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Harvest time…

Last year we spent a month in Northern India, and for the first time in my life, I saw expansive bright green rice fields. Their beauty stood out as they stretched across dry desert lands, growing strong in the wet fields. I watched as the farmers bent over with their sickles, cutting and piling the golden stalks once they were separated from their green bases, and I wished that I could get out there in the field and try it myself.

And then the opportunity arised. A few days ago I was at a goodbye party for a German girl who has been staying in our village with some friends, and she asked if I’d be interested in helping with the rice harvest. Instantly I agreed to meet them at the property the next morning, and learn how to harvest rice. I was excited. Nervous, I heard stories about how to cut with the sickle and saw the scars from people who had held the stalks in the wrong direction and done damage to their hands or to their legs whilst wielding the rusty knives.

I got up early and pulled on some comfortable clothes, I slathered myself in sunscreen and bug cream, I got on my bike and headed out to the fields.

Harvesting rice is back breaking work, especially in the heat like we are having here at the moment. I’d been in the feild for less than five minutes when sweat was literally dripping off my nose. I had a very rusty sickle, that honestly really didn’t have a very sharp blade, which perhaps was a good thing – it stopped me from cutting off my thumb or anything like that… but it did make for an interesting learning curve. The Indonesian mother of a friend of mine tried to teach me (in Indonesian) how to harvest the rice, and laughed good heartedly at me when I couldn’t do it very well. I blamed my dull sickle, which perhaps was part of the problem – but on top of that, I don’t think I was doing it right. By the time I’d done about a 2m squared section of rice field I had it figured out. You have to grasp the rice with your thumb up, not down, to minimise risk of cutting yourself, and then hook the sickle around the stalks pulling it back towards yourself at an upward angle. Slice. Done. Pile it up gently next to you so that it can be sorted and separated later.

I stood in the field, barefoot, muddy feet, navigating my way through rice stalks careful not to step on and ruin the grain. My hands pulled the dry golden stalks and they chafed against my sweaty skin, my hands clasped the rusted handle of my sickle and pulled it, cutting swiftly through the ripe stalks. I did this for an hour and a half. Methodically, bit by bit, stalk by stalk until the entire field was finished. The other women and I pulled our feet out of the muddy ground, shook the snails from our legs and wiped the sweat from our brows. I was brought a cool bottle of water as I rinsed the caked black mud from my legs. The boys went through the field collecting our cuttings and laying them on a large tarp that lay on the grass, ready for the sorting machine.

It was satisfying work. I have a lot of respect for the women who do this for days on end every few months. I was hot, I was exhausted, I had a rash on my arms from the grains chafing at my sweaty skin… but I had a big smile on my face as I rode away from the feild. I’d done something for my community. And I was able to check off one of my ‘Things to do before I die’ – learn how to harvest rice.

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