How to Escape From a Leper Colony
“How to Escape From a Leper Colony”
“How to Escape from a Leper Colony” is from Tiphanie Yanique’s debut collection of the same title (Graywolf Press, 2010). Her work has earned her a Pushcart Prize, the Boston Review Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship in writing, and the 2010 Rona Jaffe Prize in Fiction. In 2014 she published her debut novel, LAND OF LOVE AND DOWNING.
Her fiction, poetry or essays can be found in the Best African American Fiction, American Short Fiction, The London Magazine, and other journals. She lives in the Caribbean and Brooklyn, New York.
Yanique commented on her work: This story came from photographs that friends brought back after a sailing trip that included the island of Chacachacare. Chacachacare, a former leprosarium, is off Trinidad, which is off South America. The pictures showed an abandoned leper colony where there were beds still made. There were dishes on the table. Medicines in the cabinet. But no people. It was as if the people had just disappeared. Still, even looking at the pictures I felt the haunting presence of human beings. I was curious about those people, and curiosity is often one of my drives to create.
And there was a different image among the photos. In that image there was an altar, one that seemed to be honoring a Hindu goddess. This was a different sort of artifact. This was something made by hand, something sacred and beloved, and I began to wonder about the potential relationship of the altar to the other left behind artifacts. How could a goddess be as prosaic as a left behind cup? How could a sick bed be a kind of left behind altar?
I wrote the story fast, in weeks. That was how bad I wanted to know what happened to the people and why they had left these things behind. I knew that the story would be about faith and love, because that is what those things – medicines, altars, beds – seemed to be about. Religious faith and human love are two things that thinking people often have quite reasonable doubts about. And yet they are the things that save us again and again.