A visit to my friend’s tea estate was part of my plans for today. Somebody had passed away in my village where we have purchased a house and are renovating--and as a tradition, nobody works in the village, and all stores are closed when someone goes home to God. I am across the Ketti Valley, just down from the Keraihada junction where I live. The mourning music wafts across, and I can hear the drumbeats and the live and amplified voices of my village elders singing. The melody pulls at my heart--I can feel the intent of their song. Each village has their own funeral  tunes.

Tea, which was only introduced twenty + years ago, flanks the ridges and is terraced down to the valley floor. I am near the parcel of land that she and her family rent and operate. I hear a familiar sound, a cough, which is my friend’s voice.and I make my way up a steep embankment. Where stones have been lain as steps, “Aisha evide?” I call out. “Where is Aisha?” I hear a laugh and see her on my far upper left. My path was leading up to the steep right. She points me up to a direction—just as I am about to amble up. I lose footing and fall straight on my back on top of a rock. “Huuuhh,” the wind is knocked out of me but surprisingly my fall was cushioned against the rock by the bag I was carrying, which contained an umbrella, a camera, a shawl, and my journal. I really didn’t feel anything other than my breath being knocked out. Thank you, God, for this protection. I come up smiling, and Aisha has a funny smile on her face. I don’t let on about the fall. As I clear the ridge, she offers me a blue plastic ,  apron—this is what the tea harvesters wear to stay dry. I refuse, but soon see that  my cotton corduroy pants will soon get very wet. The harvesters I can hear from a distance, and as I clear the ridge, I am welcomed by three more smiling faces—Aisha’s aunt and two construction workers we employ. This is clearly an off day for people of Achanakkal, but not for everyone. For the past two days the construction at our home has been halted, because on each day, a person passed away. I nestle in to the tight fitting paths, the tea branches supporting me whether I choose to stand or not. My companions are cutting the leaves at a rapid pace, the goal is to finish about two and a half to three acres in three days. They are talking amiably, and I hear my name peppered in the conversation. I’m not following very well—this is Malayalam, not Tamil, or mostly the aforementioned language. “Why don’t you buy some land with tea on it?” This was a question directed at me. “I don’t even drink tea!” Laughter. It is incomprehensible that someone wouldn’t want to drink tea here in India. Chechi’s phone rings across the way, and she sets her sickle down to answer it. Aisha informs me that it is her son calling from Saudi Arabia. Yes, I have seen their wedding photos when my husband and I visited her earlier this year. I’m continuously surprised at how connected people are today. She’s in the middle of a tea terrace talking to her boy in Saudi.

Meanwhile, I take pictures and some video footage until my battery runs out. “Finished? How?” Aisha asks. “I forgot to charge my camera.” Hmm…well, it was a casual visit. I do recall that the invitation was so that I could take pictures. A thermos of tea and coffee are produced, along with generous packets of cashew cookies. I sip on just a little coffee and have some cookies (biscuits). After a little more conversation, I take leave so that they can do their work. Aisha escorts me to the edge of the estate site, where I see and greet her brother.  My gracious hosts continue their day “Call me when you get home.” I appreciate that she looks out for me. My walk back up the hill was steep and slow. But I didn’t really feel it, like I didn’t feel any pain in the fall. Things seem to be getting easier. Even making friends is getting easier. Coffee in the Tea Estate.