Jeff Fearnside

Memo to Potential Donors from a Nongovernmental Organization in a Corrupt Developing Country

The previous minister
built a very nice house
on a small salary. If you want

the current minister to build
a nice house, please
give a grant

to the Ministry of Education.


Sitting in a small cafe in Kazakhstan, watching Turkish TV,
Speaking in broken Russian and eating a decent imitation
of an American cheeseburger (though it tastes like spiced lamb),
I feel strangely at home. The sign outside says “Fast Food” in English,

but, like those you know to get a job here, it’s all relative.
I like this place because it’s not fast, it doesn’t give me diarrhea,
and because the Turkish men wear their hair
a little longer, like me, wear mustaches and even beards

so that I look like them and not an American.
I’m glad that I can’t find American TV here,
that the mumblings of commercials—
that the rumblings of war—are dubbed in other tongues.

Tonight I’m happy to watch the scantily clothed singer
swing her mama mia hips, those hips my bearded brothers
would do handstands for to get a handful of.
Shakira. The remote lies flat on the counter.

This is Address, my new favorite cafe. But which address is my home?
My parents’, though half a lifetime has passed since I lived there?
My brother’s, my stateside contact where all my junk mail goes?
Or the crumbling Soviet-era apartment building I call my own?

Shakira stops shaking. The immobile remote is picked up
and a new channel picked out, first the European CNN, always good
for brushing up on my cricket, rugby and soccer,
then—quickly—a German cooking show,

then back to the Turkish channel Haber,
where a man speaks to a group of serious-faced men.
I enjoy thinking he’s saying, “What the hell
are those Americans doing?” and I’m half-afraid he is.

But I blend in here with my bearded brothers.
Even on the street, I’m often asked if I’m Turkish,
Greek, Indian, Spanish, Italian. I always answer yes.
They don’t ask me for money then

or what I think of the president. I sometimes give
a few coins to the widowed babushki at their makeshift
sidewalk homes, but even when I see their noses
running down their faces, I never give my opinion or advice.

Please don’t bomb Iraq. I met an Iraqi family last summer—
we played soccer together, swam in a glacial lake,
and when our group ran out of water, they gave us theirs
and delicious fresh apricots. They spoke perfect English

and were learning Russian, too. They sounded just like us.
I remember this now amidst shaking hips,
cheeseburgers and half a dozen languages.
I live in the world. Please don’t bomb my home.

Jeff Fearnside lived and worked in Central Asia for four years. His creative work has previously appeared in such journals as Rosebud, Permafrost, and Many Mountains Moving, among others. He is currently a writing instructor and managing editor of the literary journal Alligator Juniper at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona.

(author retains copyright)