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  • Writer's pictureKaryn Lucy O'Bryan

“Brick and blood built Astapor, and brick and blood her people.”




Across the dusty tan rice field I saw a mud hut perched atop a small hill with the sun baking down on its dry thatch A frame roof. I made my way along the narrow arched path, low mud walls built for retaining water, as it zigzagged through the harvested rice toward the dwelling. The only sound an occasional cow mooing in the distance so I assumed it was empty. As I approached the door a head popped out. Two, three, then five men appeared in the doorway, seeking respite from the penetrating sunlight.

 

Off to my right about 20 feet below was a field of drying bricks. These men were brick makers and they all lived in this 10x10’ hut together. I asked how the bricks were made and as 4 men attempted to describe the process to me one of the gentlemen offered to give me a live demonstration. Step by step he demonstrated the process of mixing the mud and water and sand together then setting them in a mold before laying them out to dry in the sun waiting patiently for me to snap photos of each step. Afterwards they invited me into their hut, where we all sat and relaxed and took photos.

 

Thanking them for their hospitality I offered to make them a meal. It wasn’t entirely serious-have fun, half politeness. They handed me some potatoes, tomatoes, and onions, and put a small stove in front of me along with some pots and pans and a strange looking  instrument used to slice vegetables. You actually step on it with one bare dusty foot and push the vegetable against the sharp blade. Maybe not the most sanitary method, but highly effective. Before I knew it they were offering me some betel nut. I didn’t really understand what it was at first but after much insistence I finally I tasted some of the powder and recognized the smell from Ragu, our driver, spitting out the window every few minutes. Known for their stimulant and narcotic effects, betel leaves have played a vital role in India for many centuries. One side of the leaf gets slaked lime and the red paste of catechu, an herb spread on top. Next a variety of ingredients are added including menthol, saffron and sometimes tobacco. The edges of the leaves are folded over and fastened with a clove.  Once rolled, you, pop it into your mouth and chew. After a few failed attempts to roll the betelnut we said our goodbyes. I insisted on paying the gentleman for making me a brick so I gave him 100 rupees which is only $1.25 but he seemed thrilled. The group of them

Make 5000 rupees a day between the five of them which is about $12 a day.

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