I tell my guide I’m interested in people, culture, and village life – not mosques, museums, or churches - and he gets it. An example of this is his decision to take me to see the only blacksmith still working in the area, not something I specifically asked for, although I did say I wanted to see real traditional village life.
The blacksmith’s shop is really just a shed with a forge, anvil, and bellows set up years ago outside the smith’s very modest house on a small hill off the road. When we get there the smith is working on a sixteen inch long by eight inch wide hoe blade. The owner of the blade is seated on a bench with his wife watching the smith and the supporting cast strengthen and extend the blade. The forge bellows are being operated by the smith’s wife standing on a four foot high platform located a foot or two behind the forge where she alternately raises and lowers two huge homemade “plungers” on long bamboo poles into two twelve inch wide tubes that the smith has crafted by cutting the tops and bottoms off one gallon metal buckets and then welding the buckets together to form eight foot long bellows pipes. The smith’s wife raises one plunger up in its tube as she lowers the other, then lowers the raised plunger as the raises the lowered one. Her stroke is long and steady, her arms lift up from her waist to above her head and back down again, first left then right, in a graceful rigorous dance, the cotton sleeves of her shirt fluttering, her head bobbing, the embers rising in flame as one plunger descends in the tube and air is pushed from the back of the forge across the coals. And as the other plunger is raised in its tube, air is sucked in from the front of the forge. The embers burn brightly. The tip of the blade turns red. The smith lifts the blade from the fire with a pair of thongs in his left hand to rest on the ancient anvil. He holds a two or three pound hammer in his other hand. When the blade is lifted from the fire the smith’s two teenaged sons rise from a nearby bench with their twelve pound long handled sledge hammers and the three of them rain alternating powerful blows onto to the hot blade, shaping it, flattening it, stretching the steel, sending out hundreds of sparks in fiery arcs, their rhythm fast, precise, powerful, tympanic, the blows seeming to fall as fast as the sparks fly, the men’s coordination a thing of beauty as the metal yields to their will, the eternal wife and mother resting, the embers cooling, until the smith returns the iron to the fire and the bellows worker breaths life again into the coals with her stokes.
I watch this dance mesmerized. The smith is a small man, at least sixty years old, his wife no younger. And they are working hard, really hard, and fast. And along with their sons they render a most ordinary task into a thing of poetic and choreographic beauty, seeing the mother’s arms raising and lowering, the fire enflamed, the rhythmic pinging of the hammers, the shower of sparks, the cats crawling around my feet.