We must have met before this but the first time I remember making your acquaintance was September 1999 in Niger, West Africa. I was working in the restaurant (which was myself and 3 other women huddled over cauldrons). We had 4 meals we rotated and you belonged in what I fondly called, “The Snot Sauce.” You’re a slimy thing, okra, and my lack of culinary expertise could never cook you well (except, of course, without frying you.) I remember, I was 19, I had already contracted malaria, amoebic dysentery and was robbed at knife point during those past 3 weeks. It was the realization I had that, Yes, I will die, and it could very well happen at any moment. And from this mortality awareness I decided to herd goats…and work in a restaurant.
I wasn’t very fond of you, oh okra. I remember- you were my Thanksgiving dinner. No one in Niger knew it was Thanksgiving. I was staying out in the back hut with some of the family members…and I remember it was myself and the two children spooning the snot with this doughy-thing called “tuwo” (made from plantain) – the three of us and you, okra. In the moonlight. Sometimes a camel called out. The village never slept. And that’s when I discovered that Star Wars must have used camel sounds for Chew-bacca. No joke.
Okra, I tried to leave you but you followed me to Arkansas a year later. I was working on this organic farm in the hot hot sun. You were the gnarliest to pick. The rest of the vegetables seemed to offer themselves to me when they were ready but you…oh okra…you put up a fight. Even with gloves my arms were torn up and itching.
So tonight we meet again, after all these years. A friend dropped you off. I was almost sad to see you in your Saran-wrapped container, store bought. You, my okra, you are wild and free and fighting and it would take the right kind of person who would know how to pay attention, to listen..to know how to honor your exquisiteness.