Friday, July 4, 2008

Rice Planting

I was trying to think what could make this entry have a unifying theme and finally I came up with it, the rainy season. Once again the rainy season is once again upon the verdant valleys and forests and I am now convinced that it is by far my favorite season. The days get no hotter than the mid 80s (Farenheit) and the nights are cool, usually in the high 60s. Although it rains most everyday, the rain is intermittent and provides a refreshing coolness that revitalizes every living thing. The rain comes down in torrents, but lasts usually no longer than an hour. After the rain releases its watery grip the cotton white clouds disperse releasing the brilliant blue of the sky behind. The birds particularly seem to like this respite and are out in force. The rain revitalizes and invigorates everything and turns the landscape into a green paradise.

The early evening, the couple hours before the sunsets, has always been my favorite time of the day. The wind dies down, the harsh heat from midday relaxes and the rays from the sun cast a glowing light which is ever so artistically interrupted by the blackness of the shadows. In the mountains of my site are especially amazing during this time of the day and even more so during the rainy season. The clouds are giant white monsters until the setting sun catches them and turns them into glowing apparitions of immeasurable beauty. Every evening the mountains that frame my village are draped in a unique sea of light and clouds. I often enjoy the view from my hammock, but the best way to fully be awed by the changing nature of this time of the day and season is to take a bike ride on the many paths the crisscross the forest.

The beginning of the rainy season also marks the beginning of the rice planting season. Last year I moved to my village just after the rice had already been planted. It had already grown several feet and was displaying its neon green shoots. This year I have been able to see the process from the beginning. I think in areas with more advanced agriculture this process may differ to some extent. Most areas of the world, in particular the country I call home, have seen almost the complete mechanization of farming. This couldn’t be further from the truth here in Karen country. A small enclosed area that is usually part of the rice patty is planted early in the season. The rice is planted in a compact manner because these seedlings will be transplanted later on in the year in a more dispersed arrangement.

Last year I was privileged to be able to harvest the rice with Karen people and this year I was fortunate enough to be able to plant the rice as well. I was hanging out at the local branch of Compassion International when I was whisked away for my first rice planting experience. In one area a few men were tilling the rice patties while in another the women were rhythmically placing the small green shoots into their new home in the thick grey mud covered by several inches of flowing water. Although planting rice was not nearly as difficult as harvesting, or strenuous for that matter, it still made me feel rather inadequate.

The women were effortlessly extracting three or four small shoots of rice and effortlessly placing them in tidy rows. All the while, they navigated their feet in between and around the previously planted rice that was left below and behind them. I was handed a bundle of rice seedlings and jumped into the mucky mess. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I was not most efficient rice planter, but I was getting the job done. I started at the same place as the other women, but after only about ten minutes I was at least fifteen feet behind. I figured that my neat rows and attention to detail would make up for my lack of speed, but as you can imagine, that wasn’t quite the case. When we finished one patty, I looked back and my section and not only were my rows crooked, unlike the women’s nice little shoots sticking neatly out of the water, mine were sticking out in all directions and I’m pretty sure that in most of them I used to many rice seedlings. I guess you live and you learn!

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