Oh, you’re keen on trees, are you? Oh,
we have many fine trees here in the Sahel.
Many. You’ve doubtless noticed
our flamboyants? Hard to miss
the flame tree, yes. We’ve as fine
specimens of the flame tree
as anywhere on the continent!
And the karité—the Wonder Tree. Now
that’s a special one. Heard of shea butter?
Comes from the karité. Big cottage industry!
Dead useful! The karité beats bush fires
year after year. Then there’s lucinia. A foreign
introduction. A recent one, I should say. I mean,
almost everything’s an introduction if you want
to talk colonial days. The French, ha! Thought
no one would notice if they took all the acajou—
that’s mahogany—back to Paris. Hahaha.
Hills are completely denuded now. But
that’s neither here nor there. Yeah, we have
new acajou plantations. Of course. Best wood
for furniture, hands down. But the Atakora hills, no,
are a lost cause. Nothing to be done now.
Your question. You try to interject—
The mango! How could I forget the mango!
There are wild species and grafted. You want
the fruit from the grafted. Much sweeter.
The man goes on naming trees on his fingers
tulip tree, frangipane, baobab, papaya…
But silence surrounds the trees backlit
by swiftly setting sun. You’ve seen them
everywhere. They outnumber palavers
of mangoes. Outshine signal fires
of flamboyants. Outbear outlandish-
ments of cashew. Their leaves
ripple flashes of obsidian
in the fussy quarrels of breeze
that stand in for rain.
Locust bean, camel’s foot, teak, neem.
Kola—the nut’s are an old man’s narcotic!—
Oh. The black plastic
bag tree? Oh, now I’m glad you asked. Plastic
bags grafted with thorn trees—I mean
what genius! Combines the hardiest.
There will be thorn trees still standing
on their walking sticks when this belt
of the Sahel desertifies to dust. And the plastic,
well, it will be here, too, haha.
It’s our crowning achievement. Completely
native, you know.
(Photo credit: https://www.saheldesign.com/good-news-burkina-fasos-national-flower-is-in-danger/)