By Diana Lee
"How could anyone fail to grow a garden in the jungle?" my supervisor once asked me.
My horticulture nightmare began when I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. I was advised to grow a vegetable garden so I could maintain a healthy diet of green fibers at my isolated post in the jungle. This idea horrified me. How could I acquire a 'green thumb' after having every plant ever given to me died within a month?
However, after a daily consumption of mainly cassava and cocoa leaves for the first six months in the village, I started to dream of eating juicy tomatoes, plumb carrots and tasty bell peppers in the Garden of Eden. At times, I broke out in cold sweat just thinking about a succulent cucumber. These recurring fantasies and cravings finally drove me to take action.
My neighbors helped me clear a plot of land surrounded by towering trees and thick bushes in the middle of the forest. I carefully planted seeds and watered them well. A few weeks later, I noticed the seeds were germinating, and so were the encroaching weeds. In the following month, the wild vegetation grew faster than the crops as it buried the entire garden. Mother Nature had reclaimed her land!
Undaunted, I bought more seeds. This time, I made a garden closer to home -- behind my mud abode. Three weeks later, shoots sprang from the red earth. Then, I was called away for official duties for a month. Upon my return, I hastened to the backyard. To my horror -- some critters had already beaten me to my food! Caterpillars and beetles ate through every edible vegetable, leaving nothing but their excrements.
Vexed but determined, I bought the best piece of land for a garden in the village. The villagers helped me chopped branches from trees to be used as stakes for a surrounding fence. Even the village witch doctor came to bless the ground with a dance. All the vegetable seeds that I could buy and borrow were neatly sown in the garden. For the first two months -- nothing grew. Another month passed, still nothing. Then, I entered the barren sanctuary -- not one shoot could be detected from the soil but enormous mole holes appeared throughout the garden!
Feeling dejected and upset, I looked up in the sky and cried, "Why CAN'T I grow anything?" Suddenly, I became aware of chirping sounds above and all around me. I saw birds perched everywhere -- atop of the newly grown branches of the encircling fence!
"Congratulations! You'd failed miserably in growing vegetables but succeeded in growing a park for the village!" my supervisor said with an approving nod.
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