One day shortly after my arrival in Zambia I was chatting with my neighbor, Jenny, in my back yard. She observed that it was a shame my avocado tree didn't produce fruit. I was surprised to learn that I had an avocado tree. My acquaintance with how avocados grew came from sprouting their seeds in an effort to grow house plants in the distant past. I had not recognized that one of the many trees in my yard, along with those bearing mangos and guavas, was a tall, leafy, but barren avocado tree.
The next day I spoke with Moses, who tends my garden. We looked at the tree and saw that it needed care. It was receiving no water in the dry season. That day we dug a trench around it and gave it water. Moses thought compost might help nourish the ground around it, so he added compost to the soil. Some weeks later when he was using chicken manure to fertilize another part of the garden, he included the avocado tree in his treatment.
With time, the tree began to bear fruit. Lots of fruit. We picked the low-hanging fruit, some avocados fell off the tree and we gathered them up, and sometimes Moses climbed the tree to get the high fruit before it fell. I had avocados to eat and avocados to share. There is a family here at MEF with a child with disabilities who follows a special diet including avocados, so I became a major supplier for their needs. When students asked, I gave them avocados to add to their meals.
As I reflected on the avocado tree, it seemed to me there was a lesson to be learned. Any living thing that is neglected and not nourished may stop producing fruit. In our own spiritual life, if we take no time for meditation, singing, reading sacred texts, praying, or following other practices that nourish our souls, we can become lost and dry. The hopeful part of the message is that even a little attention and nurture may renew and restore us.
Another lesson came from the avocado tree. One day recently, Moses asked if I had given permission for someone to harvest most of the fruit that was still on the tree. I said no. He asked me to look at the tree. Indeed, all of the low-hanging avocados were gone--quite a few, in fact. Moses said he had seen one of the casual workers from MEF that morning, selling avocados in the Nakadole Market. He suspected they were from my tree. My first reaction was to be angry that someone stole my avocados. Then I thought about the fact that fruit trees are often seen here as community property, especially if they are not behind a fence or a wall. My tree is on the edge of the yard, close to a path used by many people. And I also realized that the money that came from the sale in the market was probably needed for school fees or other family expenses. The worker might even have interpreted my sharing of the avocados with many neighbors as permission to participate in the bounty of my now fruitful tree.
And there is still the high fruit yet to be harvested... What a great tree!