The Mango Seller


The Mango Seller – as told by Balbir Mathur, Trees for Life

In the fall of 1982 I was invited to an Africa-America conference hosted by the government of Zimbabwe.

The top echelon of African ambassadors and politicians were at the conference, along with their entourage. The American delegation included members of the state department, high-level politicians and businessmen.

This was my first trip to Africa. When I landed in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, it represented all of Africa to me. I was eager to explore “Africa,” so I hired a taxi and requested a tour of the city.

“What would you like to see?” the driver inquired.

“Show me everything,” I said.

The driver took me to the best parts of the city, where the rich and powerful lived. After an hour or so, I asked him to show me where the poor lived. He turned around in disbelief and said that was not a good idea. I could understand his reasoning. Racial tensions in Zimbabwe were very high, and this was not a good time for a foreigner to be cruising around all by himself. But I persisted.

The slum was not far away. It was obvious the taxi driver was not going to take me inside the slum, but I was grateful that I could at least view it from the outskirts. Small shacks with tin or thatched roofs—symbol of poverty and slums throughout the world—were scattered all around. This was Sunday afternoon, and people were sitting in groups under shady trees or leisurely walking about.

The scene was a stark contrast to the rich areas I had just visited. There I had seen large, impressive British bungalows with manicured lawns and luxury cars in the driveways. There had been practically no people on the streets.

Here, in the midst of poverty, there were people outside mingling with one another.

As we drove along a bumpy dirt road, I saw a woman selling mangoes. I expressed a desire to stop and buy some of this fruit. Again, the taxi driver told me it was not a good idea. He even offered to deliver mangoes to my hotel. But again I persisted.

Reluctantly, he parked on the side of the road. I got out and walked across a patch of bare earth to the mango seller, about ten yards away. Dressed in traditional clothing, she sat on the ground beneath a tree, with a couple dozen mangoes scattered in front of her—a common sight in most developing countries.

By this time, the sight of a foreigner getting out of a taxi and walking toward the mango seller had attracted attention. Several bystanders crossed their arms and eyed me with suspicion, as if to say, “Who do you think you are?”

I threw a glance at the taxi driver. I could see nervousness on his face…….

The rest of the story is a chapter in the new book Hope for Africa and is available from

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