When I finally convinced my host sister and brother to take me to the fields, I had this great vision of myself, wandering around orderly rows of beans and cassava that stretch as far as the eye could see. Here I could be some farmer girl, working row after row, hacking at nicely turned soil, just like we see those great fields in the Central Valley in California. As usual, I was completely wrong.
I started to realize my mistake early on when my host mother sent me back to my room after she saw my outfit saying, “There’s no way you’re going to wander through the forest like that without long sleeves! The branches and bramble will destroy your nice soft skin.” FOREST? I thought. I thought I was going to harvest beans in the fields. This was the point when I realized that “field” did not mean land tamed by man, far from anything wild. Rather it was a place that thrived in the wild, hidden from the villages or towns around. Instead, I was going somewhere that was almost as beautiful as any national park I had been to, but still you could appreciate the hard work of those who had been there before.
Our adventure started off with the three of us parading around town, us girls carrying our baskets and Fabrice his machete so that the villagers could take photos of the crazy white lady going to work the land with her hosts. It didn’t take very long for the main road to turn to a rutted dirt road, until quickly my sister motioned towards a trail, that led off into the forest. By that point, we never ran into another person again, and let loose, like little kids, doing cartwheels over logs and howling at the vast wilderness. Along the way we found wild fruits (cassamangos) and cacao fruits to nibble along the way.
I couldn’t imagine that it could get much better than that, but then we arrived at the “fields.” Instead of that flat, vast place of orderly rows I had in my head, it was rather a clearing of sorts, where all of the sudden trees disappeared, and other things appeared in their place. High up on a hill, you had one of the most impressive views of the hills in the south, completely forested for miles and miles. We stopped for a moment, admiring the best view I had seen in Ebolowa thus far. Rather than orderly rows of peanuts, we found a cluster, high up on the hill, and gathered some, before moving on to the beans. I discovered for the first time what so many of these vegetables and legumes looked like, before coming to earth and traveling to the market. As we worked (I got the easy job of plucking off leaves of the bean plants), we listened to music from Fabrice’s phone, and hummed along, laughing at the English from the Nigerian pop music that only half of us really understood.
Once we had finally collected everything, Maeva was convinced that we needed to go deeper into the forest, in search of the best prize of all: bananas. I must admit, at first we feared it would be in vain, since most of the trees had already been harvested, but finally, from the corner of my eye, I spotted the bright yellow, high up in the trees. As Fabrice hacked with the machete, Maeva pulled them down, and we collected them as best we could. No one can imagine the glory of a fresh sweet banana, just picked from the tree, eaten right then and there. “I never go home hungry,” Maeva stated proudly, finishing off her fourth or fifth banana? I had lost count, but knew that I felt the same way, content, satiated, and well, completely satisfied. After the second spotting of the banana hunt, we had regretted leaving our baskets behind, as heavy as they already were, but we managed to carry what we could with our t-shirts, banana leaves, and hands. Successfully back, we again gorged on bananas, finally making our way back to the real world. I can’t say I was happy to leave, but as one final parting gift, Maeva and Fabrice threw rocks at the cola tree to dislodge a few of the nuts to share. As tradition, you share the tiny bitter pink nut with those around you to signify friendship. “Friends forever?” Maeva smiled, as she handed me my piece. “Of course,” I replied, munching through the bitterness. And friends with the fields, and the forest. Forever.