A Tree Story

“What are you gonna do with all those trees?” asked a little boy named Adé, peaking over the fence at me in the garden. “BonJe ne sais pas,” I said. I don’t know. Tossing the empty watering can aside, I looked at the rows of baby trees sitting in plastic bags – about three hundred in total – moringa, cassia, cailcédrat, and orange. The tree nursery had been a project I started with my environment club. We picked a variety of species for a variety of purposes and intended to plant the trees at the students’ houses and around the school before classes let out, but the rains didn’t come in time. Now we finally had rain and soft ground, but the school year was over, and the students had dispersed.

So the trees still sat waiting in my garden, their roots poking through the plastic bags they’d long since outgrown. They needed to get in the ground soon, but I couldn’t just plant three hundred trees in my backyard! “What are you gonna do with all those trees?” Adé asked, again. He looked at me expectantly, “Donne-moi un.” Give me one. I hear this all the time – people asking me for things. Give me money! Give me your dog! Give me one of those mangos! By now, I’ve lost my patience with random demands and tend to automatically see red when someone starts a sentence with “Give me…” But this time, I had a different thought.
“Just one?” I asked, “How about two?”
His eyes went wide, “Medji?” Two?
“Yes, but only if you help me distribute the rest of the trees. Then I’ll give you two trees and un cadeau!” Well that did it – two trees and a gift? This kid was ready to do anything I asked.

First, we went over to the mason’s house to see about borrowing his wheelbarrow. It was not in good shape – all rusted out in the middle – but it could still fit a couple dozen trees. So we filled up our first load and pushed off. Never one to be left out of an expedition, my plucky pup Sami eagerly charged ahead, clearing all livestock out of our path as we set out.

As one might guess, a wheelbarrow full of trees gets very heavy very fast, and I knew I’d have quite a sore back and arms by the end of the day if I had to push this thing all morning. But as it turns out, word spreads fast in a small village, so soon enough people were coming to us before we had to go find them. The wonderful thing about doing an activity such as this in an agricultural community is that you don’t have to worry that people won’t know how to properly care for a tree. Of course, there’s no guarantee they will, and I’ll probably never know how many of my baby trees survive. (This is why I’d wanted a more organized tree-planting approach to begin with – I wanted to know who had trees and where they planted them so I could follow-up from time to time.) But you can’t always be in control. Sometimes you just have to let go and hope for the best.

And I have high hopes. No one who took a tree that day looked anything less than fully attentive and enthusiastic – not the little girl who carefully selected the moringa with the most leaves, nor the old man who gently secured two cailcédrat trees to the back of his bicycle so he could take them out to his fields and plant them that day, nor anyone else. It took only a few hours to hand out all those trees, so we were back at my house by lunchtime. As promised, Adé received his two trees and a gift (a new bouncy ball), but in the fun and flurry of giving out the trees, I forgot to set aside one for myself. So all my little babies were gone. Bummer.

It was already quite hot out, and we were both tired and thirsty, so I mixed up some crystal lite lemonade and shared a glass with Adé.
Bon travail, Adé!” I told him. Good work! “That was a lot of trees.”
He nodded, silently studying his feet. Then he looked back up at me with those bright, inquisitive eyes. “What are you gonna do with that last one?” Did I forgot one?
“Where?” I asked.
“I’ll show you.” We walked around the house back to the garden where he pointed to something growing out of the compost pile. I had assumed that was just a weed, but Adé knew better. “That’s a mango tree!” he exclaimed.
Ah bon?” Really? What a pleasant surprise! I touched it’s tiny new leaves and smiled, “Guess I get to keep one, after all.”

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9 Responses to A Tree Story

  1. Karen Torghele says:

    Dear Heidi – Your reflections on life in Benin and on your experiences show how you are maximizing this experience for everyone who has the pleasure of knowing you. Thanks so much for bringing us there with your word pictures! Love, Auntie Karen

    PS. I see books at three levels from your Peace Corp years; picture books, young adults, and adult non-fiction.

  2. Holly Anderson says:

    One of my favorite posts. I love how sometimes our plans go awry—and then turn out wonderfully after all! I think your trees will be well cared for because they were cadeaux from the first Peace Corps volunteer in Koko. Very special!

  3. Heidi, I loved this story! Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Joyce_dickhane@msn.com says:


    You are truly a person to be admired. Grandpa and I truly love you and all that you stand for including your love for all God’s creatures, plants, trees etc. We hope that you do not become frustrated with all your well intended projects but will accept for what becomes of those projects.

    Heidi, Grandpa will be going to his 65th High School Reunion next week. That is a long time. Many of his classmates have passed away and others are in poor health one way or another. Anyway, he will enjoy visiting with those and some of whom went to grade school as well with him. It should be fun for him.

    We know what a good time it will be for your family at Christmas when you can all be together.

    We understand that you have been at a university with 2 girls from your village. That must be so exciting for you as well as for them.

    Good luck on all your endeavors and God Bless you.

    Love, Grandma and Grandpa

  5. Noelle Hart says:

    This may be my favorite post yet. A Hart-warming (couldn’t resist) story wonderfully written. I could just picture Ade’s astonishment at being offered two trees, and I hope your mango tree does well!

  6. Gail says:

    I love the serendipity of your life. Great post.

    I wish I had been able to see you when you were home – although I’m not sure how much you were actually at home … I appreciate the glimpse into Africa (Benin) and how it differs from what the media portray. I’ve a friend in the Netherlands who says European media also heavily distorts – her husband travels throughout Europe and the Middle East – very different picture through his eyes than what is portrayed in the news.

    I saw on FB that Hans has tickets – when does he come to see you. I wish I were a bit more adventuresome – although I don’t know if I could handle being on an airplane that long any more #antsy!


  7. Sarah says:

    Beautiful story. You are doing such interesting work, and you are so brave.

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