4:03:00 AM

Durga is 22 and the most amazing cook you’ve ever seen in your life, she has an amazing sense of humor and a sweet smile. She probably understands the most English but at the same time it’s a total mystery. The way she smiles when we say certain things makes me sure she know exactly what we’re saying, she is so patient. Incredibly patient. I sit in the kitchen and ask the names of spices over and over and over and try to listen so I can write them down, then I repeat it (completely wrong) and she corrects me and keeps going till I get it right. I get frustrated before she does one hundred percent of the time. She is married to the one and only Raju and has a darling son named Siddhartha. She cooks the bulk of every single meal, spending usually 1-2 hours in the kitchen before breakfast, 3-4 hours in the kitchen before lunch and about the same before dinner. The minute she is finished preparing one meal she moves onto the next and all this with a 4 month old baby who needs constant care. After helping her cook just lunch I’m completely exhausted from the heat of the kitchen combined with the physicality of actually cooking the food because each dish requires constant attention and homemade everything. All the other women help, but she’s head of the operation, and none of us know how she does it. She’s awake before any of us, and goes to sleep long after we do.

Nagamani is past the age where it is okay to ask a person their age, so it will remain a mystery while we’re here. She is half blind and was married to a man whose wife abandoned him but after he and Nagamani were married the original wife returned. Her husband and his first wife both abused Nagamani and the husband made his two wives work so he wouldn’t have to. Her mother and brother helped her and her children get away and she now works for us. She is a touchy-feely person which is rare here so we love that. She constantly has a hand on our shoulder or an arm around our waist. She loves taking pictures “snaps” or rather, loves being in the pictures. She laughs constantly and imitates me when she can’t answer in Telugu; “very pretty Nagamani” “very pretty ma’am” “I like your sari” “I like your sari” “sleep well madam” “sleep well madam” she does the little Indian head bobble every time she teases me and tries to keep a straight face. I love it and we always both end up laughing. She’s just a jokster, which is the greatest. Oh, and if you hold out your fist she’ll give you bumps. Which is also super legit.

Sailaja is 17 and has the most contagious laugh/smile in the world (yes I know you cannot tell in the picture, I tried). Everything she says is said with a smile on her face and she picks up quickly on the Spanish phrases we randomly teach her…sounds odd, it is. She calls everybody ma’am and sir. And every now and then she’ll look at me and say “Ma’am, my English is getting better?” She’s darling. Her parents tried to get her to get married a few weeks ago and she told them she wanted to keep working and learning English and that she would marry in 3 years, we were all way proud of her. She has somehow become the most-teased girl in the house. I often tease her about her soon-to-be (in 3 years) husband Prasad, and she just laughs and says “Oh, no ma’am, I marry in 3 years.” She always holds up 3 fingers to be sure I understand. She’s just one of those contagiously happy people; you see her and can’t help but smile. She’s also the most accident prone, on Sunday she asked me for a bandaid after cutting her finger on a bangle.

Chinnari is 19 and has been working for us only a few weeks. She’s a Christian and a total sweetheart. We were sitting in the kitchen one day and she crossed herself and said “Jesus Christ ma’am?” I said yes and she said “Me too!” “Wait, Chinnari, you’re Christian?” “Yes ma’am.” It was the oddest religious conversation I’ve had to date, and that’s saying something. The “Jesus Christ? Me too” thing just killed me, but she’s always reading her Telugu bible which I think is pretty cool, and which makes me want to take her to church with me just to see what she thinks. She speaks the least English but it forces me to learn Telugu which is good. The first day I really talked to her she asked if we were friends (I said yes, obviously) and she taught me to say ‘I love you’ in Telugu, which I’ve already forgotten. She hugs me at night before I go to sleep and smiles all the time and tells me she likes my saris. She also braids my hair and stitches flowers through it (if your hair is not slicked up, braided, lathered in coconut oil or shaved, it is not done). She grew up in a tribe a ways from here, her parents died after she was born so she was raised by another family in the village but both the parents were negligent and constantly drunk. When she gets married Krishnayyagaru will help pay her dowry because she doesn’t have anybody else to.

Chinnari, Durga, Sailaja, Nagamani

Lakshmayya and Pentayya. These guys are major studs. Pentayya (on the right) is 81 years old...can you believe that? and Lakshmayya isn't quite that old, but he's not too far behind. They're Jalari Fishermen and they have the strongest, thickest, most leathered/well-worn hands I've ever seen in my life. You probably can't believe it from the picture but they laugh constantly, they're always smiling, always telling a story, always happy to see you. And they're not too bad at looking super tough for a picture. Its easy to read that they're fishermen and never give it a second thought but fishing here is nothing like fishing in America. It is not a pass time, it is not a hobby, it is not relaxing. Everyday that they go out they are risking their lives, it is hard on their bodies, hard on their joints, hard on their hands, hard on their skin. Their eyes are burned from years of salt water and their skin is leathered from gripping tough ropes and sitting in the hot sun. They go for hours at a time (Pentayya's health doesn't allow that he go anymore) and it is their livelihood, their career, their everything.

If there is one reason I want to learn this language it is to be able to talk to these amazing people.

Last but not least is the one and only Krishnayyagaru. He is the Dad of the program out here. He honestly treats us like his own children. He lets use his TV, he pays for the ice cream we all can't resist buying when we go to fancy restaurants, he is constantly available to help us. You mention one thing you've been wanting to see or to do or to learn about and he's at your house with a book, or he's on the phone with the contact you need to get what you want. Example? "Krishnayyagaru, do you know when the tailor is coming back with our clothes?" Before he says a word he's o the phone with the tailor and then talking to you again, "I scolded him and told him the clothes need to be finished, he'll be here tonight." I asked him if he knew of any areas that were heavily populated by Jains and he set me up to visit a temple in Rajahmundry just so I could visit the people and talk with them. I told him I wanted to visit the Coca Cola plant here, sort of just as a fleeting comment, and he told me he'd set everything up, I just needed to tell him when. The man knows everything about everything, he has all the connections you'll ever need in field work and he loves nothing more than to sit with us and talk about our research and heaven knows we need it. We treat him like a father figure and he treats us like his children, and we all know that should we need him at any hour of any day he is constantly available. He is pictured with Durga's darling baby Siddhartha and Brad and Emily's sweetheart Chloe.

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  1. Thank you! I needed faces to go with the stories ;)

  2. Super lovely blog!


  3. So neat to read about these people you are getting to know and love! What an amazing experience. So glad you are the type of person to soak it all up with joy (and then share it with the rest of us). You rock, Mal.