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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

Mangoes, baby. Mangoes.

Dare I say it: There are so many things to learn. If you are in the right mind set, you could literally learn a new skill or bit of info every single day. Really, every one. When a learning opportunity presents itself, I definitely look forward to it. I try to keep an open mind, and keep my eyes open for these possibilities. I am doing my best to instill a love of learning in my kids too. I think the following are some of life’s most useful (if not valuable) lessons.

1. Learn how to cut up a mango. I mean this literally because the saddest comment I have ever heard from another adult is that he and his wife did not know how to cut up mangoes, and only eat them when the housekeeper cuts them up or at other people’s houses. This was in the heat of mango season in Dakar. Now, those of you who have only had the mangoes in the States, you might not understand how pitiful this actually is. Mangoes in the states are meh; mangoes in Senegal? Outstanding. I also mean this in a figurative way: why would you not learn a new (simple) skill that would help you to better appreciate the beauty of a place? Why would you be wholly reliant on someone else to be able to enjoy that? Be independent. Learn how to cut up the damn mango.

2. Learn a new language. Not everyone on this globe speaks English. In fact, as many as 94% of the world’s population does not speak English as their first language, and 75% do not speak English at all. If you want to gain a different perspective, if you want to converse with a person from a different background and viewpoint, if you want to immerse yourself in a different culture, take the time to learn a different language. Most people appreciate the effort, even if you don’t speak their language fluently. You can do your best with whatever vocabulary you’ve gained, and then try to get your point across with pointing and gesturing. The effort goes a long way towards bridging the language gap; just because you may not speak the same language does not mean you cannot communicate.

3. Learn how to fully listen. Learn how to put down whatever you are doing (especially if it is playing or fiddling with a device), and engage in what you are hearing. Sometimes what you should be listening to is actually nothing at all; just listen to the world around you can be an awe-inspiring moment. Sometimes the birds have something to share with you. Sometimes the cat is trying to tell you something. Sometimes — often — your kids want your undivided attention and they deserve to get it.

4. Learn how to bake a cake. There are a lot of wrongs that can be righted by a good homemade cake. There are a lot of ailments that can be fixed by cake. You can impress the socks of your new girlfriend/boyfriend with a good cake. You can make a friend’s day better, or celebrate a birthday. You can destress and you can welcome a new neighbor. You can take a quality break from school work. Cake can make a great breakfast or snack. Cake doesn’t have to be complicated, and many can even be mixed right in the pan. Making cake is a gesture of sharing because most of the time cake is for sharing. And, while I am saying 'cake', having a few recipes in your back pocket that you can count on 100% of the time will save you from eating take-away or processed foods, and will keep you and whomever you are cooking for healthier.

5. Learn how to say that you are sorry. Apologizing for a wrong you may have done is not a weakness. It is not a character flaw. The thing about the word ‘individuals’ — which is what we all are — is that we are unique, and therefor have different opinions and ideas. We can’t always mesh or match another individual, so sometimes, feelings are hurt and tempers flare. Let’s be open-minded, and let’s value the individuality of others, just as we hope they value the same in us. Don’t apologize for your values, though, as long as they don’t impede on the rights of others. There is never a need to apologize for your well-intended self.

My friends, may you have many cake-moments, talking and listening with your friends, maybe in a new language, and enjoy some mango. Or whatever else makes you feel happy and accomplished. Sure, these skills may not fill your bank account, but they will help you fill your heart and your mind and both of these endeavors are worthwhile investments.

This is a great spur of the moment cake. I added sliced bananas on top of the batter under the frosting (we have bananas literally coming out of our ears right now so everything gets a banana or three added to it). Plus, I bet you have everything you need for it in your cupboard right now. So ... go make some cake.

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