Portraits of my Grandfather
Updated: Feb 25, 2020
After a 13 hour bus and car ride, we finally arrived at BuDa site, and without wasting any minute, we started our first day by visiting a few villagers’ houses nearby to learn more about their lives and cultures.
As we walked to the villagers’ houses, Savita, BuDa founder, shouted to us, "Somebody catch this!" We were still unsure of what was going on but I extended my palms regardless. She threw us two rose apples—tiny and green. Suddenly, it brought back my childhood memories of summer days when my brother and I used to skip our midday nap, run to the garden, and climb up our rose apple trees. We had two of them in our front and back yard, one white and the other, well, rose colored.
A few minutes into our walk, it started to feel like home— the beautiful scenery, the fresh air, and a distinctive aroma. I lifted my head and took a deep breath while wondering what it could that be? As we approached one of the villager’s houses and seeing his front yard covering in areca nuts, that was it! It was the areca nut aroma that filled the air and my lungs.
A familiar silhouette appeared from the front door; it was an elder in his 60s or perhaps younger. At first, he looked at us with skeptical eyes but didn’t hesitate to show us around and asked us to sit down as he started weaving a basket. The base was half way done, almost, and it was as if he was expecting us. He moved to sit inside and continued moving the bamboo strip up and down the existing frame. Amazed at his hand movements, I started recording without missing a second. The chatting and the interviews took place and the recording went on for about 15 minutes. He then showed us one of his tools and while I was taking a portrait of him, Julie turned to me and whispered: “Thea, that's enough. I don't think he’s comfortable with being photographed and recorded."
At that instant, I realised that he reminded me of my grandfather. He was very similar to my grandfather in the way he moved, the way he worked, and the way he interacted with other people. All the memories flooded back. My grandmother used to have a small business selling areca nuts and betel leaves. My grandfather used to support her by weaving these baskets for her. He planted rows and rows of areca trees in our yard, and, occasionally, a rose apple tree or two. I did not realise that I was excessively taking his pictures as if it was of my own grandfather.
To the rest of my team, working with BuDa is a wonderful opportunity to witness a history that is dying as we speak. These villages are the last generation who still practice these cultures. To me it was a little more than that. It was personal. I was reliving the memories that I had with my grandfather. I was taking portraits of my grandfather.