It was supposed to be a visit to a spice farm. Yet as our guide – a rather knowledgeable Doctor Spice – walked us around, tugging at trees and sniffing from pots, suddenly events took a rather bizarre turn.
He led us into a classroom, sat us on long wooden benches, and made a drastic announcement.
“Our trained assistants will now demonstrate the restorative properties of our special ointment,” he said in an entirely serious voice.
Several men appeared, all very serious too. Each one of them held a small pot of white ointment. They would dab little spots on our faces and then rub the stuff into our skin. Ominously, everyone would receive the treatment. There would be no exceptions.
“I’ve got deet on,” said one woman, who promptly retreated to the back.
Others too looked stunned, especially some of the men. Surely facials were for women, and anyway weren’t we on a spice farm?
Undeterred, Doctor Spice waved his little finger and his assistants sprang into action. With only one or two exceptions, they accosted each of us, dabbing and smearing and rubbing the secret potion all over our faces.
“Now you are all feeling the effects of the aloe vera.” Doctor Spice beamed at us. “Your skin is clearer, fresher, its natural energy restored.”
We all nodded, feeling at least something: embarrassment at being there in the first place, and probably relief that this charade was finished and we could return to the safety of the bus.
But no. There was more.
“Now the massages!” Doctor Spice grinned to himself, the smile of a man who knew he had us in his palm. “We will show you how the aloe vera, the cinnamon and turmeric too, can ease neck pains, back pains, leg pains and foot pains.”
The assistants moved out again. Now people looked truly alarmed, one or two of them crossing their arms, and two people fleeing outside.
“This is not part of the tour,” went on Doctor Spice. “But we will not charge you. All we ask is for a donation.” He pointed at a little wooden bowl on the bench. “Now tell me whether you want a head and neck massage, or feet and legs.”
Any chance of escape quickly went. Already Kate had opted for the head and neck massage – any chance to alleviate the persistent pain in the neck. And as Doctor Spice strolled masterfully around, directing his assistants, I realised I had to go through with this too.
I chose the foot and leg massage. And waiting, I watched the assistants administering this treatment to other people. They spread on more of the special potion. Then with strong fingers, they kneaded and pushed and pinched. One man receiving his massage complained it was painful, and the ever resourceful Doctor Spice told him he was overweight. Similarly, a lady grimaced with the pain, and Doctor Spice, deadpan, told her she had too much water in her legs.
Then it was my turn and manfully I stretched out my feet, readying for the worst. Yet as the assistant spread on the potion and tightened his grip, it was unexpectedly relaxing, perhaps even enjoyable. Around me, others were smiling, no longer petrified, but happy.
Meanwhile Doctor Spice strutted around, looking less like a mad scientist and more like a pioneer whose theories were turning out to be correct.
Cinnamon would never be the same after this. Nor aloe vera, turmeric, or vanilla.