Thursday, September 6, 2012

African blue basil tugs the heart strings

At the rehab center where mom is recuperating from hip surgery I’ve made friends with several of the staff. One of the women and I were having a conversation with another visitor a few weeks ago; the staff member mentioned that she was from Kenya. I asked “Luo?” and she gave me an astonished look as she replied “No, Kikuyu”. The Kikuyu and Luo ethnic groups are two of the largest in Kenya. Her astonishment stemmed from my knowing about that, and she was very impatient to learn how I came to know about that. Things suddenly got busy, and that explanation had to wait. But when the time came, things quickly got even more intense. As I was explaining that I knew about that from watching The Flame Trees of Thika decades ago, the look on her face became even more agitated. As I babbled on, she finally regained her composure enough to blurt out “I was born in Thika”. The seeds of friendship germinate in the most unexpected places, don’t they? By the way, she pronounces the name Thika TE-ka, not THEE-ka.   

The other day I cut a bouquet of things from my community garden plots to take up to mom: the bouquet was made up mostly of dahlias, but there was a generous stuffing of African blue basil for the color of the flowers and leaves and of course for the great scent. Mom and I enjoyed these on the dinner table one night, and then I put them out on the main desk at the nurses’ station. The night before last my Kenyan friend was at the nurses’ station, and she noticed me checking out the two little bouquets of flowers there. She noticed me sniffing a scentless rose, and mentioned that she thought that something there had a fragrance. At that point I asked her to touch the leaves of the African blue basil. As she was doing this, I began to ramble on about the origin of this plant, how it was a hybrid of Ocimum kilimandscharicum and an….at this point, I noticed that her face suddenly seemed swollen, and she seemed to be holding back tears and trying not to choke. Was she having an allergic reaction? Finally she looked up at me and said “It smells just like home back in Kenya”.

Fragrances can do that, can’t they? 

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