Saturday, August 17, 2013

All Along the Back Roads

Harvesting Peanuts In Isaan

These are busy times along the back roads of Isaan.  The monsoon rains have transformed the countryside. The rice paddies are verdant rectangular patches dotting the land.  Farmers are still engaged in transplanting rice stalks from the nursery paddies to the paddies where the plants will mature and give rice kernels for harvesting in October.

Crop rotation is practiced here in Isaan and is a necessity due to poor soil conditions and lack of money for fertilizers or soil amendments. Dependent upon the time of cycle, the same piece of land is used to raise rice, cassava, sugar cane, and peanuts.

The sugar cane has undergone a rapid growth spurt due to the almost daily rains and is now as high as an elephant's eye.  The cane will continue to mature until December when the annual sugar cane harvest will commence.  In anticipation and in preparation for the upcoming harvest, the Kumphawapi Sugar Company is expanding and improving their truck staging area.  Three years ago the area where loaded sugar cane trucks waited their turn to enter the refinery to be offloaded was a large dusty field with huge billows of choking red dust rising from the winds or passage of trucks.  That area has now been paved over with concrete and surrounded with grass covered earthen berms to contain any run off as well as to restrict traffic.

Just down the road from the refinery entrance, the company is busy preparing the land to receive the huge amounts of organic waste from the sugar extraction process.  The sickening sweet smelling black waste material is sold to local farmers who spread it on their land in an attempt to improve the soil.

Cassava plants have also experienced a rapid growth.  Large trucks filled with cassava tubers are starting to travel along the back roads transporting the cassava harvest from the fields or interim gathering points to the processing facilities.

The heavy vehicle traffic from the sugar cane harvest earlier this year and the heavy monsoonal rains of the past four months are starting  to have a deleterious effect on the local roads.  Potholes and alligator-ed pavement are becoming more of a challenge when driving along the country roads.  Typically the roads will remain or get worse until after the next sugar harvest when the roads will be repaired only to be repaired in two or three more years.

Roadside Stand Outside of Tahsang Village
Now is also a time of abundance along the back roads.  Sweet corn is being harvested.  Peanuts are also being harvested.  Many fruits such as mangoes and custard apples are in season.  There are many roadside stands now where farmers sell their corn, fruit, and peanuts.  We stopped at one of the stands and bought mangoes, peanuts, and sweet corn.  Unlike the USA, you buy cooked corn at roadside stands.

Duang Selecting Bag of Peanuts to Buy
In one of the fields along side of the road, a man and woman were harvesting peanuts.  I had not photographed peanut harvesting yet so I found a convenient as well as relatively safe place to park the truck. Duang and I got out of the truck and commenced our cautious walk out to the harvesters.  It was quite a challenge due to the amount of overgrown weeds, the mud, and puddles.  The woman saw us cautiously approaching and yelled out to Duang with directions for the best route out to her location.  We arrived out to the woman without any incident.

Removing Peanuts From the Bush
The woman was seated on a pile of stripped peanut bushes under the makeshift shade of net cloth and two umbrellas - some protection from the hot sun but no relief from the oppressive humidity.  She removed the peanuts from the bushes and placed the peanuts in a plastic bucket placed off to her side.  Her fingertips were caked with mud that adhered to the peanuts as the bushes were pulled from the muddy field.  Like all the other farming activities here in Isaan the work was monotonous and oppressive.  In no time at all sweat was pouring down my forehead into my eyes and I was doing little but taking photographs!

Harvesting Peanuts
Not far from the woman, a man, I assume to be her husband, was pulling peanut bushes out of the soft moist ground.  The bushes came out of the ground with ease.  After he had accumulated several bushes, he walked them over to the woman's location and added them to her pile for processing.

Gathering In the Peanuts
More Peanut Bushes to be Processed
As I have found on my excursions out into the fields of Southeast Asia, the farmers seemed to appreciate the break in their monotony with my interest in photographing them.  I suspect that they find it amusing that a foreigner would be so interested in them that he would risk limb and dignity to go out to where they are working in order to take photographs.

My Mom used to often admonish me with the question "Who do you think that you are, someone special?".  Well, I know that I am not "special".  I don't believe that anyone should consider themselves to be special. However, just about everyone is "interesting" and along the back roads of Isaan there are many of interesting places as well as things and plenty of interesting people.

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