As Kate knelt on the white tile and flipped through a Bible

I held onto Josiah's feathery four-month old fingers

and a sort of guilty gratefulness bit me -

for my bottle of little blue pills back in my room,

for my mosquito net above my bed

and even my suitcase of souvenirs.

My only fever is a stinging sunburn

and my only pains are spots of hot pink mosquito bites -

my blood is fine.

The number one child-killer in Africa swarms around my skull

and I still fret if I forget my vitamins in the morning.

In the rainy season the killers buzz above pools of water.

As I stand by the hibiscus bushes outside my guest house

and stretch out my hands to catch the big drops,

children huddle indoors and pray to stay healthy.

An African baby remains unnamed sometimes

until her parents see she has survived her first half-decade.

My parents bought me a baby name book before my conception.

As Kate knelt and read

I lift up my eyes to the hills--

I hold up Josiah's head and hope

that someday he plays in the World Cup

or becomes a dentist

or at least stands outside to catch the rain.

Betsy Brown lives in New York City and studies media, culture and the arts. She is the founder of her college's literary magazine, The Minstrel, and has performed her music and poetry in many eclectic locations, including the Bowery Poetry
Club in Manhattan, the 34th Street subway station, and the Makerere University sculpture garden in Uganda.


This past Spring I traveled to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, with a team from my college. One evening our American friends (who were dentists in Kampala) invited us to visit the pediatric ward at a nearby hospital, and I met Josiah, an infant who had malaria. As my friends and I took turns holding him and praying with his mother and siblings I had no idea how to comfort a family that might be about to lose a son. That day I realized first-hand that in Uganda life itself is a privilege. Despite the tragic conditions, Josiah’s family welcomed us as though they’d known us forever. They even snapped pictures as we left and gave us their contact information. I haven’t heard back from them since, but I still think of their youngest son. I wrote this poem the following day to remember him by—it’s a straightforward description of our brief encounter. To me, Josiah is Africa.




Copyright 2009