Pakistani Mangoes in America
Mangoes are one of the well-kept secrets of the India/Pakistan region. You can also buy mangoes here but they are of poor quality compared to those back home. If there is one thing that makes hot summers bearable in Pakistan, it is mangoes.
The mango season starts in early summer and lasts almost till August. Throughout the summer, almost every two weeks, a new variety of mango comes to the market. There is Sindhri, Samar Bahisht Chaunsa, Collector and Dasahra to name a few. Each mango has a different colour, size, smell, taste and texture.
I remember that everyone in our house had their own favourite and sometimes there were arguments among the elders on which type of mango was the best. I liked all of them and Naheed did too, except that her fondness for mangoes was a few notches above mine. She absolutely loved them.
Mangoes from Pakistan were banned in the US. Our standards are very strict on what can be imported when it comes to fruits and vegetables. But, Canadians were OK with importing those mangoes.
One summer on a visit to Toronto, Naheed saw mangoes from Pakistan at an Indian grocery store. She bought a few of them and we ate them at Ghazala's house that evening after dinner. They were delicious and we savoured each bite as we remembered the good old days of our childhood.
When we were ready to come home from Toronto, Naheed said to me that she wanted to stop at the Indian store where we had bought the mangoes. I didn't have to ask her why. I already knew why. She wanted to take a case of Pakistani mangoes back to Detroit.
I strongly objected and told her that I didn't want to do anything illegal. Her response was "Ghazala bhee to sub kuch laati hai!" explaining how Ali's sister could always sneak things across the border. I knew that there was no use arguing. She had made up her mind and those mangoes were calling her, "Pleaaase take us home with you, pleaaase", lol. I wasn't going to buy them so she went and bought them with her own Canadian money and we were on our way to Detroit.
As we approached the Sarnia-Port Huron border, I told Naheed that I am very nervous about those mangoes and she is going to get us in a lot of trouble. Her response was "kuch naheen ho ga" (nothing is going to happen).
At the border, there was a long line. I chose the lucky No. 7 window and started praying. As each car moved up and my turn came nearer, my anxiety increased. I tried to calm myself but it was no use and finally I was at the window.
The Customs Officer asked in a stern voice, Citizenship? I said U.S. and handed him everyone's passports. He asked the purpose of our visit and I made up a fake reply like birthday of a cousin in Toronto. Then he asked, "Do you have anything to declare?" I said very calmly, No! He then looked at me and said do you have any mangoes?
I was not prepared for such a question and could feel my heart sinking. I felt that the right answer to that question was "Yes" and that is what I said. The Customs Officer did not applaud my honesty; he just started to write something. I felt that when he was looking at my face he did not see that I had two eyes, one nose and two lips; he just saw a big fat mango, lol. And then the officer put a slip on our windshield and told us to go towards the inspection area of US Customs.
As I drove to the inspection area, I felt like giving Naheed a dirty look but decided against it. I did not know what was going on in her head, whether she was blaming me for being such a bad liar or blaming herself for insisting or just plain old mad.
The inspector took the slip off the wind shield, told us to open the trunk and came out with the box of Pakistani mangoes. I don't remember what happened next but all I remember is that Naheed was outside talking to that Customs Officer. The Officer told her that they were not going to fine us because I told the truth at the window and they will just throw the mangoes away.
The thought of those mangoes being thrown away was too hard on Naheed. The next thing we saw was Naheed, the Officer and the box of mangoes going to an area a bit farther from our car. And then we saw the Officer pulling out a knife and giving it to Naheed. I remember Salomi in the back-seat saying, "Oh my God! Look at her. She is going to eat those mangoes". Kashif said nothing. He just shook his head in disbelief.
We sat there in the car and watched as Naheed ate the mangoes with the Officer watching. For me it was an amusing sight, but not for the kids. They were in a rush to get home.
Pretty soon we saw Naheed walking back to the car. As she got into the car I noticed that she didn't look very happy and then she said, "All I could eat was just one mango" lol.
She also said that she was sure that the Officer wasn't going to throw those mangoes away and he was going to take them home and eat them for dinner. Then she mumbled something and I understood what she said. She said "allah karay us kay pait mein dard ho jayee", lol (I hope that he gets a stomach ache). As far as she was concerned, no one could ever throw away those precious mangoes, lol.
Next thing I remember is Kashif saying, "Daa'aad, can we go now?" and we started driving from Port Huron to Troy. There was not much conversation during the one-hour drive home. I just kept thinking about what she was thinking.
Several weeks went by and one day we had a few friends over. After dinner we were all sitting around the dinner table when I mentioned this incident. Everyone wanted to hear more about the story. They wanted Naheed's version. Naheed was not too eager but when everyone insisted, she told the story.
She went into great detail, from the purchase in Toronto to what happened at the border and she described it all in her own unique way using all the hand gestures.
She even imitated how the Officer pulled out the knife from the side of his belt like a gun slinger and described with her fingers the "lumba nokeela chakoo" (long pointed knife) he gave her as he said, "Ma'am, you can eat all you want right here, you just can't take 'em home".
I was looking at everyone while they were looking at Naheed telling the story. Some were serious and attentive, some had a smile on their face and some, like me, were having difficulty controlling their laughter. And then the story ended and there was loads of laughter all around.
I remember all of that as if it happened yesterday. I miss those days of fun and laughter. I long for those days of fun and laughter. She was one hell of a storyteller. mangoes www.pakpositive.com