Ama: My Greatest Teacher

Growing food this summer in the tricky climate of northeast Oregon, I relied on all that I’ve learned from books, conversations, observations, and personal experience.  But I probably heard Ama’s voice more than any other.

Parvati Parajuli
Parvati Parajuli

Ama – Mother – is what I still call my former mother-in-law, Parvati Parajuli.  During my years in Nepal, she became a cherished friend and taught me not only gardening, but also hospitality, compassion, forgiveness and cross-cultural understanding.

But it’s the practical peasant voice I heard most this summer.  It reminded me not to weed too much around a bitter melon or other cucurbit.  Ama warned me once in Nepal. I didn’t listen and ended up killing a mature plant and its almost ripe fruits.

Ama also reminded me to plant amaranth as well as extra pumpkins just for the leaves (parsiko munta).  “That way, you’ll always have some greens to eat when the spinach dies.”  And I let lambs quarters grow big enough to eat before weeding them out.  They’re delicious in stir fries.

Crab Orchard ReviewWith Ama so much on my mind this summer, I was thrilled to receive my copy of Crab Orchard Review’s latest issue, where my essay “Ama” is honored as a finalist for the John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

…I see her wrapped in a red sari and a striped, multicolor shawl peering under the hood of our Land Rover, helping me try to figure out why, once again, it won’t start.
“Perhaps it just needs water,” she says as though speculating about the illness of a loved one. “Or does it need petrol?”
“You should have been an auto mechanic,” I say.
“I might’ve liked that,” she says, laughing….

This issue of Crab Orchard also includes photographs by Scott David Gross and a wealth of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including work by prizewinners Tyler Caroline Mills, Timothy Crandle, and J.A. Bernstein as well as other finalists. Congratulations to all.

To learn more or order, visit Crab Orchard Review. To find out more about my literary nonfiction and writing on Nepal, visit

Cross-posted at


  1. oh. i think i know now why my melon died – i weeded and poked around a bit. are the roots spread out a lot?

  2. I think some are very near the surface and they’re more sensitive than other roots to disturbance. There’s probably some good botantical explanation, but I haven’t looked into it.

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