Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Different Order

Perhaps the sugar cube is a good place to start. After all, I spent hours and days in the filtered sunlight of Emikaneni’s summer kitchen watching the drama play out on the windowsill and listening to the voices ask questions.

Fall arrived softly in the rural Transylvania village of Ujifalu. Ujifalu means “new village” but “new” is relative and means newer than the village that is centuries older. In other words, Ujifalu may be 200 years newer than the village next door but still older than the western migration of Europe into North America.

Well into October the sun continued to shine, the corn was drying on the stalks and a few storks lingered before departing for a gentler winter roost. I had a bed and food in exchange for labor. One day my work was to help harvest the field of corn behind the barn at Emika and Imre’s house. The walk to the village that morning was memorable and I arrived early to sit and wait in Emikaneni’s summer kitchen for when the time was right to head to the fields.

The morning sun filled the kitchen, streaming in through the old wavy glass in the paint- coated frames. On the windowsill of poured concrete, dark grey and worn with years of exposure, I saw a sugar rectangle. Unlike a new cube fresh from the box, its edges were worn and rounded. I kept myself busy tracking the light, looking for movement in the barnyard and talking to the cat. Emikaneni went about her usual business of keeping a home.

By ten fifteen the ants arrived. One by one until there was a basis of seven or so. They came for sugar. The first ones left and more came. As I marveled at this parade, my mother arrived and then my friend and then my husband and his dead mother until I was no longer alone in my thoughts. They all had something to say about the scene before me. One offered a small white disk ant trap with enticing odors and doorways. Another squashed the little beasts with a translucent forefinger and another threw the sugar away.

In Emikaneni’s kitchen I watched common sense prevail and my own cultural non-sense unravel. Though work is hard, movement and actions are efficient. There is little need for poison when a sugar cube will do. In the hall beside the bag of nuts there is a little red bowl of food for the mice- that is if the cat doesn’t get them first. Outside on the hen house a fox pelt or two hangs. Barnyard voodoo.

During my stay I watched a different order present itself and one that challenged the western capitalistic consumption-production model that provides a solution, redefines normal and creates a problem.

In Ujfalu it is not just barnyard voodoo but an understanding of and appreciation for an intricate system, natural order and practicality that is straight and to the point. At times, brutal in its honesty and yet relieving too.