Ann - Arva Bijaya, Nepal sometime
in the monsoon
once having resigned myself that travel in the monsoon season is for
hardier stock, I settled into the
pace and lifestyle of
rural village life. I am staying with my family here, the Sapkotas.
There is home is
in a valley nestled in
the foothills below the mighty
Annapurna range. I look
out each day and all I see as far as I look is the beautiful green
of the rice paddies
laid out before me and carved up into the hillsides. It's harvest time
and all the rice planted three months ago is ready to rock and roll.
Rice planting is tough
business, a long
and drawn out process.
It is no wonder rice is so holy
and never a kernal wasted. After seeing how it's
done, you would be
picking it off the tabletop too.
seedlings are grown in small patches, dense
green. They are grown prior to harvest and ready for replanting.
As soon as the previous paddy is harvested, the men arrive with their
ox. Still using the same ancient technology, the
men wade behind the ox and plow in knee deep
mud that houses scores
of leeches. First they cut the earth with a large
knife, then they change
to a large comb that evens
the earth out leaving
behind a fine silt. Tractor
plows are used in the Terai but here in the Mid-hills of Nepal, they
cannot criss-cross the hilly terrain.
job is back-breaking and their legs are scarred with leech infections.
Often the ox have a mind of their own.
the paddy is ready,
the baby rice plants are
removed and transferred
in bundles by the women.
across the width of the paddy, each grasps a bundle
of seedling and moving backward, replant them about three inches apart
til the entire
field is covered. Moving
from paddy to paddy, they work in teams, their hands flying to
place each blade of rice into the soft silt.
tried my hand at planting, working all days in the fields
with the women of Arva. Plunging
into mud, it felt like quicksand, as I dropped in to my knees. Clutching
my baby seedlings I
proceeded to plant with
deliberate care, making sure each blade was upright and evenly planted
before taking steps backwards, my feet creating a sucking vacuum sound
as I tugged them up and down. When I finally looked up, I
realized that the women
had completed the
field and had left me
with a foot-wide strip
of unplanted earth to
move backwards into. It looked like a swipe of a shaver across a field
for til I felt a stinging burn within
the mud. I lifted my
foot to discover what looked
like a worm but felt
like a drill press burrowing
into my leg. LEECH!
Trying hard not to panic, I
screamed. The women
next to me, quick as flash, pull out her machete and was about to give
me a close shave, when she saw the look on my face. So instead, she
took out a match from her Nepali version of a
fanny pack ( fabric
wrapped around her
waist) and burned it off, jiffy quick.
all found it pretty funny.
fields, depending on their proximity to irrigation, are more leech
infested than others. In a bad paddy, the women either tug or
slice one off every few minutes, not bothering to waste a match. What
good would it do.
a month and a half later, the women have to weed the fields, pulling up
stray plants that threaten the harvest.
Those single blades of rice have
now become large green bundles and all of Nepal is awash in color.
it rains, the women wear a special basket they weave themselves. Between
the layers of straw, they place plastic sheet. Inside, they string a
tumpline to hang from their forehead. The ingenious design is a large
circle folded in half, and when worn, it covers from their head to past
I am, Nepali Ann ...
now, I tried my hand at rice harvesting. Far
easier. You just bend,
cut and grab, bend, cut and
grab. Over and over.
Easy peesy lemon squeesy. If I could just handle the machete properly.
Moving in row again across the field, the women sliced effortlessly
through the rice stalks, while I was hacked and sawed my way through.
women work, the boy runs around and collects the large bundles and takes
them to a central area.
There, plastic tarps are spread
out and the stalks are beaten
over a rock to shake the rice loose.
The atmosphere at harvest seems
happy. Children swarm around after school, playing in the leftover
straw. Women sing songs and laugh and joke. Resigned to the flow of
life, they make the most of it.
nothing here is easy. 40 kg bags of rice are filled and transported to
homes and warehouses
the usual rural way. On
It's called a dokko and
it is a large jute strap
that wraps around the
forehead to the load on your
back. Using your two
hands to steady it, you carry
100 lbs on your bag,
your neck muscles feeling like they are pressing into your spinal cord.
Never twist your head, look with your whole body.
return for risking spinal injury, I was
rewarded with a
steaming cup of chai for carrying the load of rice to this man's home.
typical third-world fashion, nothing goes to waste in a process that has
been refined over thousands of years.
bagging the rice, the stalks are sifted to draw out further grains and
separate rocks and other inedible matter.
the stalks are laid out in the sun to dry. Once they are completely dry,
they are bundled and stored, feed for the animals for the next season.
living all this time in one place cannot fail to change a person.
I began adopting the
local ways, how they live, how they work, how
they eat, and esp. how
here is Nepali ann. Never fear, she will be arriving
in your neighborhood
soon, with her lungi, chollo,
dokko, douri, churra,
pote, khukri ...
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