December 27 – Ordinary Joy. Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

Here I will relate a conversation I had with a Tanzanian on Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was an ordinary conversation in an extraordinary setting, that led to a true moment that I believe will bring me life-long joy.

Our guide on the mountain was a 40-ish year old Chagga man named Reggie. He says he has climbed the mountain ‘about more than 150 times’, and judging by his calves, I’m inclined to believe him. One afternoon, when the rest of the team decided to nap, I chose to stay up and chat with Reggie. with his limited English, and my non-existent Chagga and/or Swahili, i knew this was going to be an adventure in itself. We started off as most do, exchanging information about wives, kids, and my supremely awesome boyfriend… then, out of nowhere, Reggie lobs this one my way:

“what crops do you grow in your village?”
“uhhh… well, let’s see…. corn, potatoes, berries…uhhh…”
“do you grow banana?” (banana is a staple of the chagga diet – roasted banana and cheese, anyone?)
“nope. no bananas. too cold”
“do you grow coffee?”
“nope, too cold for that, too”
“oh. do you grow pumpkin?”
“yes! we do grow pumpkin! well… for a short time anyway. we grow it for halloween”
“hilawin?”
“halloween”
“hellawin. hellawin. how do you make hellawin?”
“halloween. it’s not a food, it’s a holiday”

here Reggie cocks his head to the left. I continue…

“yah, um… on halloween children dress up in costumes…”

head cock

“…and they go door-to-door in the village…”
“for pumpkin?”
“ummm… no. for candy”

head cock

Reggie then says slowly, “what do you do with the pumpkins?”
“y’see… we sort of, ummm… cut their tops off, scoop out their guts, then, uhhh… cut smiley faces into them, stuff a candle in them and put them by our door”

dead silence

“…and then you eat the pumpkin?”, he asks.
“actually, nooooo… we uh… we throw it away. in the garbage”

“but what about the pumpkin? you don’t eat it?”
“some people do, but most don’t. we do eat the seeds, though!”
“you eat the seeds?!?!”

here, Reggie bursts into laughter and I turn a fabulous shade of red

“yeah, we scoop them out, put them in the oven, and toast them. they’re very good! you should tell your wife and daughter to do that next time you have pumpkin!”
“no. i don’t think i will do that”
“fair enough”

Anyway, the conversation carried on along the path, and I told him about how our grocery stores work, and I explained to him about what kinds of pre-packaged foods we have. It was far more eye-opening for me than for him, I can guarantee you that. And it certainly made me rethink my shopping habits, too.

More than anything, I loved the joy in way Reggie laughed at me, and how his eyes bugged out of his cocked head as I messily tried to explain my culture’s absurdities. It’s a moment I’ll remember forever, and I’ll never look at pumpkins the same way ever again.

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