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The highlight of my weekend: Cassava Leaves

I’m not sure if I would really call this the highlight of my weekend but it was definitely cool and unexpected.

I drove to Patterson to pick up my son who was spending the night at his best friend’s house. His friend used to live down the street and we all got to spend lots of time with him. His mom remarried and now they live about 45 minutes away. The boys miss each other more than 14-year-old boys would like to admit, so I made a commitment to drive to Patterson once a month so they could hand out.

When I went to pick up my son, his Mom took me to her friend’s house. I did not know until we got there that I would be working. The friend is from Africa and once a year she goes to the flea market about 30 minutes away from where they live to purchase one year’s worth of cassava leaves. Apparently, it is a staple in many African dishes.

This is only one of the four boxes. And we already took some out before I took this picture.

We picked the leaves off and I had to pull of any tiny dead leaves in the middle. I guess they are bitter. This branch "bleed" when I did that.

 See the box in the background on the left? Those are the picked leaves.

The coolest thing about this whole event was that after a few minutes it was just me and an 80 something year old Cambodian man (grandpa) on my left and a late 80 something year old African women(grandma) on my right, both of whom did not speak a word of English. They were also kicking my butt at this picking leaves thing. It took me awhile to catch on.

Grandpa was hustling and quickly caught on to the technique of efficiently picking the cassava leafs. He probably did about 5 bundles for every one bundle I did.

What did he do differently than me? Well after some time I realized that, he and grandma had been communicating all along. I stopped and watched them. He watched how she picked the leaves. Then he would do the same. She would look at him, smile and shake her bundle, in approval I guess. Occasionally he would get ahead of himself throw something in that still had a bitter part. She always caught it and signaled him. He got her signal, corrected the situation and then got back to work.

I had never stopped to watch her once or try to communicate with her because we did not speak the same language. I was wrong. I could have learned from her and had a much easier time at my task. The funny thing is, she did not watch me the way she watched grandpa. She did not give me any signals or feedback. Why? Maybe she knew I was not paying attention. Maybe she did and I didn't notice. Who knows? Nevertheless, I did learn a little something about myself. I am too quick to assume I cannot communicate with someone because we "don't speak the same language." I am not going to do that anymore.  

Oh yeah: Cassava leaves are poisonous before cooked so don't lick the sap or try to bite them.


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