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December 5, 2012

Planting Bananas and Panic

Tom McLaughlin

Kampung Demak Baru, Malaysian Borneo – I learned how to plant bananas. I had always thought it would be difficult because of the tiny seeds in the fruit. In my imagination, one had to take the bitsy spores and scatter them on soil.


The next step would be to carefully nurture them until they were ready to plant in the garden.


I was ready for the challenge. Suriani’s mom is an avid gardener. She doesn’t read or write and speaks a dialect of Malay I don’t understand. However, we get along very well because of our love for the plant world.


I gestured to her that I wanted to try and cultivate bananas in a particularly difficult part of the garden. She looked at me quizzically because bananas around here seem to grow everywhere. However, they are eaten fried in batter, made into a cake, put into coconut milk and made into a soup like desert, or made into many other delicious combinations. There is never enough of this fruit.


However, these bananas are not like the ones we eat in the states. They are only about five centimeters long (two inches for the Americans) and are very sweet. They are harvested in long bunches and after that the tree is cut down and, magically, to me anyway, a new plant grows and the process is renewed.


Suriani’s mom grabbed her parang (machete), which I thought was a bit extreme to carefully cut a banana in half and scrape out the seeds. I followed her across the road and she whacked a plant growing tight next to the main one. She dug out the root and handed it to me. The whole process took about 30 seconds. We walked back to the garden and stuck it in a shallow hole. And that was it.


The gardening of past images in my mind is a different story. As a father, again, and at 61, they flooded back to my conscious when I had to take my two-year-old son, Dzul, to the emergency room. I had made many visits before with my two active daughters 25 years earlier, but never had I seen a child in this condition. He had a seizure. Broken bones and stitches I could deal with, but not this.


His muscles seized and drool and foam came out of his mouth and then he went limp. I checked his vitals; he had pulse and was still breathing but seemed to be in a deep coma. We could not wake him up. A maniacal taxi ride took us to the private hospital where doctors kept him over night with us staying with him.


Nobody seems to know why it happened, the tests were all negative and the only advice from the doctor was just to watch him and see if it happens again, and then turn him on his side. Thanks to all the prayers, he was back to his normal active self a few hours later. And, a week later, as I write this, he still is.


I know this was the most terrifying day of my life – or, perhaps, it could be tied with the time the plane caught fire over the Red Sea. But I am well now, the terror has subsided and Suriani, Dzul and I are moving on with our lives.


The garden in my mind about how my daughters survived calamities brought me reassurance that all will be well. Plus my deep faith in the Lord, or Allah, or whatever you want to call Him. He has many names. And all will be well. All will be well.


…Life is good. . . . .


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