What would the most valuable banana in the world look like? Is it made of precious metal? Or is it an extraordinarily rare variety? Well, I’ve found the most valuable banana in the world, and I can tell you it’s neither. It is about 4 inches long, overripe, and freely given in a moment of human connection by a destitute street child in Kampala, Uganda.
Let me tell you the story.
When my parents were here visiting, we spent a night in Kampala before heading to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The city was not my parents’ favorite stop of the trip. They found Kampala crowded, edgy, and just a bit overwhelming, especially for their first trip to Uganda. On the morning we were leaving, I think they were both grateful to be headed somewhere quieter, greener, and all around more manageable, but Kampala was determine to leave it’s mark on our memories before we left. Leave it’s mark it did.
We were stopped at a stoplight in the downtown area. We chatted lazily, just waiting for the green light to get out of the dust and noise and into the countryside. While sitting there, I noticed a few young girls, they couldn’t have been older than eight, sitting on the sidewalk next to our car. Their backs were to the street, and they were huddled close to the wall. Clearly in their own world, they were enjoying a few bananas that stood out bright and incongruous against their dusty skin and dirty, torn clothes. I noticed that the older girl kept turning around to glance shyly at my dad sitting in the front seat of the car. Leaning forward, I quietly advise him to smile and wave at her. “She’ll love it,” I said. He smiled. He waved. And the girl was so tickled, she nearly fell over giggling. Her companions reacted similarly, and the moment was a beautiful one. A middle-aged American connecting on the most basic human level with a young Ugandan girl living in the street…all with a smile and wave, but it got better.
What happened next was so fast. In a moment, the light turned green, and we were gone, but what happened first has been forever seared into my brain. As the light turned green, the girl suddenly leapt to her feet and dashed to the side of the car. As we pulled away, she gave my dad the biggest smile and held out her banana to him. She stretched toward the car, trying to reach my dad’s hand with it. She didn’t hold out an open hand in a plea for assistance or money. She didn’t simply want to get a better look at us. She wanted to give him the banana. Unfortunately, we were pulling away so fast that he had no time to grab it, but I will never forget how that little girl looked. Balancing precariously on the curb, stretching toward our car with her only little banana clutched tight, her face broken into a massive grin, openness and generosity radiating from her like a beacon.
That girl, and that moment in Kampala, will live in my heart forever. This girl clearly had nothing. She was sitting, enjoying what was probably a real treat for her and her friends…fresh bananas on a Sunday morning…but in an instant she was ready to joyfully give what she had to a complete stranger in the spirit of generosity, connection, and love. Just writing about it brings tears to my eyes once again. Sometimes I wish I’d been able to snap a picture of her in that instant. I’d make copies and paste them everywhere – on my bathroom mirror, the inside of my laptop, the ceiling above my bed, the wall next to my desk….the inside of my ribcage. I’d want it everywhere I would see it frequently, especially close to my heart. I’d want it to remind me of the incredible gift the girl gave us in the simple offer of her only banana. Her generosity, joy, and kindness puts me to shame. What must it take to give everything you have to another person you don’t even know for the sole purpose of spreading love?
Though I never got that photo, I don’t need one. I remember the moment as if it happened five minutes ago. This girl gave one of her only precious belongings, a single banana, to my father because she could and because she wanted to. The banana was making her happy, so it could also make someone else happy, right? Instead of keeping that happiness for herself, she decided to spread it around. If only we could all remember to follow that girl’s example and spread our bananas around a little more often, too.