Stories My Father Told Me, by Helen Zughaib
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Planting Olive Trees

This is a story that was told to my father by his father. It is a lesson that is taught to children all over the Middle East in one form or another.

Visiting Jiddu (Grandfather) and Teta (Grandmother) in their mountain village was always a special treat. Teta would have special sweets and my favorite food prepared for me. Best of all though was Jiddu taking me with him to the fields. Sometimes it was just a brief trip to see how the plants were growing. But sometimes Jiddu would ask me to be "Jiddu's helper" and help him with some small chores. During one visit, Jiddu told me that we would be planting olive trees. Because we would be staying in the fields all day, we had to bring with us a zuwaidy (picnic lunch), water and other provisions.

The next morning, Jiddu and I set out for the fields much earlier than usual with a donkey carrying our provisions and small olive plants. We worked hard planting the young olive trees in furrows which Jiddu had dug earlier. My job was to hold the plant straight while Jiddu would dig a small hole in the ground for each plant. Then I would ladle some water from a water drum and water each new olive tree.

During our break for lunch, I told Jiddu that next year I would return to help him harvest the olive crop. He smiled and said that would be difficult because olive trees take many years before they bear fruit. Disappointed, I asked him why we were bothering to plant olive trees if we would be dead before they would give us any fruit. He looked at me with a very serious expression and said: "Zara'u fa akalna, nazra'u fa ya'kulun." (They planted so we would eat; we plant so our descendants will eat.)