For the Girl in the Purple Dress and Red Sandals

m.d. leto
Posted March 10, 2011 from United States

Tonight I was invited to read at a Zonta International Humanitarian event. Proceeds will help strengthen services and programs for UNICEF, Safer Cities for Women and to the Liberia Fistula Program. I was asked to read a poem or spoken word piece that reflected one of the countries, or to share work I have already written about global women's issues. Today I went through an exhibit at the University I attend an exhibit called Portraits of War: The Democratic Republic of Congo. I wrote the following piece and wanted to share with World Pulse what I will share tonight because it has only been through my connection to this movement that I have gained more awareness about women everywhere and that my voice has increasingly become louder and louder.


I feel like every time I speak for myself I am speaking for the women who preceded me Who didn’t have the voice to pass down my history When I open my mouth I am breaking the silence everywhere And while these may not be my stories I have been built by them to know my sisters Are hiding in the bush to avoid soldiers while collecting firewood, Knowing cities aren’t safe enough for them to bask In either sun or moonlight, Knowing they are waiting in shelters, churches, Camps, forests, hospitals for the counseling, hope, Nourishment, protection and health we all deserve… Knowing they are met with resistance when they speak… Enables me to open my mouth wider, to listen with eyes Closed so their stories become a part of my internal heart beat, So I can remember the details Any time I am asked to explain what is happening in Bolivia, Liberia, Guatemala, my own city. From Uganda, the DRC, and Cameroon – I lift my voice to share These women with you.

For the Purple Dress and Red Sandaled Girl

I took a walk today through the Congo, For three hours I looked into the faces of women, Children, men, soldiers – each photo in black and white Until the center of the exhibit where wall-sized colored photos Enclosed rows of chairs.

This is what I saw: A young boy riding his bike to his military base. It looks like nothing is hidden in the brush On each side of the road, but he pedals Fast because war has been his lullaby, War has made everyone listen differently To the wind, hoping it is not accompanied By careful footsteps

I wonder if he knows what ten-years-old Feels like or if the rifle slung over his shoulder Has stolen his ability to pretend Not to be a soldier, a stolen son, a sex slave.

On a dirt road like the ones women Carry water across, like the ones bikes are ridden down There is a dead man rotting after a tribal killing – arms still Bound behind his back, lying face down So no one can see where he was impaled, So the community cannot see his face, So his story his something he collapsed onto.

Catherine, nine-years-old, on a plank of wood After she was attacked by soldiers who used A machete to cut off her leg, She is going to the bush because 14 people Were just murdered at the hospital.

I saw four-year-olds the size of infants, From communities that fled into forests After their villages were attacked, Hiding where they might be safe Or where they will starve, parents holding Their children who are small enough to cradle As the day they were born.

I see Congolese women surrounded by mosquito netting With their hands clasped in prayer. One teenager hides her face, Her fingers are in her eyes and after staring long enough I see The reflection of a third woman in an opened window.

In a wooden chair Maria sits Her infant’s mouth around her nipple His hands holding onto the beads around her neck And clutching his fingers into her breast Her daughter stands at the edge of the photograph Arms criss-crossed over her chest Her chin dropped into her balled-up fists

Maria’s right arm was cut off and eaten by soldiers While she fought to defend her children

The way she gazes at her son says: I will offer my limbs for you, lie across my chest And I will nourish you, take my beads in your hand And my life into yours

Looking away in the corner Is her daughter and I can tell she is listening To the unspoken promise of Maria’s protection.

Six colored photos stare at me – wet eyes of toddlers, Praying hands of women, mothers holding children but never Looking at the camera Their backs are turned They are staring out of windows Or at groups of people – but there is one girl In a purple dress and red sandals Staring straight ahead at a wall And I want her to turn around So I can know her eyes I want her to open her mouth So I can know her story I want her to believe Someone is coming to save her, And if she doesn’t turn around I will come to her to paint the wall in front of her With the promise to listen.

Comments 3

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  • Achieng Nas
    Mar 13, 2011
    Mar 13, 2011

    Thank you for sharing this poem with us. It is sad and unbelievable how women and children suffer in war torn zones in this world. A woman and a mother is always willing to die with their children because my nature we are created with golden love. May God see the suffering of his children worldwide. It is time for us to invest in anyway in the lives of Women and children. Together we can do more.

    Thanks Mei,



  • Rebecca Tomac
    Mar 14, 2011
    Mar 14, 2011

    Beautifully said...Bravo for Brevity!

  • Carrie Lee
    Mar 14, 2011
    Mar 14, 2011

    Dear Mei, I hear not just the heartbreaks and realities of war in your beautifully written poem..I hear too the wide expanse of the human heart..the opportunity we have to grow in love and connect with one another.

    Thank you for sharing this here. Carrie