Throughout my 26 months in Swaziland, there were two constants – I received, from my host families and community members, avocados from the trees in winter and mangoes from the trees in summer.
The avocados fueled many days out in the community. Somedays, I would formally make my lunchtime sandwich, scooping the fruit onto sliced bread I had brought from the sitolo, liberally sprinkling the mash with salt and pepper, topping with another piece of bread and wrapping the sandwich in one of my oft-rewashed and reused ziplock bags.
Often days, packing my lunch would be a much more hurried affair, shoving the loaf of bread, the whole avocado, salt and pepper shakers and a knife into my backi, where it took up residence with toilet paper (not provided anywhere in my village), notebooks full of ideas I would enthusiastically pitch that would never be implemented, an extra sweater in case I returned back when the sun was starting to go down, and my favorite water bottle. Those days, I would sink under the sparse shade of an acia tree, unpack my supplies, and make my sandwich, scooping out the remainder of the avocado to give to passing children as a snack.
It was crucial to pack a lunch in anticipation of a 8 or 9am meeting, because the meeting would only begin at noon or 1pm. I remember arriving at 10am for a 9am meeting once, having been delayed from leaving the homestead by the adorable antics of bosisi. The was no one at the location. “Did I miss it?” I wondered anxiously, before arriving at the most logical conclusion – I was the first one there.
Now mangos were eaten differently. They were not take-along snack food, as the mess would get all over my clothes and hands and I didn't want to waste the precious water I carried with me on cleaning myself of the sticky reside. No, mangos were to be eaten on my front stoop during a lazy morning or as a treat after a hot day.
When I returned to the US in 2012, craving the fruit that I had so enjoyed in Swaziland, I was comforted by the towering avocado and mango trees in my parent’s front yard. The trees supplied somewhat inconsistent harvests but when the fruit was good, it was delicious and brought back my many happy Swazi memories.
Then Irma roared through.
The thick branches that fueled not only my appetite, but kept a little part of Swaziland close to me, now lie in disarray on my parent’s driveway, the fallen fruit rotting away, as my family slowly makes our way back (due to lack of power, we extended our South Dakota/Minnesota trip and have been away several weeks).
We were lucky to be out of town when the hurricane hit and escape with little property damage. I know how lucky we are. But I’m still sad about those trees.