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Collecting Nuts This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     I watched my tiny Filipino grandmother light her unfiltered Camel cigarette then proceed to smoke it backward, with the lit end in her mouth. I know very little about her. We are separated by 5,000 miles, and there is a language barrier; I wish I could speak her dialect, Ilocano.

At the tender age of 75, she still picks macadamia nuts in Hawaii. It is hard work. The nuts are gathered from the ground after they fall. To collect them, workers have perfected a squatting walk, which would be hard enough without the Hawaiian sun. I asked my mom why my grandmother works even though she does not need the money. She explained that my grandmother enjoys the routine and accomplishing something.

With the money she saves from working, my grandmother stocks up on supplies to bring to her village in the Philippines that has no electricity or running water. The people are thrilled to receive even the most basic American goods. The children love toys from McDonald’s, and the favorite gifts for adults are towels. My grandma usually gives away her own clothes, leaving Hawaii with many suitcases and boxes and returning with only the clothes on her back.

Most of what I know about my grandmother is from stories my mom has told me. Even so, I think we’re very alike. Though I’ve never endured an eight-hour workday picking nuts, I have spent hot days balanced on a ladder building a roof for a West Virginian family. When we finished this task, I felt the same sense of accomplishment my grandmother has after she gathers her quota of nuts.

Volunteering helped me realize the importance of her generosity. She proves that one person can have an enormous impact on the world. Even though she’s small in stature, she’s big in heart, bringing happiness and hope to an entire village.

Following my grandmother’s lead, I believe that my life will mean more if I develop skills to produce more than I consume, leave the world a better place, and stay focused on the words “The most important things in life are invisible.” Whether that means improving alternative energy methods, engineering a crop to be hardier, or making buildings more efficient and accessible, I deeply believe that the more I learn, the more I can give.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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