I never liked coconut growing up, it seemed like it was some kind of disgusting filler for stuff that would taste better without it. But things change, tastes change, and once outside the confines of good old New Jersey, I became enchanted with Southeast Asia! My first time there, this beautiful guy with his shirt off, and skin looking like silk, was slicing a coconut open with a machete, then gave me a straw, and all of a sudden I felt like I was in heaven, under lush tropical foliage, and the sweet coconut trees, in an exotic country—it was definately the quintessential image of the wonder of paradise. I quickly developed the utmost respect and love for the coconut, and consider it to be one of the most resourceful things on the planet, putting it near the top of the greatest creations in the history of the universe.
The milk of a coconut is nutritious and hydrating, the husk can be used for a variety of things such as weaving a rope, to make a rough sponge for cleaning, and can be used as kindling for a fire. I never knew how great a coconut really is! In Zanzibar, another exotic wonder, I saw a man climb the coconut tree which is an amazing feat of human achievement. There are no branches or notches, you just straddle your legs around the tree, straddle a rope around the upper part, and hop up it like a frog. The guy did it with amazing ease, and asked if I wanted to try. I did, and made it about 3 feet! But the coconut was delicious!
So why on earth am I writing about coconuts. I'm not exactly in an exotic tropical paradise here! I do, however, dream about coconuts, I dream of meandering down the Mekong with my coconut in hand, admiring the Vietnamese men with their silken skin and machetes in hand! Wake up Pai, you're in Africa, and there are no coconut trees around, no Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodians, nothing that seduces my senses like Asia does---but there is a different coconut here. You see, in my little village, I always have an entourage of midget followers. Yes, little people who grab onto me, stare at me, want to say hello or shake my hand, or pray that I play with them---some kids have huge eyes when I come by, some have huge snot coming out of their noses, some have dirt from head to toe, and all want a piece of American PAI!
During our pre-service training, I learned many things, but this silly little ice breaker called COCONUT stuck in my head. You just spell coconut by moving your hands sideways to form a C, then the O, bending to touch toes for the N, etc., we are also screaming the letters as we move, and then we go faster and faster! My god, big kids and little midgets, love this thing. I even caught some of the primary school teachers doing it, but now I am basically known around here as C.O.C.O.N.U.T! When kids are outside my gate, I will hear screaming of C O C O N U T! When I walk around my school campus, the kids are doing the Coconut gestures, when I'm at the Post Office, someone will call me Coconut. I can't believe that my service is gonna leave a legacy of the Coconut, and there aren't even any around here. I guess this is just one of the little things that makes this experience so endearing! So next time you're drinking a coconut, think of me and my midgets, get up, and start moving like a coconut!