Why the Caged Bird Sings

I’ve been pondering the meaning of freedom for sometime and it seems appropriate to finally put those thoughts to paper after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The opportunity to serve in the Peace Corps is a choice – a freedom of choice – that provides within it many restrictions. Peace Coprs is not just a volunteer job, it is an act of service to a community, to a foreign country, to the USA, and also to ourselves as individuals. We commit to 27 months of helping and aiding a community that also involves committing to sacrifices and restrictions of ourselves. As a result of this we hold our tongues on political issues, social injustices, or the mistreatment of animals; we accept that our clothing may be more modest; that our mother tongues becomes our second tongues, our silenced tongues; that our community members may follow us to work, to the market, to the bus in acts of kindness that get lost somewhere in translation.

There are the days when these little losses really hurt. Days where I wish I had the words to tell children to stop throwing rocks at a dog, or where I could comfortably sit outside in a strappy dress feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, or to jump on a boat to a neighboring island without telling a soul, just to feel the wind in my hear and the salty air on my limbs. But I can’t do these things. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer and still I waiver in my acceptance of the sacrifices that have come with this role, but on the hard days, I think freedom, and that fact that I had any to lose is a miracle in itself. Around the world there are so many that suffer, so many who think of freedom like a whisper in the wind, unsure of its existence; who dream of freedom like others dream of fairy tales. I have lost a handful of my freedoms by choosing to join the Peace Corps, but I can always get them back – both halves of this statement show me just how privileged I am and I never want to take that for granted.

I started thinking about freedom after New Years Eve where I spent a few careless days in sundresses and bare feet, my hair constantly salty from the sea and my face pink from the sun and lively conversations with other wandering souls. Coming back to site after that freedom has been hard and I’ve been trying to find the positive spin on my internal debate on ‘freedom’. I was still deliberating the idea of freedom last week when I found myself on a van one rainy morning to visit a site mate an hour away. I hadn’t seen the sun in five days; we’re in a monsoon season. I managed to grab a van during a light drizzle but the moment we started going the rain came down in buckets and sheets. I gazed out the window at the green fields and the dirty roads, at the wooden houses and the rolling hills, admiring the beauty of this place, even on the grey and dreary days. Then I spotted them: a group of kids bathing in the rain. There was a teenage boy with a toddler on his hip and a couple of other young kids around him. I just saw them for a moment as we flew by, a white blur in a sea of green and grey, and they were smiling, laughing, living in the moment and I thought: how free. And I envied them. I don’t think that Peace Corps or my host family would much appreciate me bathing outdoors in the rain, but I realized them it is up to me to find my equivalent. To find the things that makes me feel like me when everyday there can be 100 things that don’t – my pieces of freedom.


A boy playing in a flooded street in Cebu City

Thanks as always for reading,

And in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I thought I would share the great Maya Angelou’s poem:

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wing

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn

and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.


3 thoughts on “Why the Caged Bird Sings

  1. Ah yes, the often constricting of suffocating reality of living as a PCV in country. I know it well. As I begin to wind down my service I’m excitedly waiting for my opportunity revel in those small freedoms (wearing shorts and a sleeveless top AT THE SAME TIME, eating what I want, traveling when I want in whatever ever manner I want, etc). Vacation from site is a great respite though and days in the city are, at least for me, a wonderful break where I could be more like American me than Thailand me.

    Oh I’m definitely coming to Bohol during my COS travels, in April when my parents join me in the Philippines. I’d love to meet up with you for a bit if possible.


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