One of the unique things about being here is the extraordinary number and size of the mango trees all over the main campus. We don't have mango trees in Canada, a bit too frosty I think, but if we looked hard I'd guess we might think that apple trees would be pretty much the equivalent in our neck of the woods. We would be wrong.
Apple trees are nothing like mango trees, in fact the only thing similar is the fruit you get, but even that is way different. The apple has many varieties, and can be both sweet or tart, is pretty much round in shape, can be easily transported and lasts for literally months in the right conditions.
Mangos on the other hand are pretty much all the same, though I've heard there's many varieties, and perhaps one day some mango expert will enlighten me and I'll become a mango snob, I mean-connoisseur, but till then I've had them on 4 different continents and to me there're all just, mangoes. They taste pretty much like a cross between a peach and ....hmmm, well I'm not sure, but it doesn't change. Shape is pretty consistent too, sort of hard to describe though, somewhat like an upside-down pear, with the fatter end at the top but more elongate like a banana, if that makes any sense to you. When seeing a range of sizes on the counter the other day suddenly our last Creole lesson, or as Haitians say it-Kreyol, Haiti's pidgin French language, started to make more sense. We had been learning family members and got down to children, which are called "pitit", and then grandchildren which are "pitit pitit" regardless of gender or size. They really like to simplify things here, and the mangoes suddenly became a family: PaPa (father), Manman (mother), Tonton (uncle), Gason (son), Fi (daughter), or more affectionately-pitit (children) and of course the smallest-pitit pitit (grandchildren). When I started to call them that well the kitchen staff just roared with laughter, which I guess is a good thing, for isn't laughter supposed to be good medicine? but perhaps I'm missing some nuances of the language and they thought I was describing something else, like a body part... you get the idea.
One of the huge differences between apples and mangoes, though, is in the eating. Apples are clean, crunchy and not a mess, whereas mangoes are just the opposite. One of the distinguishing features of a mango is that it has a huge internal seed, oblong shaped that takes up half the fruit. Eating one is messy, very messy as the seed clings to the fruit, forcing you to cut, peel or otherwise strip away the outer parts with the skin, leaving the seed surrounded by rich, gooey, sticky, stringy sweet flesh that you've got to grasp with two hands and stuff into your face, biting away the flesh and sucking in the juices dribbling down your chin before you lose them. It's not a pretty sight, nor a quiet one and if you're squeamish or overly "refined" about your eating you probably won't take the plunge and enjoy what has got to be one of the very best fruits around.
Getting back to my original thought, Mangoes in the morning, one of the other huge differences between an apple tree and a mango is that mango trees are huge, well over 100 feet up and the branches weighted done with mangoes, so actually getting a mango is a bit of a challenge. There is no harvest time where everything is ripe and ready to pick, no that would be too easy, the fruit individually ripen over time. Once the easy-pickins are finished close to the ground, locals resort to various means of harvest. I've seen, sticks, I've seen poles, I've seen slingshots, or guys climbing high and jumping up and down on stiff branches, and the favourite of kids especially is winging stones and rocks skyward trying to knock that just-ripening fruit in the upper branches to the ground. But the very best way to get them is simply to walk around and pick them up, which the ladies do diligently every morning, filling baskets to bring back to table. Now I'm not sure if mangoes fall preferentially in the evening and night, and certainly I've almost been beaned, or should I say "mangoed" in the head by a falling fruit at different times during the day, but it seems like most come down in the evening. Almost every night as we're sitting around at the dinner table we get shocked by a large BANG, like the shot from a gun as another mango free falls into the tin roof just outside the door. It startles you as the adrenaline kicks in and makes you think "what was that?" until your brain remembers, "oh, its just another mango...".
Now, I do like mangoes, and discussing them is fun, but I do have a point in all this. You see the last few days have had some challenges. Nothing new, mind you, just ongoing things that keep popping up. And not that they're challenges in and of themselves as much as cultural differences. At least that's what I've come to after prayer and contemplation and some discussions, and throwing out the Peter Principle run amok. Let me digress...
On Saturday at the beach Lisa had been reading one of our books about missions to the group, which was discussing "warm" versus "cold" attitudes and cultures and how the two are distinctly different. For example some cold attributes would be reserved, efficient, individualistic and with a focus on results and accomplishing a task, while warm attributes might be effusive, friendly, talkative, community-minded and its focus on relationship and enjoying the process. As she was giving examples of the two, it suddenly became more understandable why tools keep going missing, for instance, as warm climate types share everything in common, like a big family and its not "you have something" but "we have something". Or why we struggle constantly trying to motivate the workers and keep them busy throughout the day, as they live in community, and talking, discussing and laughing together is as much a part of their life as breathing, and our northern, "cold" concepts like actually putting in a full day's work, completing a job and fully earning your wage are totally foreign strange ideas that strangle the lifeblood of their culture. Does that make them lazy? No. Does that make them difficult or disobedient? No. Does that make them thieves? Not in their eyes... We're working through these things and trying to reach a balance and share our expectations, but as I say, its a process and an ongoing challenge.
Over the past week especially we've shifted work focus trying to get both the Clinic finished for next week's Medical team and community clinic, and a foundation in for the new duplex at the Children's Village for a team wanting to lay block on it while here, while the Technical School is waiting for concrete to cure on it first second floor beams. Assigned earlier as "Project Manager" for both those projects, its been stressful, with more than the usual "inputs" from multiple parties as to how and where and when things should be getting done, or will be getting done. Just when you've got a plan together, organized things, gotten approvals and communicated where I thought it was needed, heading off in one direction, someone else jumps in with a different idea and goes in a different direction, seemingly not even realizing what they're doing, or caring. Since with work I tend to be an apple kind of guy, it comes across to me as too much meddling, wasting precious time and resources as we jump from one plan to the next. However, after prayer and reflection I believe its more the warm culture coming to the fore, with everyone pressing to get things done, and jumping in as a community to "help out". I had my"moment", standing there watching elaborate plans derail and go off in a different direction, everyone else oblivious to me or plans set in-place weeks before, leaving me wondering, "You know, I came out early this morning to get going and missed breakfast. I wonder what was for breakfast?" I had a choice, to either make a scene and try to get things back on my track, or let things ride and deal with outcomes at a later point. Since the difference wasn't really a huge problem in terms of safety and security of the project, nor much more costly, and we could work around whatever happened, it wasn't really a problem. I put on my warm side hat and choose breakfast. And I'm glad I did, it was pancakes, and they still had a couple warm ones to go with that wonderful cinnamon-star of anise-maple syrup.
So what does this have to do with Mangoes in the morning? Well, if and when you come to work here, or if you're just trying to figure out what its like, remember mangoes. They're not the usual fruit, they're messy, they're difficult to eat and sometimes dangerous to your health, or at least your thinking if you get hit by one falling from heaven above. But in the process of gathering them up you'll probably find some new friends, you'll have a great time, enjoying yourself in ways you can only recall dimly from childhood and because of the mess and sharing it with your friends you'll look back fondly some months down the road while sitting under some apple trees eating crispy, hand-picked, sun-ripened apples, which I hope to be doing early this Fall.
Now, go eat a mango! (: