The first time we went to Bhadrak, we were curious. Curious to know those women with colorful saris: we imagined them through palm trees and mud houses, taking care of their hives. In addition, after months within the traffic of motorcycles and cows in Bhubaneswar, we wanted to arrive to the countryside.
Over three hours spent in a jeep, surrounded by expanses of paddies and an indefinable level of humidity made us exhausted. But anything could steal our excitement for arriving, at last, to the village.
After a tiny street separating from the great reinforced concrete casting, trod, so far, to the sound of the hooter, here we are in Ranital, in Bhadrak district.
Initially, we arrive in front of a gate, creating a small path leading to a blue house surrounded by plants. Even before stepping off the car, we perceive the sounds of the songs and screams of the women as welcoming signs.
Here they are. Beautiful, colorful, coming toward us with garlands and smiles. And us, happy for being there, and embarrassed for the encounter, full of everything except words.
Ready to speak and pronounce our “Namaste”, our mouths are suddenly filled up with lentils and legumes thrown with energy by the beekeepers of the village as a welcoming symbol. This scene is funny, but more thrilling than ever.
They let us take a seat within a room. Entering, we notice a sewing machine through which they learn the art of design, innumerable incense sticks (produced by them) and some posters written in Oriya, their local language, regarding honey and hives, we understand it from the drawing of a small Indian bee on the side.
After conversations in Oriya, we begin to share our first opinions, ideas, projects and odd questions about the functioning of bees society (an example of animal perfection), the hives and how these magic boxes produce the gold nectar.
Mattia, with his linguistic skills and his passion for honey, breaks the ice with some words in Oriya, raising the laughs and enthusiasm of the women sitting in the room.
Here the two Italian volunteers coming from afar to help us with the Madhu Network Project! Actually, they helped us.
Indeed! When at lunch they bring you a palm leaf with legumes, fruits and sauces you have never seen, they are they are the first explaining you that the strange dark thing on the plate is dry mango and that you have to eat it in a manner. They are the first coming toward you with water when you look confused without knowing where to wash your hands and face covered with rise and Dal.
They give a meaning to your presence in that place, to your effort in being there, surrounded by pickled fruit flowers, soil, gestures and smells.
The second time we went there was like coming back home after being away for a while. This time we went with them to the village, inside the houses, through pickled fruit fields.
Ranital is made of mud, little houses that look like party favors, surrounded by yellow flowers, palm trees, mango trees and some chickens running about. Almost every house has a green box on the outside: every woman of the village takes care of the bees and honey.
Watching honey extraction was an important experience: it was curious because you see concretely how and where the honey comes from, it was exciting because you share with those women the result of their work, and you are amazed by their skills of beekeepers.
Surprises are beyond the mud walls. Entering one of the houses of the village, guided by a little smiling girl, we arrive in front of a enormous expanse of mushrooms: because, between honey and incenses, these women grow even mushrooms over straw piles hung up at the ceiling.
We leave from Bhadrak, but we wish to stay, to live with them and to get lost through those pickled fruit fields.
But we have the courage to work for the event that will make us meet again and that will give them the possibility to sell their precious honey: the Honey Fair.
Our travel inside the world of honey and Honey Fair began with our two visits to Bhadrak district, center for the realization of the project. Actually, the main work has to come. It was like all the things we should do in the last weeks, were mockingly presenting all together in the last days before the fair. Kilos and kilos of honey to filter -“Why did not they filter it during the extraction ???”- and to bottle, jars to plug, labels to write and to attach (it seems that the graphic designer ran out of glue during the label printing); moreover, advertising posters to attach all over the city, not too early to be covered, but not too late, in order to let people know about a honey fair. In addition to all this work, the temperature didn’t help, going from 38 and 42 degrees. Oh, yes, the stands: certainly, because of a misunderstanding, they were assembled the night before the fair.
The bottling was certainly one of the highlights just before the fair: imagine three/four volunteers and Dipak, a Nepalese friend and colleague, equipped with tea strainers, with old fashioned measuring cups, dealing with 4/500 kilos of honey (one of the stickiest substances in nature), to fill little 50 grams bottles. Epic.
Even attaching the labels, ours and Dipak distinguished themselves for dexterity and stubbornness -“Why does not this label want to attach itself ??”- and with good results.
In other words, through jars and labels, the fateful day of the fair is at last arrived and, incredible, everything was fine. We spent Sunday morning preparing the stands, helped by everyone, even women: attach the posters -“A little more to the right, now a little more to the left, lower, upper, turn it…Perfect! No, wait, is hanging to the right, it is better to attach it again.”- prepare the jars, the honey tea corner (which was really successful, thanks to Dipak) and the photograph corner, where we found the safety pin really useful – which every Indian women brings always with her. Then, the inauguration, the speeches – How much the Indians like public speeches?? – magic and modern dance shows and Orissi, amazing.
But the moments spent with the women are the best, those that make us grow and cry when we have to leave. Through chatter, laughs, photos, interviews and exchanges of recipes (now we are able to cook a dry mango curry without problems), we spent great mutual comparison and knowledge. We will always pleasantly remember the view of Giulia and Sangita laughing after trying to say words in Oriya and Italian each other. At heart, should not the Service Civil be this? To confront and to know each other, different worlds meeting and getting closer, different languages understanding each other; languages that do not need an interpretation, smiles meaning more than thousands of words. All this was Honey Fair for us and certainly, when we will return to e Bhadrak, before leaving, we won’t leave only their photos and interviews, but also a little piece of us, and we won’t never understand why we had to leave.