As summer turns to fall here in Ponta Grossa, a new array of crops are beginning to g r o w.
On Fridays, my host family and I spend the evenings preparing for the Saturday market, washing the last bit of alface and repolho in the buckets and carrying the heavy boxes of chestnuts and honey into the van.
I’m sitting on the cold cement underneath the open shed near my house. Its almost 8 and I can hear and see the nightly summer thunderstorm approaching in the distance. I’m thankful for the breeze though, it’s a stark contrast between the heavy heat that fills the air during the daytime.
In one hand I have a kitchen knife, in the other, a piece of squash. I carefully tuck the sharp end underneath the outer layer of the squash and push it across.
“Que mais eu posso fazer?” I asked my host dad an hour earlier.
“Descascar a abÌ_bora”
“Easy peasy” I thought as my host mom demonstrated to me how to do it.
Not so. The calluses on the palms of my hand began to bleed as I reach for another piece in the never ending pile of squash next to me. I decide to try and find a different way of peeling the shell so that the rough skin doesn’t hurt my hand.
I turn the piece of squash vertically in front of me and dig the knife underneath the layer. Then, as I turn the squash I push forward with the knife. My hand is now only in contact with the squishy center. Squishy and slimy. The piece falls on the floor several times before I finish. I get up every time to wash the dirt offin the water bucket.Better than bleeding, I think to myself.
I pick up the next piece and this time, hold it against the wooden bench across from me. The ground secures it better than my hand. I reach for the knife and carve out the inner part in a half moon shape.
I continue to do this for about an hour or so until my host mother comes by.. she observes me for a minuteand then without saying a word she starts to pick up the bitsof peel that are scattered across the floor around me. She sits down in front of me and scrapes out the insides of these peels of squash that had been left to waste.
I realize this is a result of my “new, awesome” way of peeling and I quickly panic. “Desculpe!Eu nao percebi que eu nao estava pegando tudo.” I drop the current piece I’m working on and start picking up the extra scrapes off the floor too.
My host mother laughs and tells me its fine. I’m comforted by her sincerity but I decide to go back to peeling the way she had originally taught me.
I hold the piece of squash in between my thumb and pointerand pull the knife under and towards the left, taking off the layer piece by piece. A couple of minutes later, I’m still only half way through. I look over to my host mom who is using the same method but already on her 3rd piece. Frustrated, I decide to speed it up. I tuck the knife under and pull with as much as force as I can- all the way through the squash andthe skin on my thumb.
I suck in the air between my teeth as pain fills through finger. My host mom looks up with concern and sees the puddle of blood covering my finger… She rushes me over to the water bucket and after cleaning it off, I amgreeted immediately with a band aid she had yelled atmy host dad to grab from the house.
My face floods red with embarrassment. “Nao precisa” I say over and over again. “Esta bem!”
I start feeling stupid again.“The American girl can’t even peel a pumpkin!” “You can do AP Biology but paring a vegetable? noooooope!” “You needed a bandaid for that little cut!??” “On this episode of Pooja takes the farm….”
I thinkabout the hands of my host mother or father. Scars, bruises, calluses,… those are the signs of not giving up.
My host mother tells me I can go inside if I wanted to but all of a sudden I’m over flooded with the determination to prove to her and myself that I can do this without messing up.
We return to the shedand I sit down on the floor next to her. “Comovoce faz isso tao rapido???”
She laughed at my admiration and explained to me how to turn the piece as I peel each individual section of the squash, turning the knife up before it can even come close to my hand.
“PrÌÁtica e paciÌ»ncia” She says.
She was right. By the end of the night, my handsand arms were sore and tired but I had successfully made it through the whole pile without leaving any pieces to spare or completely destroying my hand.
Practice and Patience. It may sound silly but peeling the shell of squash is a pretty good representation of my year. The first months of this whole experience were a blur of challenges and about a million and onefailures. Alot of “Pooja you really don’t know everything” moments that have changed my approach to experiencing new things.In these 6 months, I’ve realizedthe best way to learn is to sit, observe and listen. More often or not, we’re distracted by where or what we would rather be doing. The most important things are the things right in front of us because those are the only things we have control of.