Natalie,  Pamela

A Giant Yam

Note:  Just before Natalie and I embarked on our 119-day “virtual” world cruise during 7th grade (see “What We Did” on the cover page of this website) we put together this jigsaw puzzle, which found a permanent home under a plexiglass cover on our kitchen table.  Now we can’t imagine the table without our map! Learning world geography continues.  We keep discovering new countries and I get quizzed regularly, with helpful and sometimes hilarious hints, on the capitals of the world.

Natalie:  Tomorrow’s the geography bee.  I’m so excited to play the game that we play at our kitchen table at school.  I think it will be lots of fun as long as we aren’t asked about the countries in western Africa.  (Pointing at the map) Let’s see:  Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria.

Pamela:  I’ll try to come up with another mnemonic device.  Is the other one sticking?

Natalie:  “Gonna go” – Ghana and Togo.

Pamela:  How about the one for the three Central American countries?

Natalie:  I nicked my elbow and need some salve on my humerus – Nicaragua, El Salvador, & Honduras.

William passes through the kitchen (laughing):  I don’t think I’d remember that.

Pamela:  What book was it where you read about the huge yams?

Natalie:  Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Pamela:  What country is the story set in?

Natalie:  Nigeria.

Pamela:  While you were reading it, you told me that the yams we usually eat aren’t true yams.  But the day you saw this one at the farmer’s market, you said, “Now that’s a yam!”

A Giant Yam

Natalie (laughing):  Yes, and I took the yam to school today after a week of your insistent encouragement — :-).   When I pulled it out people gasped and wanted to hold it to see how heavy it was.  One girl asked if we ordered it from Africa!  No one had ever seen a yam so big.   Like you say, now they have a story to tell.

Pamela:  It’s always nice to give someone a story to tell, right?  And now we can finally cook the yam!  I think we’ll slice it up and grill it.  By the way, would you recommend Things Fall Apart?

Natalie:  No.  It’s about a self-absorbed, cruel, unpleasant man who will do anything to keep his status in his village.  But I would recommend another book set in Zimbabwe titled Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  It’s about a teenaged girl in 1960 who struggles to find her identity, somewhere between her native village and the mission school she attends.

Descriptions for two books mentioned above:

Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries. These perfectly harmonized twin dramas are informed by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul.

In Nervous Conditions, Dangaremba’s acclaimed first novel, she tells of the coming-of-age of Tambu, and through her, also offers a profound portrait of African society. In awarding Nervous Conditions the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa in 1989, the judges described the book as a beautiful and sensitive exploration of the plight and struggle of an African people…. A distinguishing feature of this work is its courageous honesty and devastating understatement.


  • Sade Tagbo

    Hi Pam and Natalie!

    I love, love your blog! I am originally from Nigeria, now living in St. Louis and have homeschooled both my children from kindergarten! I loved Things Fall Apart. I always felt sorry for Okonkwo because he was just one of those people in this world who are not self-aware – they are unable to see how their thoughts and actions produce the things that happen to them.

    If you ever choose to read another book by a Nigerian author, check out Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie. By the way, the yams here in America are different from the Nigerian yams. We call the ones here “sweet potatoes.” Nigerian yams are much larger than the huge yam you found. They look more like the cassava (manioc) root from South America. The skin is a dark brown and the insides are white. We eat them boiled, fried or pounded.

    Best of luck with high school!

    • TwointheMiddle

      Dear Sade,
      Thank you so much for writing. I immediately placed a hold on “Half of a Yellow Sun” at our library, which I look forward to reading. We thought our huge yam, although huge, might be different from the Nigerian yams but the farmer thought it might be the same, so thank you for the description. Do you peel them before cooking? Natalie started her first day of 10th grade today, excited to begin a new year of high school. We were so lucky to find a high school that approaches learning in much the same way we did during our two years of home schooling: creatively, adventurously (with a focus on questions vs. answers), with an emphasis on kindness (which I call “warming the heart” vs. “guarding the heart”), and a keen appreciation and focus on both the local and world community. We find it quite remarkable that such a school exists, with such pressures to be otherwise. I hope you will continue to post comments, as I’d love to hear more about your learning + living adventures. And I’d love to know how you learned about our website, which I hope continues to inspire and encourage all those who have a passion for learning. Best wishes, Pamela

    • TwointheMiddle

      Dear Sade, I wanted to let you know that I am finally reading “Half of a Yellow Sun” and I am enjoying it so much. I will probably want to write a post when I finish so that more readers discover this beautifully written book. Thank you so much for telling me about the book. Also, I would love to know more about how you decided to home school and what the journey was like for your family. At least once a week, one of us will say how happy we are that we “skipped” middle school. We are very lucky that we found a high school with a world-based, creative and kindness-nurturing curriculum. Natalie looks forward to each day of learning and she is thriving. When each family member thrives, the entire family thrives, like a garden. Warm wishes, Pamela

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