The pace of our work in Araku Valley is fast and slow. Our 6-day weeks are long and tiring, and we visit a new and different village every day. But each day begins and ends with a long and stunningly beautiful 30 minute to 3 hour long drive and is punctuated with vibrant people and adorable children. When we arrive, we gather a few farmer families in a circle and begin to talk. We start off with everyone’s names and an introduction, before delving into asking them what changes they’ve seen in their lives over the past decade. Specifically, we break down these changes into economic, ecological, and social differences from before Naandi’s presence in the area to now. We’re starting to see a thread in everyone’s responses, and we’ve fallen into a routine here, with how each conversation goes. There are some parts of this routine that I particularly love and hope to never forget or leave out when I recount this in the future.
No village visit is complete unless we go home with at least some mangoes in our hands. Most village visits also include a cup of the famous Araku Valley coffee, which everyone here takes bracingly sweet. The first village we visited, I received three cups in a row, because the first one had milk mixed in (I’m allergic), and then I dropped the second one (it was extremely hot and burned my finger). In addition to the third cup, they brought me a piece of wet chapathi dough to put on the burn, which they said would cool it down.
A cup of coffee in one hand and some chapathi dough on the other hand
In that same village, I mentioned that I had never seen a cashew tree before, so a couple of women plucked some off the tree and roasted them for us right then. Yesterday, we tried jackfruit for the first time.
Mine and Judy’s first taste of Jackfruit!
Food is central to Indian culture, and our experiences with it here have been tied to the people we interact with. One of our concerns coming into the the project was whether or not the people we talked to would genuinely want to talk to us or not. When we chat over a cup of piping hot coffee or a plate of unripe mango smothered in salt and chili powder, I can feel this doubt subside, at least for a moment.
Beyond the villages, Judy and I have become mega-fans of a small, roadside chapathi place that one of our supervisors took us to in our first week here on our way back to the office. Huddled under a leaky awning in the middle of the monsoon rains, we get to talk to Santosh, our driver, and practice our Telugu on the other patrons of the shop. We’re already eager for our next taste of bamboo chicken, a specialty dish of the region that entails chicken stuffed into a bamboo shoot and cooked over an open flame, and thankful for the taste of the culture here that we’ve gotten so far. We’re looking forward to what else there is to come in the next couple of weeks here before we head back to Hyderabad for the remainder of our internship.