Who Stepped on My Watermelon?

Every day there’s a fruit break of some sort. Someone buys a bag of fruit from somewhere (market trip, passing seller, etc.) and an insta-picnic begins. One girl grabs ceramic bowls, another the (very large) cleaver, another gets chairs, someone starts to slice or peel — speedy, clockwork-like, and the gossip and relaxation begins, a thirty-minute respite from a hardworking day. I’ve tried a bunch of new fruits. Brown grape-sized spheres with husks, peel to reveal a jelly-like fruit surrounding a pit, slick the fruit off with your tongue. Fuzzy brown seed pods filled with sweet tamarind paste. Something that looked like a bit of chopped-off cactus. I always have to ask for operating instructions from one of the girls, who is always super-amused that I need help with something so simple.

Today, though. Today was watermelon. And I know how to eat watermelon. “Do they have this watermelon in the U.S.?” one asked. “Oh yes,” I said. “In the summer. Only for a few months a year.”

Then S. began to tell her watermelon story. In Khmer. I had no idea what she was saying, but she spoke animatedly and was cracking up the half-dozen girls who were munching on watermelon chunks and slicing new ones with the cleaver. I wanted to know what the joke was. She didn’t want to tell me in English. I’m thinking, what kind of joke is she telling? What could possibly be so side-splittingly funny about watermelon?

Finally the other girls persuaded her to give it a try, even though she was nervous about her English. And here’s the gist of it:

She went to a relative’s farm and in the field she saw a little watermelon. It was so cute, and she wanted to eat it, but it was too young to eat right then. She didn’t want anyone else to find it, though! Someone might come along and pick her perfect watermelon! So she decided to hide it. She buried it in the ground and thought it would be ok there while it continued to grow. She wanted to save it for six days.

After six days she returned to the spot where her little watermelon was buried.

“But it was broken!” she said, laughing.

“A cow came along and stepped on it,” Marady explained. “The cow didn’t know.”

Their comic timing was so awesome that I, too, was just rolling on the floor over this watermelon debacle. And it made me realize a few things. 1) Humor can be pretty universal. 2) I have never, ever valued a watermelon so much that I tried to save it from all harm until it was fully grown. So maybe I should take better care to love things I’d consider ordinary. and 3) Maybe this is a self-help book in the making. You think you have it all figured out, you bury your watermelon for later… but then along comes a cow.

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