The Cost of Picking Grape Leaves

by Weam Namou

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One day years ago I discovered outside of a Barnes & Noble bookstore a fence covered with grape leaves. I hurriedly got into my vehicle and informed my mother and sisters of my finding. That same day, we all squeezed into my minivan, empty plastic grocery bags in our hands, and drove to the back of the store. My daughter sat in a stroller and watched – she must have been a year or so – as we excitedly picked the grape leaves.

We were plucking away when a tall man dressed in professional clothing suddenly appeared from around the corner. He was the manager of the bookstore and he hesitantly approached us and asked what we were doing. He looked a little nervous. We had all been dressed in black because my aunt had recently passed away and we were in mourning for forty days. Obviously the sight of us frightened the store manager, so we explained that during summer we picked grape leaves, enough to last throughout the winter, to make an Iraqi dish called dolma (a pot of stuffed vegetables). He said that was fine, but if we could just inform someone in the store next time we decide to pick grape leaves so that they wouldn’t be surprised by our sudden presence.

Last year I asked my Iraqi-American neighbor, who was throwing away his perfectly good grape leave into a garbage bin, if I could pick them. He said, “They’re all dead.” They were not, but I let it go and since then have been buying jars of grape leaves.

Today I was at my friend’s home. She told me of a man who shot a woman picking grape leaves somewhere near his house. Another man was picked up by a police officer who asked him, “What are you doing?”

The Iraqi man did not speak English and motioning with his hands towards his mouth he said, “Food! Food!”

The police officer, feeling sorry for this man, took him into his car and drove to his house where he gave the Iraqi man ten dollars, thinking he did not have money to buy food and thus was eating leaves.

People – if you see someone picking grape leaves, it is okay! God created everything in this world to be used, not be wasted or just sit there and look pretty.

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