THURSDAY, JULY 27, 2016
Sightseeing in the shuttle was a dizzying vision. To say Zanzibar was not an electric current of activity would be an understatement. It was easy to get wrapped up into looking at every little lively detail without trying to focus on it in those few tenths of a second it was visible. During the drive we talked and participated in a few more icebreakers to wake the group up a bit. At first, I would admit that I am not an icebreaker activity type, but I do see its merit. There is a lot that can be learned or moments that become purposeful when bonding a group. Once we were off the main roads, it was bumpy. Not like a city pothole here or there, but human bobblehead type jerks and dips. Kudos to the driver for being able to navigate around and through the trenches of the unpaved roads, keeping us in one piece. I can’t imagine how the drive would be if a person just went for it. My guess is that there would be a considerable number of broken down cars and flat tires abound, and people strewn about. Perhaps a testament to the skills of the drivers because this was a sight I don’t recall seeing, if at all.
The bombastic drive ended at the entrance to the spice farm. When we turned into the farm to park, there were a few people milling about near a small central building, near two thatched roof structures. When we got off the shuttle bus, we were introduced to a man we would call Mr. Spicy. He would be our guide. After introductions, things started promptly. He began talking and we began following. From the eyes of a casual, non spice-knowing observer, we were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a bunch of random plants and dirt. Instead, we were actually dropped right into the spice lands of all spice lands. This would become a who's who of any spice or fruit you had ever heard or never dream of. Side note, but relevant - I enjoy the fall because of the orchards. Picking your own apples or pumpkins, straight from the source and being able to sample along the way, is a natural way to appreciate a food. On this tour, we started with a pick of Bixa Orellana from a 5-6ft high plump bush. Mr. Spicy cut this crimson red, prickly pod to reveal the inside filled with a cluster of red seeds. He told us that the seeds can be crushed to produce a saturated pigment used for many purposes, including lip stain and for making a bindi dot (red dot worn on the center of the forehead, commonly by Hindu and Jain women).
As we followed him around in this living classroom, we smelled and tasted and learned about the uses and growth of plants that he cut or had farm staff climb or pull and cut for us. The farm staff even fashioned individual cones out of a huge leaves that were a sturdy construction. This was a holder for the many samplings. To start, there was aloe, lemongrass, jackfruit, and citrus. All I could think of when these fruits, vegetables, and spices were getting sliced for our tasting was my father and his rusty old pocketknife handed down from his father. Every apple-picking trip is a chance for him to gleefully break it out and slice up every variety of apple for consumption. Sometimes I think that is the only reason he agrees to going. Because we have seen it used for many other tasks, we ask every year if this knife has ever been cleaned and I know the answer will never get the response we want.
In between the tour, we took a break to watch two women in their preparation of what would become our lunch. This gave us the opportunity to see the spices we have and would see and sample, used in the local culinary traditions. A semicircle of chairs was ready for us as we had the delight of watching our chefs for the day create a true farm to table meal. During the preparation, Mr. Spicy and our guide explained what was happening as our first chef was busy starting the rinsing, cutting, and peeling vegetables, adding spices and crushing garlic. The second chef joined the first to assist with starting the fire, soaking the rice, and they were working together in a quiet unison. It was truly culinary poetry in motion. These local women were creating what looks like a Michelin Star meal, outside, while seated only inches off the ground in a handmade wooden stool or hunched over a handmade fire. Also, on top of that, this farm had free-range chicken; the humans were not the only ones interested in what was for lunch. Luckily Mr. Spicy and our go-getter guide were on the job of chicken shooing with a 5-foot long stick and their feet. One particular small guy was very persistent in trying to stick his beak in our food. The irony of was hilarious. Good thing for him, our protein was fish, not chicken.