Let me start by telling you what a betel plant is.The betel plant is an evergreen perennial, with glossy heart-shaped leaves. A sheaf of betel leaves is traditionally offered as a mark of respect at auspicious beginnings, and to greet elders for their blessings at wedding ceremonies. Fresh crushed betel leaves can be used as an antiseptic for cuts and wounds. It is also good for the respiratory system and is used in treatments of bronchitis, cough, and cold. Betel chewing increases digestive capacity when used with lime. It also neutralizes acidity and acts as a blood purifier. Along with all the medicinal benefits this leaf has to offer, it is most commonly served as a digestive and mouth freshener after meals. In this form it is commonly known as Paan. Paan is made by wrapping cardamon, rose petal jam, fennel seeds, areca nut and other condiments into a betel leaf.
So considering all of these great features of betel leaves combined with my love for growing herbs at home, I felt quite lucky when I came across a very good variety of betel vine to grow while we were living in Ghana. The weather was perfect and the vine flourished into a glossy bed of shiny green hearts. There were so many leaves on the vine that I had a standing offer extended to all my friends to take as many leaves as they wanted for their house parties.
Now before I tell the interesting part of the story, I have to lay the backdrop. We were living in a house that had a guard at all times, their duty changing every 8 hours. Most of these guards were staffed by a security company and did not understand much of English. However they were very nice, smiling all the time and nodding their heads to every conversation and question as if they have understood everything.
So, one of my friends called to ask if she could get some betel leaves for a party at her house, I gladly said yes. As I was not going to be home when her driver was to come to pick up the leaves, I showed the vine to the guard on duty. I told him that a driver will come to get these leaves and let him take as many as he wants. Though it was a simple instruction, still I repeated it twice and the guard nodded his head and confirmed with saying “Yes, I understand”.
When I got back after a couple of hours, I just got into the house without thinking much about whether the betel leaves were picked up or not. Later in the evening when I was taking a stroll inside the compound of the house, I felt that the kitchen garden area was looking really neat and groomed. Soon I realized what had happened. I got the shock of my life. There was NO betel vine any more. The entire area had been cleared. I could not trace even the uprooted vine or roots anywhere. And that guard I had spoken with earlier had gone off duty. I was so upset and simply assumed that it was possible that my friend’s driver might have taken the entire vine instead of only a few leaves. I hesitatingly called my friend to check and to my disbelief I got to know that she could not send the driver for some reason and had changed her mind about using betel leaves for the party. Now, I was having a hard time understanding what actually happened to my beloved vine. it was a difficult night to pass by waiting for the guard to turn up next morning.
When he came I asked him what happened to the vine, he was still smiling and saying “Yes, yes, I understand” and actually had a sparkle in his eyes as if waiting for me to say “job well done”. I was feeling really troubled but could not express it as he was all smiles and I could now see that he actually did not understand English at all and just knew the few words: “Yes, yes, I understand”. Later I had to get his supervisor (who came on daily rounds) to explain to him what I wanted him to do and what he did. The supervisor told me that when I showed him the vine, he presumed he had to uproot it and was proud of the great job he had done!
And so, that is the sad tale of the betel vine that became victim to language barriers! I still miss the distinct flavour of that particularly rare variety, but on the bright side I now have a great story to tell at parties!