Twice a month at the local boys and girls clubs downtown, I experienced the opportunity to be a Girl Scout. I really enjoyed working with some of the other girls and my leader and it helped me to learn much more about practical things I just did not seem to be learning at home. My mother worked two jobs and although my Granny was present, her arthritis and other ailments had taken their toll on her dexterity. Fall was now upon us and the first hint of frost was in the air, but it was warm in our craft room as I settled in, completed my homework and anxiously waited for my Girl Scout leader to show.
My leader, Natalie, came through the door with a box of oranges and two bags on each arm.
"Today," she said "we are going to make pomanders."
"What is that smell?" I asked. I was seeing oranges, but I smelled pumpkin pie.
"That, my dear, are the cloves."
"Your clothes?" I said. "Have you been baking pies today?"
"No...CLOVES," she said, accenting the "V".
With her she had brought a roll of netting like a ballerina would wear in an off-white color, brown and orange ribbon, and a coffee can, the source of that aroma.
"These are cloves, Cassandra," as she opened the can of curious-looking pointed buds. Looking like little brads or pins they filled the air with comfort.
She explained the craft as we took the cloves and poked them one by one into the oranges covering the whole sphere while wrapping them in the netting and making a tie holder with the ribbon. Natalie explained that we could hang these in our basement or coat closet and the smell would keep away the musty odors of winter.
With this craft, we would also receive a challenge to earn more checks towards a badge, either global awareness or cooking. We were to research other uses of cloves, either for a recipe or find out where they were grown and harvested. This is how I first embraced my African heritage.
"The Sultan has given a decree: three clove trees must be planted for every coconut palm," said the plantation foreman. "Zanzibar will become transformed by this spice crop." It was 1830 and this prophesy would come true.
Zanzibar? Where is Zanzibar? I got out my grandmother's dusty encyclopedia. Zanzibar was actually an island group off the coast of East Africa where many famous explorers headquartered their interior exploration of the "dark continent." The most famous was Dr. David Livingstone. The Omani Sultans and plantation owners would prosper and Zanzibar in the 19th century was a thriving oasis of international trade. What I also discovered as I read on would haunt my thoughts, especially sensitive because of my own African American heritage. We had talked about slavery at school and the Civil War, but the teachers never explained the details of how people in Africa became slaves and came to America. I found out that slaves were sent everywhere. Bagamoyo, Tanzania, on the mainland of Africa is where they were brought, chained together like animals to haul ivory and spice over a 1000 mile route. Bagamoyo means "lay down your heart" in Kiswahili. It was here that hearts of slaves lost their beat of humanity. Zanzibar would not only be the largest international trading port for spice, specifically cloves, but for slaves who were packed like cargo into "dhows," crossing the ocean only to be auctioned in the slave market. Eventually through much pressure from the West, the slave market was closed in 1873 and now in its place is the Cathedral Church of Christ.
I would earn my badge but what I learned would stay with me forever. In my twenties, I would join the Peace Corps and Africa would be my destination. Every approaching fall, I would gather my supplies and make pomanders, now a reminder of "hearts laid down.”
Stone Town, the main hub of Zanzibar is rich with 19th century Arab architecture in an old world tropical paradise. I can only hope that the words of the prophet Ezekiel will resonate through winding alleys and bustling market places of today.
Ezekiel 36:26 (KJV) "A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take way the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh."
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