OP-ED: The Fruit of Wisdom

By Philip A. Yaffe
Philip A. Yaffe
Philip A. Yaffe


For most people eating a piece of fruit is a mundane event. But on one occasion, for me and three friends it was a life-altering experience.


As many of you know, I spent two years in Tanzania as a volunteer teacher in the Peace Corps. My first posting was to an isolated village in the middle of nowhere. I lived in what was virtually a mud hut, and had to draw water from a well, filter it and boil it in order to have something to drink. I won't tell you about the toilette facilities, because you would probably prefer not to know.


All of these things rapidly became routine, so I just didn't think about them. However, one thing I couldn't ignore. The region was suffering through the second year of a drought. This meant that there were no fresh fruits and vegetables. Even the meat markets had shut. So basically we lived off rice, rice, and more rice, and practically nothing else. This went on for months.


I was stationed with three other volunteer teachers. One day we got notice from the post office in the nearby town that a package had arrived for us. One of us, Bob, went into town to get it. It was a fairly big package sent to us by a friend in the regional capital. We had no idea what it was. When we opened it, our eyes lighted up and our mouths began to water. It contained a big, fresh, ripe pineapple. It probably weighed about 3 - 3.5 kilos, which was nothing unusual for Tanzania pineapples. 


We were ravenously hungry for any kind of fresh fruit, but we didn't eat it immediately. Instead, we put it in the middle of the table. Then we all sniffed it; it smelled delicious. We walked around the table looking at it, admiring it. This must have gone on for at least a half-hour, maybe even an hour. We were literally afraid to cut it open for fear of being disappointed.


Finally, I said, "Okay, whose going to do it?" "Not I," said Bob. "Not I," said Alice. Ralph didn't say anything, so I was elected.


I took our big kitchen knife and first cut off the green, bushy top. I sniffed it; it smelled delicious. I then cut it down the center to reveal two halves of firm, fragrant, yellow flesh. I didn't slice it into pieces immediately, because some juice had leaked into the dish. I put a finger into the juice and brought it to my lips. Sweet, sweet, sweet! Then Bob, Alice, and Ralph did the same thing, with the same reaction.


This went on for about 15 minutes before I was authorized to go to the final stage. I cut each half into fairly thick slices and passed one to each person. They first sniffed it and licked the juice, but were hesitant. "I cut it," I said. "Someone else is going to have to taste it."


Alice volunteered. She delicately brought a slice to her lips and cautiously took a bite. "Oh," she said. "Oh. Oh." She didn't need to say anything more. We knew what she meant. So we all did the same thing. "Oh, oh, oh," all around the table. It was almost like a collective orgasm. We all agreed that we had never tasted anything so sweet, so delicious, so wonderful in our lives. 


At that moment, I think we all discovered something we had never really understood. Things that are too easily available lose their charm. I don't think there was anything special about this particular pineapple; Tanzanian pineapples were generally quite good. However, it was the lack of any fruit at all over several months that made it so special.


Although it is not easy to do, I have taken the habit of sometimes purposely depriving myself of something I like just because I know it will be so much better when I finally get it. Believe me, it is well worth it.


This experience with the Tanzanian pineapple occurred more than 40 years ago, yet I can still taste it. And each time I think about it, the memory becomes sweeter and more delicious. Oh. Oh . . . OH! 


* * *


Philip Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California with a degree in mathematics and physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s daily student newspaper.

He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and international marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a specialized marketing communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974. 


Books by this Author


The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional


The Gettysburg Collection: 

A comprehensive companion to The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional


Actual English: English grammar as native speakers really use it


Gentle French: French grammar as native speakers really use it


What’d You Say? / Que Dites-Vous?

Fun with homophones, proverbs, expressions, false friends, and other linguistic oddities in English and French


Extraordinary Ordinary Things: How Did We Ever Live without them?


The Little Book of BIG Mistakes


The Eighth Decade: Reflections on a Life



Books in “Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists” Series


(at March 2013)


Astronomy & Cosmology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists


Human Biology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists 



Books in “The Essential Ten Percent” Series


(at March 2013)


College-level Writing: The Essential Ten Percent


Logical Thinking: The Essential Ten Percent


Public Speaking: The Essential Ten Percent


The Human Body: The Essential Ten Percent


Wise Humor: The Essential Ten Percent 


Word for Windows: The Essential Ten Percent



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