I had this idea that the overnight sleeper bus Tristan, Thea, Shannon, and I would take to our rural site visit would look something like a hostel on wheels. It would have rows of metal bunk beds bolted to the floor and flimsy polyester drapes that wouldn't quite close. It would, in short, be the diesel-guzzling mobile twin of the hostel I almost booked in Singapore. Instead, on Sunday night I found myself looking up into the palm-lined night sky from inside what can best be described as a large, blue and white checkered linoleum cubby.
It was nicer than it sounds.
The same was true of our visit to Angadibail. I can tell you that the house we stayed in had no electricity, no cell reception, and outdoor toilets. To document disappearing Halakki and rural traditions, we walked across manure and mud courtyards barefoot. (The rice farming family we visited asked us to take off our shoes at the entryway so as not to contaminate the sacred space.) The village blacksmith's shop featured ash so thick that the portrait in the corner could have been of anybody. By the end of our morning with the blacksmith, coal dust had worked its way under our nails and into the lines of our palms.
All that is true, but it, like "blue and white checked linoleum cubby," excludes the best parts of our trip. At the rice farming house, we watched women in colorful skirts lift bundles of rice stalks over their head and slam them down in perfect rhythm. Fat, golden grains cascaded to the floor upon impact. The women explained to us how they are all neighbors and family. During harvest time, they call on each other for help processing the grain. No one receives pay, but if one woman fails to assist, she will be remembered and find herself without assistance when the time comes for her own family's rice harvest. These women gave us their time and their hospitality. The youngest offered us ragi porridge and hot spiced buttermilk. When we got up to leave, she asked us to stay longer.
The blacksmith also asked us to stay. He began the morning by showing us how he once made sickle-like knives for the agricultural families around town. He heated the old scrap iron, pounded it, heated it again, and pounded it again until he had willed it into the desired shape. Every so often, he cooled the knife's handle with water from a small black pool at his side. Tiny black frogs caught ants from the pool's surface. They seemed unbothered by the smoking wood thrust into their home.
Although the frogs didn't mind, I did. My first few days in Angadibail, I felt like that smoking handle. Didn't the Halakki and villagers mind that we had thrust ourselves into their homes to document their traditional practices? As foreigners, we were as alien to their village as smoking wood is to a cool wetland pool.
When the rice farmers and blacksmith asked us to stay, therefore, it felt like they had granted us permission to be there and work with them. We couldn't stay, but we will return.
the blacksmith's workshop and home