Saturday, November 16, 2013

Another Rice Harvest

Harvesting Rice Outside of Tahsang Village

Our rains. in Isaan, ceased about three weeks ago.  The rice paddies that only a month ago were covered with standing water are now parched.  The rice plants that a month ago was a vibrant green a month ago has been transformed under the hot sun into straw with heavy drooping heads of rice kernels.  Another growing season has concluded and the time is here once again to harvest the rice.

As you drive along the highways, country roads, and dirt trails of Isaan you will come upon many locations where people heavily clothed and in anonymity under large hats along with tee shirt masks are stooped over cutting the rice stalks.

We have been travelling the highways and roads a great deal lately due to Duang having to care for her father either in the Kumphawapi Hospital or at his home in Tahsang Village.  I bring her out and her cousin returns her to our home in the evening.  As the youngest daughter, Duang has a great deal of responsibility for taking care of her father - it is the way things are in the ethnic Lao culture.  Fortunately her sister and two brothers help out so Duang does not have to spend nights away from home and gets a break during the early morning.  I use our trips out to Kumphawapi and Tahsang Village to reconnoiter locations for photography on my return trip.

Along the the highways and byways you will come upon places where motorbikes, farm wagons, and sometimes even bicycles are parked - a sure tip off that harvesting is going on in the nearby fields.

In other locations you can see people working in the adjacent fields sometimes with little more than their broad brimmed straw hats visible above the standing rice plants.

In addition to the rice harvest, people are also occupied planting sugar cane while others are harvesting reeds that are used to weave sahts.

There is much more work related to the rice harvest than going out into the dry paddies and cutting the stalks.  After the rice has been cut, the stalks are laid out in the paddy to dry out further in the sun.  After drying the individual stalks are gathered up and bundled into sheaves - several stalks held together at their base by using a couple rice plants as string to tie them.  After the rice in a paddy has been bundled into sheaves, the sheaves have to be gathered and brought to a central location.

At the central location the sheaves are either loaded on to a farm truck or placed on blue plastic netting.  The sheaves that are placed on the plastic netting will be threshed either by hand or by a truck mounted threshing machine at that location.  The sheaves that are loaded on the farm truck will be transported another location for threshing.

Loading Sun Dried Rice Into Fertilizer Bags

As part of the threshing process, the rice kernels are placed in recycled fertilizer bags - 50 kg (110 pounds).  If the rice is sufficiently dry, the bags of rice are put inside of raised granaries in the yards of the farmers.  If the rice is not sufficiently dry after threshing, which appears to be the case this year, the rice is spread out once again on the blue plastic netting in front yards, backyards, side yards, parking lots, vacant lots, and even on Wat grounds to dry another 3 or 4 days in the sun.  After the rice is dry enough it is placed back into the fertilizer bags for long term storage.

Around Tahsang Village I often find myself amongst family members.  As I approach the good natured shouting and laughing start.  The family is well aware of my passion to learn and photograph their culture.  They seem to enjoy my efforts and will often call Duang to inform her of "interesting" things that they will be doing the next day or day after.

My efforts to photograph ethnic life here in Isaan is not limited to people that I am familiar with or even restricted to the times that Duang is with me.  I venture out on my own when Duang's family obligations prevent her from coming with me.  I often find myself photographing total strangers. 

Like the family members the people have no objections to be observed and photographed.  They seem to be as interested in me as I am of them.  I suspect they may find our interactions as entertaining as I do.

I hope that they learn a little about American culture from me as I learn more of their culture.  Some how with my limited Thai, their limited English, and a great deal of pantomime we are able to communicate on issues such as rice farming in America, working in America, and ordinary life in America.

I do not discuss Thai politics.  I know about "Red Shirts" and "Yellow Shirts" but I laughingly tell them foreigners are "Blue Shirts".  I am a guest here and good guests do not interfere in their host's affairs.  I tell the people that I just want whoever is in power to let me stay.  That ends, with a good laugh, any further attempts to discuss local politics.  Like it is often said here "Good for you. good for me"

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