Nepali Ann - Arva Bijaya, Nepal sometime in the monsoon

So 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 patchwork 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.

First, seedlings are grown in small patches, dense and brilliantly 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.

The job is back-breaking and their legs are scarred with leech infections. Often the ox have a mind of their own.

Once the paddy is ready, the baby rice plants are removed and transferred in bundles by the women.






Spread 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.




I 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 of stubble.

Things went fine 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. 

They all found it pretty funny.

Some 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.

About 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.






When 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 their behind. 

Here I am, Nepali Ann ...



Well 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.

The 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.




But nothing here is easy. 40 kg bags of rice are filled and transported to homes and warehouses the usual rural way. On their backs. 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. 

In 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.


In typical third-world fashion, nothing goes to waste in a process that has been refined over thousands of years. 

After bagging the rice, the stalks are sifted to draw out further grains and separate rocks and other inedible matter.




Then 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.





Well, 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 they look. 

So 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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