There are times in our lives when we are called on to do things which are against our personal principles. I’m sure you have also, in your professional or personal life found yourself having to do things that are simply contrary to your better judgment. Even as a missionary,I am notimmune to such predicaments. Every summer I am severely tried by a perplexingquandary that forces me to betray my personal standards.

It is now the dry season in Congo and during the dry season the weather gets cooler. Cool weather means folks can grow vegetables that would not thrive in the rainy season’s heat. And vegetable growers will want to grow EGGPLANT! I can’t stand eggplant. I don’t like it’s purple color, it’s chalky, pulpy interior, and especially it’s woody flavor!

In our Devru project we help folks who live near urban markets learn how to grow vegetables because it is very profitable. We teach them how to prepare a seed bed, how to sow tiny vegetable seeds, and how to care for the growing crop. We often provide them basic tools: watering can, a rake and a hoe to prepare the soil. Finally, we give them seeds to get them started and invariably they insist on growing, among other things, EGGPLANT!

I rejoice in women being ableto produce tomatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, and green pepper for sale in local markets, often for the first time. Folks hard pressed to earn $30 a month can suddenly earn several hundred. Their families also benefit from having more nutritious food. But WHY eggplant?

Did you know that eggplant (Solanum melongena), is a member of the Solanaceae family, also known as the “deadly nightshades?” Well, not all of the Solanaceae are deadly. The family includes potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, and tobacco. Frankly, excluding tomatoes and potatoes would probably reduce the American diet by 20% or more (no more ketchup and fries?). But somehow to me, eggplant clearly betrays it’s lethal heritage; it just looks toxic. Like it’s relative tobacco, Eggplant contains nicotine. In fact you can graft an eggplant onto tobacco and it will grow. To be fair, you would have to eat 20 pounds of eggplant to consume as much nicotine as a single cigarette, but that’s toxic enough for me.

When I visit areas where Devru funds are being put to good use teaching folks how to grow vegetables, I grimly survey beds of eggplant (among other vegetables) aware I was an accomplice. Try as I may, I can’t dissuade folks from growing eggplant. It sells well in local markets for reasons I am beginning to understand.

Pondu, an important vegetable dish served in Congo, is similar to boiled spinach. It is made from Cassava (or Manioc) leaves pounded to a pulp and cooked with oil, spices, and various other additions such as fish, or hot peppers. A good friend named Kihomi makes a particularly delicious pondu so tasty I insisted she come over and show us her technique. On the appointed day, she arrived with all of the necessary ingredients: a large quantity of Cassava leaves, palm oil, onions, hot peppers, and eggplant. “What’s the eggplant doing here?” I asked. “Oh, you can’t make good pondu with out eggplant. Pondu takes lots and lots of eggplant!”

So it is with an air of resignation that I use funds you send our way to help my Congolese brothers and sisters grow more food knowing that a small portion will be used to grow something I would not allow under my roof. Despite me, the Lord is blessing their efforts, so for their sake, and on their behalf I thank you.

Wayne Niles

Democratic Republic of Congo

July 2009