The Mangoes of Makumira

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
About life in two large mango trees.

Submitted: May 16, 2017

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Submitted: May 16, 2017




Within our garden at Makumira, there were two massive mango trees that have been standing side by side for I don’t know how many years. Two people couldn’t reach around the girth of either trunk, but three people would be too many. The canopy spreads over part of the tree nursery and over the dirt road that passed by. We built our potting banda (shed) under the canopy to take advantage of the cool shade. The banda was essentially four poles with simple roof trusses and coconut-leaf thatching. Along one side we built a workbench where four people could stand shoulder to shoulder to fill pots and sow seeds.

Mango flowers are profuse, tiny, in big, creamy bunches with a mild smell something like lily-of-the-valley, but be warned, some asthma sufferers really do suffer when the tree is in full bloom! Because of the flowers, enter the monkey! There was a resident troop of Sykes monkeys in our area, maybe eight adults accompanied by five or six younger ones. Adults range between four and six kilogrammes and their tails are long and flaccid. We have seen David Attenborough visiting gorillas. They seem to just sit there chewing on fruit, seeds and to a lesser extent foliage. In comparison the Sykes monkeys are browsers, feeding as they travel. They have their food sources and visit them almost by routine and regularity. Not that you could set your clock by them. They are mainly tree dwellers, but if there is an opportunity on the ground they will take it! They first arrive by jumping into tall silky oak trees that are covered in bougainvillea vines, not seeming to mind the thorns. They swing and climb their way to the mango trees, where, if there are flowers, they feast on them. But because the flowers are profuse, only about ten percent are eaten. They break dead branches which fell onto the banda, or anyone standing under the tree! And most of us were peed upon once or twice. They also eat the succulent growing tips especially between seasons when there are no flowers and no fruit. Oh yes they are comical to watch.

Once the fruit begins to form, the monkeys are there to sample them, but the young fruit are not flavoursome so one bite and they drop them to select and sample another! The bigger the fruit becomes, the more you have to duck out of the way! Even when the fruit are large, but still not quite ripe, the monkeys are hugely wasteful, one bite and then the fruit is dropped. That doesn’t change even when the fruit are juicy and ripe! Abundance equates to waste! As an aside, there is a huge fig tree on another part of the garden! Figs act on monkey bowels just the same as humans. And we were below!

As far as I know, these were the only mango trees in the village so the half to fully ripe fruit were a mecca for the kids! They like the taste of salt sprinkled on unripe mangoes, so their season is long. Especially kids walking to and from school over considerable distances packed a hunger and the mangoes were a target for them. First came the stones thrown by kids trying to knock fruit out of the tree! Whether the stone hit a fruit or not, gravity always causes the stone to return to earth, through the thatched roof, onto our plants or back onto the track where kids waited at the ready to catch their prize.

It’s God-given right of passage for kids to pinch fruit off trees! I was a champion at in my day! But at Makumira, the likelihood of injury worried me, so I was fairly active in dissuading kids from biffing stones. All kids are hungry, African kids possibly more so, and to be fair, the majority listened to me because (wink, wink) I had a strategy. My big worry was that if one of the kids ended up bleeding, the responsibility would fall to me to do something about it. We were warned one in four was likely to be HIV positive, so it was a personal risk to me because I had no rubber gloves or other protection available to me. The inevitable did happen when a boy was struck square on the top of his head with a fist-sized rock! Blood poured down the boy’s head so I rushed inside for a roll of toilet paper. Its ok unused toilet paper is nearly sterile. I unrolled a hefty wad and told the boy to hold it firmly over the wound. With more wads, I cleaned him up while being very careful to avoid touching blood. The direct pressure stopped the bleeding, so I told him to toss his wad away and gave him another to hold in its place. Off home he went accompanied by his younger sister, just in case he fell over. He was fine, but had the bleeding not stopped, I would have had to take him to hospital, which could have led to all sorts of issues!

As you would expect, some boys were good climbers. The boundary fence was only a visual barrier, not sturdy and easily pushed aside, so the boys were able to climb the trees and toss fruit down. But this was a similar scenario, if one of them fell out of my tree, the consequences didn’t bear thinking about! So I used to be vigilant to catch the climbers and threaten them with a ride to the police station! They knew I wouldn’t do that and a couple of them treated it as a regular game – actually, when I think about it, I did too. They were good kids.

I wasn’t going to deny the kids, so I brought my strategy into play. Using a very long and awkward pole with a wire hook on the end, I harvested mangoes twice daily, and filled a couple of buckets. When kids came down the hill and we made eye contact, I would toss them a mango. There was no way that I could give every kid one, it was first come, first served. The little kids I knew would never be able to catch their fruit, so I would hand one to them through the netting fence, my reward was their ear to ear grin! I would distribute the fruit before and after school. It was the best I could do.

Tanzanians do not like snakes and Mbise told he saw a python climbing one of the mango trees, probably after sleeping bush babies. He thought it was about five metres long! That’s big. It freaked out the nursery workers so nursery production was down for about a week until they forgot about it! But they were just as frightened of the beautiful six inch chameleons! There were always plenty in the trees when there were flowers because flies and other insects are the pollinators. People don’t like how one eye of a chameleon can swing around independent of the other!

Trees are valuable communities, always worthy of a second look!




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