The women went out first thing after breakfast, ten of them in all, with a few young girls and smaller children in tow. Each carried a woven shoulder bag and a sharpened stick about two fingers in thickness. Megda seemed to be in charge of the group, but each knew what she was doing without being told.
We followed a path leading away from the village to the south of the Meeting Hall. Not far along it we reached a glade where there stood an enormous oak tree. The young man I met last night, Jakan, stood beneath it, obviously deep in thought. He didn’t seem to notice us passing by and none of the women or children disturbed him. In fact, they seemed to be doing their utmost not to disturb him.
Past the tree, we took another path more to the south west until we reached a place Megda told me is called Triffin Glok. There they laid down their baskets and began to dig beneath a vine that grew quite prolifically there. It not only covered the ground, but trailed over trunks and branches making it quite difficult to find a place to kneel.
The holes they dug went quite deep before they began to pull out small tubors, varying in size from a child’s fist to that of a grown man. The women banged them on the side of the rough shoulder bag to remove most of the dirt before placing them inside the bags. As they dug, they sang a song with a regular beat to aid their digging. The words were, as far as I could tell, without meaning – a series of sounds, rather like a lullaby. Megda tells me it is one that has been handed down from generation to generation and it’s not unusual for someone to change a ‘word’ for the fun of it. Any original meaning has, therefore, been lost.
From memory, the ‘words’ went something like this:
Kabi, kabi, kabina
Sooji, sooji soorum
Hopi, hopi, hopina
Baji, baji, boorum
Chiki, chiki chikina
Pati pati poorum
Nipi, nipi, nipina
Joti, joti, joorum
After two hours, with the bags full, the party returned to the village. Each woman poured her bag into a large, communal tub of water and they sang again as they scrubbed the yams clean and laid them on a woven mat to dry.
Before the sun got too high (but the yams had dried from their washing), the women stowed what they had gathered and washed, into open baskets and took all but a few (for their own meal tonight) into the storehouse.
Unlike the tubors gathered by the Kutira people of the far western island of Gyri, the yams in Arrakesh contain no poisons and require no special treatment before being cooked – boiled, baked or roasted. They are sweeter than potato, though a little more powdery on the palate.
Tomorrow, I am to see the cottage that has been prepared for me. I am a little embarrassed at how much effort has been put into seeing that I am comfortable in my new surroundings. Even when I have my own place to stay, Megda tells me that I am to be fed by the villagers. I must watch for a way that I can repay their kindness without going against their traditions in any way.