A tale of root ginger, hope and determination

Once Upon A Time, roughly 9 weeks ago, when everyone in the UK was instructed to stay at home, there was a mini (but nonetheless confronting) crisis in Edinburgh, when root ginger for purchase was nowhere to be found. ‘Sorry, not available’ were the words stamped across online orders, and even kind neighbours who ventured out for shopping reported few sightings. Great was the rejoicing on our (newly created) street WhatsApp group when a neighbour returned triumphantly from a foray to a local shop, clutching a rhizome or two to divvy up and post through our letterboxes.

Before you snort, and dismiss this search for scarcity as a ‘first world problem’, do let me remind you that while, yes, none of us was about to die if we did not acquire this food, ginger is in fact a staple spice used for culinary and medicinal purposes across the world, at all levels of society. Widely valued for its anti-inflammatory purposes, it falls into the ‘this is good for you’ pile of foods. Besides, it has an ancient history and is what might be described as a ‘globally connecting’ food, given its journey across cultures, and across human history. Should you need more information, Wikipedia reports that:

“Ginger originated in Island Southeast Asia and was likely domesticated first by the Austronesian peoples. It was transported with them throughout the Indo-Pacific during the Austronesian expansion (c. 5,000 BP), reaching as far as Hawaii. Ginger is one of the first spices to have been exported from Asia, arriving in Europe with the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans. …  In 2018, world production of ginger was 2.8 million tonnes, led by India with 32% of the world total.”

A global food indeed. Moreover – and critically – our communal hunt for ginger in our small street brought us closer. The gratitude and sense of ‘we’re all in this together, so let’s help each other’ that the search for root ginger epitomised felt incredibly important at the time, and still does. As a community, we are still all being asked to play our part in supporting the fight against Covid-19, and knowing that we are not alone, and that there are people close by to help and support us if needed, was (and is) really significant in being able to sustain this. Besides, I have many lovely new friends now, for which I am hugely thankful.

Anyway, the ginger story did not stop here, even though root ginger – to everyone’s relief – soon became widely available again. The experience of its scarcity, however, made me wonder whether it might be possible to grow the plant at a latitude of 55.95°N, to sustain us in lean moments ahead. Extensive research online and with friends suggested an ambiguous response to this question, hovering around the ‘possibly yes, possibly no’  mark, so I decided to apply a filter of positivity and plump for ‘well, let’s try’. I tracked down a company in the north of Scotland which sold ginger rhizomes for planting (because shop-bought root ginger is usually treated to inhibit growth), and when it arrived, I planted it. I watered it, placed it as close to the window as possible, so it would receive some warmth, and waited.

Nothing happened.

I waited another week, then another week, then another.

Still nothing.

A little deflated, I moved the plant pot away from the window, to make space for the chilli plants and basil, which were exploding in their growth, but from time to time I checked the soil of the ginger plant pot to make sure it wasn’t drying out.

Still nothing happened.

And then …

A few days ago …

I spotted a tiny, tiny, tiny green shoot, breaking through the surface. It was so tiny that without a very close inspection, you would miss it. And yet, it was undeniably there. The ginger plant was growing! Very, very, very slowly, admittedly, and almost certainly at such a fragile time in its lifespan that its existence hovers between life and death. But it is there, a triumph of nature and a living metaphor for almost too many aspects of our current situation to list – including the power of patience, the importance of learning to trust what we cannot control, and how it is within our own grasp to turn, resolutely, loss into positive action.

I am inordinately delighted with my living metaphor, so much so that I wanted to share this experience as a fable. Were I still a school leader, I would have material in this one story for several of next term’s assemblies; watch out for its resurgence in my motivational talks. You heard it here first.

After all, when we determinedly turn negatives into positives, draw on the support of those around us, and share, then – and I do absolutely, tenaciously and unwaveringly believe this – we take one step closer to living, as the fairy tale says, happily ever after.

(Not yet) The End …

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