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A Letter from Camote, Ph.D.

I received a letter from a friend today! It's been ages since we've heard anything from each other. The last time he had anything to say to me, it was about what he called The Tragedy of the Privates.

My dear friend,

Five years ago, I left your cozy little kitchen to work in the field. It might have felt to you like we lost touch. Not entirely, if you ask a sweet potato. I've told you how news travels in the plant world. You've moved to another city and word has reached me that you have planted some of my relatives in your small plot of soil in back of your apartment. This is wonderful, because now I can send you this message.

Since we last spoke, I've been doing extensive fieldwork around the world, in places where humans and root crops are dependent on each other. In a conference at which sweet potato fries were served for snacks, I learned of auto-ethnography. Intrigued, I decided I should give it a try. As you can imagine, it's challenging for a plant -- especially a root crop -- because you have to begin with a self that is separate from others! My colleagues ridiculed my attempts on the grounds that it was impossible to posit such a self in the plant world. I persevered and it cost me dearly. I was isolated. It was painful to be alone. As a human, you certainly know this. I was left at the mercy of pests and disease.

The experience deepened my empathy for your species. It enabled me to write a treatise, "How to Think Like a Camote." My colleagues at the forefront of human studies have accepted the soundness of my scholarship and they argue that my treatise is a necessity. Not for us, but for your kind. Unfortunately, it is impossible to translate, even for the greatest camote scholars of the English language. It's too bad that I couldn't stay in your kitchen long enough to teach you our ways of communicating. You will have to learn on your own. My relatives in your backyard will help you. All you have to do is watch them and pay close attention to their silences. By the time you've learned how to read us, you will have read "How to Think Like a Camote."

Good luck, dear friend. And remember to eat well but only enough.

Yours rootedly,
Camote, Ph.D.


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