Mangoes

Life-changing words of simplicity from a child in Africa

Words by Alicia Woodward

mangoes in tree
Photography by Jade Seok

The first piece of mail I opened in 2021 was a letter from a seven-year-old boy who lives in a village outside of Entebbe, Uganda. Nothing sets you straight faster than the cheerful words of a child who lives in one of the poorest nations in the world.

I was attending my own pity party when I saw the letter on the kitchen counter. It was from Lukas, a child we sponsor through Compassion International. Just seeing the familiar envelope was enough to make me flush with embarrassment. I stopped whining and opened the letter. On one side was a picture drawn by Lukas, and on the other, a letter written in English by a translator.

Lukas was responding to a letter I'd written to him during the summer. Normally, our letter cycle takes about three months, but the pandemic made the process twice as long. Lukas asked how we were doing and told us more about himself. We already knew the names of his brothers and sisters, that he likes to play soccer with his friends, and that his favorite color is green.

Reading the letter out loud to my husband, my voice cracked when I read, "Lukas also adds that he appreciates so much his birthday gift of 86,350. With that money, he bought a mattress and a piece of candy."

We'd forgotten his annual birthday gift of $25 had been automatically withdrawn from our bank account. Lukas didn't replace an old mattress with a new one. He bought the first mattress he'd ever had to go with the mosquito netting he bought with last year's Christmas gift.

The little boy's grateful words hung tangibly in the air next to my greedy ones.

I'd just been listing the next bushel of things I needed to happen, needed to do, needed to get in order to sit squarely in the lap of happiness—things Lukas has no idea even exist or would ever believe he was entitled to.
Then Lukas told us something neither Mike nor I can get out of our minds. Something incredibly simple and utterly life-changing.

The thing that makes him happiest is climbing trees for mangoes.

We love mangoes. We buy them at the grocery store when they're available. My husband is good at picking a perfectly ripe one. He slices through the yellow-red skin and then makes neat cuts in the bright yellow flesh to release cubes of the tropical treat. Biting into the fruit brings a burst of floral sweetness with a slight hint of pine. If eaten mindfully, it's heaven.

I imagine our young friend nimbly skittering up a mango tree in his village. His bright brown eyes spy a ripe fruit. His tiny hand picks it off the limb and stuffs it in his pocket. He climbs back down the tree, laughing. He sits on the ground and leans against the base of the tree. Pulling the golden prize from his pocket, he takes a big bite, juice dripping down his smiling face.

When we find ourselves getting caught up in our first-world delusions and disillusions, Mike and I need only say one word to remind us of the simple life.

Mangoes.

Alicia Woodward

Alicia is a retired teacher, an empty-nester, and a writer. She is an optimist who tries to keep life as simple and joyful as possible. She has degrees in journalism and secondary English education and taught middle school literature and language arts for 28 years. Along the way, she worked at several newspapers as a copywriter, reporter, and columnist. She co-authored the book Lessons in Loveliness with a dear co-worker with whom she wrote a blog by the same name. She and her husband, Mike, live a simple life on a quiet lake in Brown County, Indiana. They have four grown children and a six-year-old grandson. When they aren’t enjoying family or nature, Mike is cooking something spicy while Alicia is writing something cheery.

Website
thesimpleswan.com
Twitter
@simpleswan1

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