The 1994 recipient of the Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award presented by PEACE CORPS WRITERS for the best short description of life in the Peace Corps.

The Ballroom

by Christopher Conlon (Botswana 1988-90)

Southern Africa, Kalahari Desert

She is the perfect image of a rag doll
I saw when I was a child, in a trash can,
dirty, ripped abandoned:
here in the Kalahari is that same
doll, maybe five, eyes huge, legs
white with desert dust.
Ke Kopa madi, sir, ke kopa madi.

Money: I shake my head no, no madi:
try to move on. But she stares at me,
suddenly transfixed.
No longer begging. Her eyes
wider than before.

My sunglasses:

I crouch down,
she approaches me, nose to nose,
tattered, filthy, she stares at me,
at herself.
Then her hand moves to her chin
and she says Oh, in a tiny,
surprised voice. She rubs away
the dried spittle there.

Then she turns and,
whitened heels kicking up dust
like marble, dances away,
dignified, satisfied,
a tiny queen
in an endless ballroom.