Peace Corps Writers
A Writer Writes
The Things She Left Behind
by Jamy Bond
 

Shelby Bond
(Mozambique 1998–2001)
January 2002

MY 2002 BEGINS NOT WITH RESOLUTIONS, but with the division of my dead sister’s things.
     My family makes a pile in the living room: stone-carved statues fromPrinter friendly version Zimbabwe, straw-threaded wallets from Tanzania, tie-dyed Kabbas from Ghana, paint-splattered batiks from Mozambique. Shelby was only 25 when she died, but the pile is so vast, so filled with valuable worldly goods, that it rivals the possessions many of us will acquire in a lifetime. We flip a coin. Heads. I go first. I take a round, stone statue: two female faces pressed together, wide noses and broad, bold foreheads. My mother chooses something. My father. My older sister. And so on. It takes three hours. The minutes extend like the long, brave years she spent in Mozambique. A dream. A destiny. “I want to be a pioneer,” she told me once. And then she was off, traipsing that sun-scorched land like it was all her own.

    Shelby was a Peace Corps Volunteer. She traveled from village to village, teaching young people about safe sex in a country where one in five are HIV positive. She lived at a boarding school in Namaacha, a dirt village on the border with Swaziland. I visited there just two months before her death. I remember a swirl of clay-red dirt kicked into the air by cars and scattering feet, sprayed onto everything white, including the smiles of her students. Her room was small and lightless, with dingy walls covered in a creeping green mold. “Nice,” my mother said as we stood there, our arms clasped, our breath held. Students swarmed around her, their white uniforms neatly pressed, but already stained with rust-colored splashes of dirt. My sister cared nothing about the grit, the smells, the discomfort; she wanted us to see her work, the dusty classrooms where she taught, the posters she designed, the school’s play.

My older sister’s turn: She takes the blue shoulder satchel Shelby carried with her the night she died. Inside we find South African currency, cherry-red lip-gloss, a notebook with a long list of “things to do.”
     My father’s turn: he takes letters and postcards he has sent to her throughout the years, neatly stacked and tied together by a small blue ribbon.
     My mother’s turn: she takes a batik — a waxy cloth stained in pastels. Three female figures carry overflowing water jugs on their heads; they are dark silhouettes against the glow of a yellow moon. It makes me think of Shelby, always in motion, the burden of her convictions carried with such grace, such sturdy movement, such power.

  
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