journal excerpt from march 9, 2003 andhra pradesh, southern india
i’m pretty sure they're called the "lambada”—the tribal women that were in town today. (i double checked the name.) apparently they’d heard we were here and came to dance for us.
we’ve encountered other groups of dancing women from neighboring villages while traveling over the past few days…women who stand in the middle of narrow roads like bandits, waving their sarees and surrounding the car as it slows down to avoid hitting them. once we’re surrounded, the village women usually argue with the unfortunate person in the front passenger seat, demanding money so they'll let the car pass. despite the fact that we’re surrounded, a gang of skinny women in sarees don’t seem all that physically threatening. but there is something disturbing about a dozen aggressive women simultaneously yelling, laughing, clicking their tongues. and i never thought i’d ever feel nervous about being “cursed” by villagers who get mad at you for not giving them a couple of rupees.
but these tribal women today were different. these women of the lambada tribe looked like their souls were a thousand years old. like they stepped out of mythology itself. these women had wildly intense eyes. their presence alone stirred an air of otherworldliness and demanded reverence. their vibrant storybook colors (i was told they wear these clothes all the time--working, sleeping, always). the multiple bracelets made from bone and jewelry cluttered around necks, ears and noses, braided into hair. the brown teeth in the older women displayed widely and oddly/beautifully in their smiles. the hundreds of mirrors sewn into layers of thick fabric that made them all shimmer like water as they pounded their heels into the dry, dusty road and danced without any music—just the rhythm of their unified voices and movements…
…i risked looking like a silly tourist and asked for a photo with them. but as my request was being translated, i realized they don’t get many tourists and they looked thrilled. they quickly gathered in a semi-circle, church-choir-style. i handed my camera to s. and went to stand at one end of the group. as soon as i approached the group, one of the women grabbed hold of my hand—like i was a long-lost sister. we stood shoulder to shoulder in the intense heat. me, and a tribe of ancient-looking women, holding hands like children and smiling for the camera.