They Laugh in the Floodwaters

A flooded African field. The tops of bushes and small trees can be clearly seen poking out of the water.

Every year when the rains come and the river swells, the land floods. When we visited North Africa prior to settling there, we could hear the children laughing and playing in the temporary lake created by the floodwaters. 

Sadly, one morning we heard that a young boy had drowned. A few days later, we visited the family of this child and sat with them to drink tea and share our sympathy, as is the custom. We exchanged greetings (“Yes, praise God, we are all fine”), food, and even laughter. There is a beauty here — community, patience, resilience. Yet there is also a darkness, a heaviness — the reality of suffering and death among people who do not yet know the hope of Christ. 

This poem attempts to express some of the multi-layered realities of this event and the people we shared it with.

Squeals and splashes in the flooded plain,

as children laugh in the water, the same

water that tore through the sticks and mud

and the few possessions of their weary huts.

This water now gathers around the trees,

where the children laugh, to wash away the heat

and perhaps the hunger — at least for a time.

Is everything fine?

Thank God, we are fine, all fine.

Drowned — the word falls like a curse,

like heat paralyzes, like hunger hurts.

His son has drowned — it happens each year

when the long-awaited rains appear,

and they play and splash till the sky is dark

but somebody’s child goes too far.

They take the lifeless body, and hurry

to the hospital, but there is no cure

for death. Six years is a time too short

to laugh in the floodwaters of this world.

Somehow he had known, for they heard him say:

I will go to be with the angels today.

It is a mystery, it is the will of God.

We hurt, we scar, we must move on

to wade through the waters, which quietly rise.

Is everything fine?

All fine, praise God, we are fine.

Smoke burns our eyes and sweet coffee the tongue,

but nothing reaches the pain deep down

We sit, sharing laughter and babies and tea

in the midst of a silent invisible sea —

the loss that flooded what once was home

and took what we couldn’t afford to let go.

Together we sit in the hunger and heat

and share what we have. We speak of the grief,

but are careful not to go too far

for we know now that there is no cure

for death. It is the will of God,

a mystery — we must move on.

And still the floodwaters rise.

Is everything fine?

Thank God, we are fine, all fine.

Esther Greenfield

Esther Anne Greenfield is a poet, missionary, third-culture kid, and mother. She learned to walk and write poetry in East Africa, and she fell in love with her husband on a summer internship in West Africa. Today they live in North Africa, with the goal of sharing God's Word with least-reached people. Esther's writings are inspired by her life in Africa and her love for Jesus. She blogs at

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