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The Practical Joker

The Practical Joker

Hello and good day!

Norbil worked on our cacao buying team for several years and was known for being a subdued and formal team member who never did a lick more than exactly what he was asked to do.

He'd give you a good day's work, but never a great one. He didn't talk much. He showed up on time. He gave the minimum acceptable effort. And he punched out the very minute the workday was over.

You'd never guess that quiet Norbil had a phenomenal mischievous streak in him. He was a tremendous practical joker.

One day my brother Brian was out in the jungle with our cacao buying team. It had been raining hard and the ground was muddy and shot. The team left their vehicles on the road, and they were hiking through the bush towards a bridge.

It was Brian and five others. Norbil was one of them. The team came to the small bridge which led back into a tiny, remote cacao growing village.Leading down to the bridge was a tall muddy hill, dotted with wet, smooth stones.

Under normal circumstances, farmers would come across the bridge with a donkey carrying their cacao and the donkey would lug the cacao up the hill. However, given the hard rain, the river underneath the bridge was full and gushing and it was spilling up onto the bridge. This made the footing unsure and slippery, and donkeys were too afraid to cross.

Normally, there would have been many farm families bringing their cacao across the bridge and up the hill. But on this day, there was just one man. He needed the money and had no choice but to brave danger in order to make a sale.

He had two thick bags of cacao. Each was so wide that a grown man could barely wrap his arms around them. The plastic bags were overfull and stretched so tight that there was no slack to grab onto.

The bags weighed over one hundred pounds and the only way to pick them up was to squat down, wrap your arms around them and try to heave them up onto your shoulder.

From down on the other side of the bridge, the cacao farmer yelled to the team up on the hill. "Come down and help me. I have two bags. I can carry one and one of you can carry the other," yelled the man.

Brian has always led by example and also, as a gringo living and working in the jungle of northern Peru, he constantly felt he had to prove himself. He never wanted to come off as a soft American.

"I'll go," said Brian. He walked and slid down the muddy hill to the bridge. He crossed over the bridge and water flowed up and over his feet, soaking his socks and shoes.

On the other side of the bridge, the cacao farmer bent down and threw one of the bags up onto Brian's shoulder. Then the cacao farmer expertly threw the other bag up onto his own shoulder, walked across the bridge, and charged up the hill without slipping in the mud or on the rocks.

The farmer was used to climbing wet, slick hills from living and working on a cacao farm his entire life. Brian, on the other hand, is originally a beach kid from San Diego. Climbing a wet, muddy hill was not second nature to him. He wobbled across the bridge and then the slip parade began.

Poor Brian. He slipped and fell down that hill over and over again. Each time he fell, the big, tight bag of cacao came off his shoulder and he had to squat down and pick it up and start again.

Somewhere along the line, the thing turned into a holy struggle, and Brian knew that he must prevail to save face. Sensing that Brian was now engaging in a personal battle to prove his manliness, the team and the farmer stood and watched and encouraged Brian.They didn't want to strip him of his dignity by coming down to help.

Finally, after bending down and lifting the hundred-pound bag more than a dozen times, with his legs burning, his lungs heaving, his eyes stinging from sweat, and his clothes covered head to toe in mud, Brian made it up the hill.

The team held a brief celebration for Brian, patting him on the back and congratulating him for not giving up. They paid the cacao farmer and shortly thereafter thunder began to crackle in the sky.

A terrible rainstorm pelted them with heavy rain. The team took refuge in an abandoned adobe house they knew about. They would wait out the strongest part of the storm in the house.  

Brian was completely exhausted, and he sat, spent and sweaty and muddy, leaning up against one of the walls. Norbil announced that he would go out and look for fruit to eat. He went out and came back before long.

The pulled-up bottom of his shirt was filled with "mandarinas", small mandarin oranges. These small mandarin oranges are one of Brian's favorite fruits and given how tired and thirsty he was after the ordeal on the hill, Brian was greatly appreciative.

Brian's desire for the refreshing fruit kept him from noticing the sly smile on Norbil's face, and the quiet, repressed laughs from the other team members. You see, there are two types of mandarins out in the jungle of northern Peru.

One is sweet and citrusy and delicious to eat. The other is so acidic that it makes you squint your eyes and pucker your lips and it dries out your face immediately. It is completely inedible.

Having grown up in those parts, Norbil and the others knew how to distinguish between the two varieties with a brief glance. And they knew that Gringo Brian, as they called him, would not be able to tell the difference. Brian quickly peeled the fruit and devoured an entire orange.

Only then did the team let out a loud, laughing, roar, as Brian suffered through all the telltale signs of eating the world's sourest fruit.

You may think that this prank would have angered Brian, but it was just the opposite. After the effects wore off, Brian joined in with the laughter and the experience bonded the team more tightly together.

And Brian learned to keep his wits about him whenever quiet, sneaky Norbil was around.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!