Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Every Picture Tells A Story

The cliche, "Every Picture Tells A Story", has been used widely as well as often.

I would like to use it today to provide my interpretation of a few photographs from the recent rice harvest here in Isaan.

I had written about the rice thresher that had been used to thresh the family rice last Saturday. I described how it was old, had no doors, and was most likely held together by the many coats of paint on it. Today while editing photos from my other camera of the threshing process I came upon some photos of the thresher. One of the difficulties of maintaining a blog and taking so many photographs is that there is often not sufficient time to review and edit all photos before posting a relevant blog entry in a timely fashion. My preference is to post blogs in a timely fashion because it better connects this world with the readers world(s) in real time. I want to share the life of real people in real time with others to enhance the experience for all. This often requires a compromise with writing the blog and perhaps using all the optimum photos.

When I worked on the photos of the threshing machine today I remembered the cliche and it occurred to me that every picture tells a story but what story does it tell? It is like a picture of a 12 oz glass with 6 oz of water in it. Is the story concerning a half empty glass or a half full glass. We all know that the story is based upon one's perspective, experience, and personal agenda. So it is with these photos.

One story about these pictures could be centered around the negatives and the things that the thresher, machine and man, do not have. There are no doors, there are not adequate lighting, there is no air conditioning, there are no safety belts, there are no ..., he doesn't have much money, he doesn't take care of his equipment well, he doesn't look after his safety very well, he doesn't ... , he isn't ... This is the story of pessimism.

The story that I want to share is a story of optimism. I see a piece of equipment that is fit for purpose and gets the job done. In more developed countries or areas, a threshing machine could cost $100,000 USD or more - well beyond the ability of Isaan farmers to purchase or to support. This threshing machine, in its current state and condition, serves the needs of the local community of subsistence farmers. The owner besides being able to provide a needed service to his community as well as to support his family.

On a typical day of the month long harvest season, he will be paid about 8 bags of rice for a total of 240 bags for the season. One bag will feed his family for two months so he will acquire more than enough bags of rice during the harvest to feed his family. He will be able to sell the surplus rice to dealers and agents for about 500 Baht ($15.11 USD for 110 pounds of rice) a bag to pay for diesel fuel, and other operating expenses as well as to support his family.

In a one month harvest season, he will earn 117,000 baht or the equivalent of 9,750 baht a month for the year. This is no where nearly as good as the crab fishermen on television's "Deadliest Catch" but pretty good for a Thai farmer.

This story of optimism is also a testament to the freedom that many people here in Southeast Asia to make a living as best they can and anyway that they can. There are not many government regulations, permits, reports or applications necessary to start up a small business. The people are free to exercise their initiative and entrepreneurial skills to make a living no matter their economic status. They focus on what they can do rather than finding or wallowing in the excuses for all the things and reasons that they can not.

Although there is not a Thanksgiving holiday here in Isaan, I am sure that the Lao Loum people are thankful to be able to earn a living, with minimal governmental interference and involvement, even with equipment that is only just fit for purpose - a blessing that we should all enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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