Nothing but lettuce

 My garden looks fantastic. It’s my pride and joy here, so I’ll allow myself to brag a little. My veggies are all thriving, and really my two 1m x 18m garden beds look more like strips of jungle than neat, orderly cultivation. I have all the summer crops, like tomatoes, zucchini, and beans, as well as onions, celery, and several kinds of lettuce. I also have what might be the world’s largest parsley plant, a monster almost 3ft in diameter and 2ft high. There are a smattering of other veggies, like cabbage, cucumbers, broccoli, pumpkins, rutabagas, garlic, radishes, and green peppers, as well as a selection of flowers including nasturtiums, poppies, sunflowers, marigolds, and lupine. So I have quite a variety of plants, and I spend a lot of my time slathered with sunscreen and weeding, harvesting, or watering.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Right now we are moving out of cold season and into our hot, dry season, so the weather has been warm and sunny. Perfect growing weather, if you can keep everything moist enough. I spend about two hours every day watering my garden by hand, making innumerable trips from a nearby well and toting what seems like an infinite number of buckets full of water. My neighbors are all very impressed, as they are any time I do anything resembling physical labor. Many of them water their gardens using gas-powered pumps, but many also use buckets, so I have to laugh when someone comes up to me and says, ‘Ah, you. You work very hard.’ While I’m watering 36 square meters by hand, they are carrying enough water for acres of onions, tomatoes, rape, and watermelon; there’s really no question in my mind about who is working hard. At least I’m getting a good reputation, however little I think I deserve it.

If I’ve spent a lot of time in my garden this last month, then so has everyone else: apparently this is the right time of year for growing everything. All of the gardens are clustered together in a ‘dambo’ area, or a low-lying area where the water table stays within ~2m of ground level. While in months past my garden was a place of solitude, now it has become the center of my social life. Absolutely every man, woman, and child spends at least a few hours in their garden each day, and we all greet and chat with each other while we’re working.

Many times I’ll be working away and a group of kids will come over and want a short tour of my garden. They want to see, and sample, everything that I am growing. My cherry tomatoes are especially popular, though everybody is shocked that ‘they do not grow’, and I always spend a lot of time explaining that you don’t exactly eat basil, parsley, mint, or cilantro, that you use just a small amount for flavor. It’s a strange concept to people who don’t use any spices other than salt.

Prudence, my 6 year old host sister, loves to come over when the family and I are out at the same time. Today we all walked out to the gardens together, laughing and skipping the whole way. When we got there, Prudence and I started playing her favorite garden game: she points to plants and asks what they are. We usually start with the easy ones that she knows, like onions and tomatoes, but then she’ll start asking about ones she hasn’t seen before. So today we worked our way through radishes, rutabagas, basil, and parsley, and then she pointed to a head of lettuce. ‘It’s lettuce’ I said. She pointed to a tuft of wrinkly leaf lettuce. ‘That’s lettuce, too.’ She pointed to some romaine. ‘That’s also lettuce.’ Finally she pointed out a bunch of red oak-leaf lettuce. ‘I know, but it’s lettuce, Prudence.’

I could just see her puzzlement: how can such different-looking plants all be lettuce? This one’s red, even! Then an idea seemed to dawn on her, she grinned in understanding. ‘Ba Jaime,’ she said, gesturing to my whole garden, ‘leonse lettuce!’ (It’s ALL lettuce!)