The Bitter Way of the Kola Nut

It’s impossible to predict what you’ll learn on any given day.


Today, for the third day of the course I’m teaching this week I wanted to add in a little something extra for my students. Since I’m teaching in the afternoon after everyone’s just eaten but hasn’t had a nap, I often notice my students fighting off the fatigue that presses down in a classroom beset by 100 degree heat. I try to keep things lively and interactive but sometimes the subject matter at hand requires a bit of endurance on the part of the student; there’s no getting around it. So, today I planned to do something nice for my afternoon warriors: the kola nut.

These caffeine-containing nuts are prized for their energy-giving force despite the bitter taste that sweetens as you chew. And as we’re working on translating the book of Ruth this week, I thought kola nuts would be the perfect afternoon treat. First, because they’re packed with caffeine. And, secondly, because of the connection between their bitter taste and a line in Ruth where the distressed Naomi renames herself, saying,

“Don’t call me Naomi, but call me Mara, for the Almighty has made me very bitter.”

The name Mara means “bitter.” The widow Naomi, whose given name means “charming” or “happy,” gives up her happy name for one that better reflects the suffering and loss she has undergone, having lost both her sons and her husband.  So, what better way to stay alert while translating the book of Ruth than the bitter way of the kola nut… So I thought when I had a friend buy me a big bag of kola nuts in the market.

I was partially right.

When the moment came this afternoon, I passed out the kola nuts to my seventeen students. They beamed with delight. (I see the same reaction in our chickens when I throw them vegetable peels.) I explained that kola nuts were a new thing for me and that I would need a little demo on how to unlock their power. It’s actually quite simple: you split it in half and take a bite. I saw some take bigger bites than others. In hindsight, I wish I would have started off with a smaller bite. That first large chunk I bit off sent me buzzing!

As I continued to teach, I, too, was contented to look out over a sea of faces happily chewing their kola cud. A little while later a student in the back raised his hand to ask what I assumed would be a question about Ruth or Hebrew or translation. Instead, he wanted to know how long I was going to keep them in suspense concerning the news I had to share. The news I had to share?

I admitted that I didn’t follow his question. What news? He then explained to me that handing out kola nuts to a group of people forms one part of a ceremony wherein one shares important news like the birth of a new child or the death of a family member. Well, I didn’t have any grand news to share. I was just trying to keep my students awake and perhaps give a little object lesson at the same time.

I delicately let down their hopes of hearing any important news, confessing my ignorance of the kola-news connection. The class erupted in laughter. No news to share! Bahahahaha!

It’s impossible to predict what you’ll learn on any given day.


  1. Mom   •  

    Oh that’s good Drew!!!!! Love it, ha ha!!

    • Drew   •  

      Emily and I think it would be a bit like walking into work and handing out cigars just for the sake of it. People would be expecting an announcement of some sort.

  2. sherrill meyers   •  

    That’s funny…lol!!!

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