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A New Meaning for Watermelon

A young girl in Madagascar sits on a blanket next to a giant watermelon. She is smiling at the camera.

Lenda! It has a red middle!" the seller yelled to entice me, though she probably didn’t know for sure. While a white center is still sweet, the most mamy watermelons are the ones with red centers.

It’s watermelon season here in the south of Madagascar. Piles of the oversized fruit decorate the sandy roads of the market, going for 200 to 500 ariary each, depending on their size.

I walked over and bought a medium-sized watermelon one—its six cents after all. It wasn’t until I got home and halfway through the watermelon that I realized I couldn’t finish it on my own. With no fridge and too many flies, I couldn’t save it. Throwing perfectly good food away was out of the question. And that’s when I learned I was eating watermelon the wrong way.

My students walk into class, many toting watermelons alongside their notebooks, some balancing them on their heads. In between the refrains of “Good morning, Teacher" they proudly nod toward their watermelons—prized possessions. We’ll eat them together after class, they assure me with big smiles. They place them under their desks, near their feet. As soon as class finishes, they walk to the grass and slam their watermelons to the ground. They explode and dozens of students rush to snag a piece. An extending hand offers me a slice.

At home, I get a visitor at my door. In his hands is a big watermelon. We grab a straw mat and go outside. He cuts jagged slices the long way down the watermelon. With each slice, someone new joins us on the mat. The way they stop, sit down, and share the fruit with us is natural. No hesitation from either party—there’s an unspoken invitation: please, come eat this with me.

The way we share watermelon here, I soon realized, is indicative of the hospitality and generosity of the Malagasy people as a whole. It is common for Malagasy to offer their food to guests by saying, “Mandroso! Come eat!” Watermelon is no exception. Watermelon is an invitation to join one another and enjoy good company. You share it with friends while juice dribbles down all of your chins. You enjoy its sweetness, spitting out the seeds in your hand, saving them to make a salty snack later. And just like that, it’s not so hard to finish a watermelon.

I’ve always loved the oversized fruit. It reminds me of warm summer days and barbecues. Now I’ve learned to love watermelon for a different reason. From now on they will remind me of good company, generosity, light-hearted conversation and contentment in its purest form. 

Watermelon rinds and seeds sit alongside a knife on a woven mat.