As predictable as the muezzin’s call to prayer,
I jog past arthritic skeletons silhouetted against
craggy cliffs on the horizon Fulani tending
their boney cattle. Into a stiff north wind
I turn to face grains of sand blowing in
from dunes on the outskirts of town.
Stacked with food baskets, bicycles pass me
bouncing along the laterite road to market.
Pestles pound from compounds like muffled drums.
A festival of colors dip and nod before my eyes
bright blues, yellows, greens, and reds;
blending in stripes, spirals, and polka dots.
A tiny girl blushes and smiles, then waves,
costume jewelry jingling on her chocolate arm.
Her powdered face and deep-brown eyes
break my stride. I want to sweep her up
into my arms and race her to a safe haven,
to carry her far away from her destiny.
Boys run along side of me, their fists raised
in greeting: “Sannu Batuuree” they chime
in harmony. “Lafiya lau” I reply out of tune.
Sun-baked, mud-gray walls straight ahead
mark the limit for Westerners who dream.
I must focus on the moment, not history.
In this race, victory is measured in inches,
by a pivot or a kick in the sand, gestures
that silently negotiate culture. I bend down
to tie my shoe and somersault forward
to the foot of the medieval Muslim façade.
Children’s laughter welcomes me.