A couple days ago, my husband’s grandmother sent me a bag of breadnuts. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, consult with the elder population of your Caribbean country. If you’re still unsure, see the images provided. Breadnuts are little fruits which have a tough shell on the outside and an edible nut on the inside. They can be found in tropical areas near the equator in the Western Hemisphere. They are an inextricable part of my childhood and I still remember the warm, salty smell emanating from the pressure cooker while waiting for them to boil, readying them for consumption. In other places, they are used to make porridge and other delights.
My cravings for breadnuts have come up fairly frequently, particularly when I was pregnant more than a year ago. But I have never found them with the ease that I did in St. Vincent nor were many Bajans I mentioned them too very familiar with them. So imagine my glee when my sister-in-law popped up on my doorstep with a bag of these little gems. As I consequently sat down and peeled them one after the other feeding them down my eager throat in quick succession, a number of factors came to mind.
The Breadnut represented quite a few things for me. It was a tangible connection to my homeland where I could find its yummy goodness in abundance. Indulging in them made memories come afresh to me of the bright, wide country side and all of its green wonder. They echoed the fervour with which I poked ripened guavas with elongated poles and scaled the limber branches of our plum tree and sat in its boughs to look out or privately chew some of nature’s goodness. They were for me a trigger for a place I knew well.
Breadnuts in Barbados, what a novelty to me. Although they weren’t commonly represented here. They were here. They belonged here. Perhaps I can identify with that breadnut sometimes and the uncertainty of diaspora. How we somehow end up somewhere else and call it home. How we are somehow relocated in the most unlikely and unexpected places and we call them home. How we feel a disconnect when we try to identify with the seeming innateness of the local bananas and limes. How they seem to have been here forever and know themselves so well. How we can find them even where we are from but we somehow don’t know how to fit as naturally as they do. How the breadnut may witness the grandeur of its breadfruit neighbour who has a similar name yet does not quite understand what it is to not belong. In fact the breadnut is so little recognised that others are convinced you must be talking about a breadfruit.
Interesting how in diaspora misconceptions sometimes live on although your little voice takes the time to clear the air and make references to true associations. How sometimes when we go abroad we recognise that people think that Jamaica is the entire Caribbean. How sometimes we go as close as to our neighbouring islands and people assume that all Vincentians smoke weed or are violent or carry an inherited backwardness? I’m sure you’ve encountered some type of stereotyping when you go abroad and you have to stand in for all of your people. What a weight. Sometimes it goes the other way and you have to live up to all the wondrous expectations of the mavericks who have paved the path before you: an honour but a challenge. Their perception of the breadnut entirely relies on whether or not this breadnut tastes good or bad. Or worse yet, they ignore what the breadnut could be or represent entirely because they are so focused on what they know: the breadfruit. And they are not interested in interrogating further. So let us just call it a breadfruit, commit erasure, conflated identities and all, and move on.
But oh dear little breadnut we have all originated from somewhere else. We have all had to carry home with us whether in our ancestry or in our present. We have all had to move beyond home as a place and sojourn with home as a collection of fondest or life-changing memories. Like all the other fruits who seem so at home the little breadnut carries the same ability to grow where it is planted. It may seem small and invisible right now but somebody knew that it would be special. Somebody knew it would blossom into a fruit bearing beauty although it looked a little, dull ground-coloured, stone shaped thing right now. That it seemed a tad useless and a little out of place at the time.
God knew beyond its homely appearance that the breadnut above all was a seed. Not a mustard seed but it still carried the world of potential. Although it lay scattered on the ground a while wondering what on God’s green earth it could possibly become in such a debased state its purpose lay inside regardless. Its taste, its appeal, its nourishment. It would eventually make home somewhere and satisfy somebody’s belly or grow up to lead and generate others. Or it might just become nothing if rolled into a dead environment.
Little breadnut, will you grow with the seasons? Will you wait and go when the light is given? Will you build sturdy roots and understand your time will come? Will you understand that you are not a lime and you need not live in the shadow of the breadfruit? Circumstances will not always be perfect but they will be at some point be optimal. Little breadnut please optimise opportunities and build. Don’t die in the middle of nothingness.
If a little breadnut could make me so eager perhaps someone else could enjoy it too. It may not be for everybody but it has a place even if it has to make it. It has a purpose even if it has to fight for it. It has a destination growing toward the caressing light above perhaps. It may not draw the most attention, it may not find the clearest fit but I assure you tiny breadnut, stranger in a strange place, if it is only for the joy of one Vincentian mouth you have a place and a purpose. Somebody thought it made sense to believe in a little breadnut.