“What are you gonna do with all those trees?” asked a little boy named Adé, peaking over the fence at me in the garden. “Bon… Je 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.”