A few days ago we were in Kumily, Kerala, India.
Kumily is a town that is high enough in the hills to be a bit chilly at night. To be honest the climate is fantastic. It is ideal for growing all sorts of spices and that is the main industry in the town. The hills for miles around are covered spice, tea, and coffee plantations, and the shops are full of their products. Cardamom seems to be the dominant spice. We took a bus 5 and a half hours (106 km) through the hills from Kumily to Munnar and were surrounded by cardamom plantations almost the whole time. In many of the small towns we passed through we could smell the sweet aroma drifting from sacks full of the precious seed pods.
The first opportunity for recording a story arose at Abraham’s spice garden (apparently made famous on the BBC with Monty Dons Around the world in 80 gardens). The spice garden has been operating for over 50 years, and there was a good selection of plants on show (although cardamom seemed to be the only one being grown commercially). We spoke to Krishna who has worked at the garden for 6 years, and he explained very enthusiastically about the growing and drying of cardamom, and that it was the most important plant to him. He also told us about the medicinal qualities and then proceeded to pose for photos with the plants (which was quite funny as I now have photos of him pointing at cardamom with a great big smile).
We then interviewed our (very articulate) rickshaw driver who explained that, as it reminds him of his childhood, Jatropha is the most important plant to him. This is our first record of a plant being important based on its sentimental value, which is exciting. He explained that the leaves contain saponins, and that he used to make bubbles. He then took us to a Cardamom processing plant where there were seemingly endless sacks of the stuff. The smell was incredible. It was quite dark but we got some good photos.
We went back to our hotel very satisfied and feeling like we had 2 good stories in the bag with some good photos to accompany them. Result.
We have since received some tragic news. Robert Bayita, Operations Director of Amigos Worldwide (and therefore Kira Farm), in Uganda passed away recently after being diagnosed with and succumbing to a rare motor neurone disorder. This news came as such a shock as Robert became a good friend during our 3 months working on Kira Farm last year.
We interviewed Robert the morning before we left Kira Farm, and he gave us a great story. He loved what we were doing and talked at length about his most important plant. He went on to tell us about some other plants, and we then had a great discussion about the changing nature of traditional medicine comparing and contrasting Uganda with what we have seen in the UK and Ireland.
I had been putting Roberts story together over the past few weeks. On hearing the sad news it seemed appropriate to finish and share it. Sharing of knowledge about natural remedies was such a small yet very significant part of what Robert was about.
(for those of you who are quick off the mark – it should be ready to watch within the next hour)