handed or somber -- lines up with other PCV (Peace Corps Volunteers) and finds self-deprecating humor in the start of the journey:

"I am with like minded people here. Sociology, anthropology, communications, theatre, psychology. We've all acquired the kind of majors that make your parents laugh and ask you- ok now what- once you've graduated. We want to help.. MOM. We want to understand.. DAD. Humanitarians I suppose...

"There are 32 weenies (including myself- Im a huge weenie), in Swaziland Season 7 (they call us groups- I think season is a bit more clever)...

"The rest of my group consists of single ladies and two very lucky young men. I couldn't help but jokingly high five them and exclaim, "Yeah PC Swaziland!" They pretended not to know what I was referring to- I said, "Oh like you haven't already written home telling your friends- 'Dude, Peacecorps is where it's at.' A bunch of beautiful intellectual traveling bleeding hearts- jack pot.'"

Having arrived in Swaziland, she posts on July 18, "I Must See AIDS Their Way," and writes of her anger and frustration, always mixed with her liberal sense of mischief -- fyi, her African name is Simphiwe, which means "gift of God."

"Finally a moment- a fee moment- I spend my Saturday at the salon getting braids. Always a 5-8 hour adventure. As I’m sitting there sandwiched between two women- one literally straddling me, my body in between her two legs- thank god she’s wearing pants today. The other hairdresser asks, “Simphiwe, do you smell something?” I know where this is going. 'Do you smell….(laughter) fish!?' So comforting to know the vagina fish joke is an international one.

"A skinny woman wearing tight white jeans, a sparkly halter top- breasts oozing out- walks into the salon. It’s clear she’s friends with the hairdresser. She Nelly and the hairdressers are gossiping in Siswait for a few hours until a man walks in .The white jeaned woman leaves with him. I suspect, but I don’t ask.

Later that night in our outdoor kitchen we’re discussing HIV again. Nelly tells me about the white jeaned woman. 'She’s selling herself and she’s HIV positive.' Im outraged. They explain they all know her status but her clients never do. I exclaim if I had known I would have tried to intervene- warned this man. 'Simphiwe no. It does not matter what you say. Swazi’s don’t care. They figure they’re going to get it anyway- so live life the way you want to live it.' I ask, 'Will he atleast use a condom?” They laughing. “The candy don’t taste as sweet in the wrapper. Swazis figure they weren’t the first to get HIV and they won’t be the last. They don’t want to die alone.'"

There's a lot to take in, and this is only a small sample.

Brooks, an unrelenting reporter, an amazing story-teller, never lets up on her desire to explore every aspect of this new life she has embraced and share it with her readers, detail by detail.  She is the very essence of candor, and she writes like the wind.

In case you're wondering about her talent (and forget, please, about spelling and grammar nuances) she comes by it naturally. Her mother is Kathy Whyde Jesse, a former Star writer, now a teacher; her father is Chris Brooks, also a wordsmith. Her stepfather is Michael Jesse, a consummate writer, reader and bibliophile.

All those influences aside, this young woman is on her own.

Oh -- "they should have sent a poet" -- it's a line from the movie "Contact," one of Meredith's favorites.

A chacter in the film witnesses, close up, a celestial light shower. It's not unlike the African Southern sky studded with stars that enthralls Meredith Brooks in one of her first nights in Swaziland.

Here is the line from the character in the movie:

"Some celestial event. No - no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should've sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful... I had no idea"

Keep writing, Meredith. We can't stop reading. So beautiful....we had no idea.


See link at top of post to read the blog in full.







Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I spent some time in Kenya on a work project two years ago. Changed my life forever. Similar experiences--AIDS was rampant, attitudes were completely different from my white-bread world.

It was a cosmic jolt to my senses and, at age 50, I needed it.

My specific project was helping build an orphanage. Beside my group's AIDS clinic built multiple years earlier. You do the math. Heart-breaking stuff.

But that village's residents were as happy as anyone here, perhaps moreso. Smiles were currency traded freely. And it did not diminish the value.

After a few days of culture shock I began to thank God for very simple things in my life, and this beautiful young poet realized it at half my age. It will change her life forever, and here's a prediction: she and her comrades will come back here, and do something amazing with their new-found souls.

These experiences have the power to multiply blessings like nothing I've ever seen. She is young enough to make way more differences in the world than this middle-aged curmudgeon.

May her tribe multiply. Wonderful post. I'll read this poet regularly. A spiritual bath, warm water everywhere...thanks thanks thanks.

2009-09-10 07:05:08

ruthholl [Member] said:

Wow. You are full of surprises and good secrets. Thank you! Nice to hear some support for Mere, too.

2009-09-10 21:41:34

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Good secrets, huh? Hmmmm.

I advocate shaking up your life at least once. Comfort zones are made to be busted.

2009-09-11 07:04:26

Ms. Cynical [Member] said:

Once upon a time I took a geography class from Rick Bein at IUPUI. (He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil.)

It's his contention that EVERY American teenager should spend at least a semester in a Third World country. He said that would transform the United States....

Meredith is living proof of the worth of his advice. And, props to Kathy and Chris for raising her thusly (maybe it was Chris' experience with the Boy Scouts?).

2009-09-14 18:14:40

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