Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15th, 2010

The past few weeks I've been enjoying all the "cultural exchange" goals of
the Peace Corps... I've been out to my friend Joslyne's rice fields
harvesting rice, then learning to pound it with a wooden stick and basin (is
there a word for this in English that I'm forgetting?). It feels good to be
farming, standing on a steep hillside with a group of women chatting away,
me trying to catch a word or two and make sense of the
conversation... someone died, someone had a baby, something funny that they
all laugh about but I'm not sure what... it started to rain and we all
huddled together under a shelter they had built there earlier, when the rice
was still not ready to harvest and kids stay in the fields all day under the
shelter, throwing rocks and balls of clay at these red birds who eat the

The harvest is fun and easy, done with a small knife in one hand, and
putting the individual stalk of rice in the other hand. The other women
harvest about three times faster than me, but they've also been doing it for
years, and constantly tell me how "mahay" (really good) I am. My slowness
in everything is a good lesson in humility, which I can never have enough
lessons in. When the eleven-year-old girl is stronger at carrying huge
bundles of rice on her head down the steep hill than I am, I am really
humbled. And inspired to get stronger! But carrying heavy things on my
head for a long time hurts my back, so I have to lower my pride and let the
kid help. Pounding rice also is hard work - using a wooden basin
and long wooden stick, every now and then I fling some onto the
ground! But I'm getting better at it, and have even done it with two
other people--once you get a rhythm going and focus on the middle of
the basin, it's not hard.

The most interesting rice-related activity happened a few weeks ago,
when the first rice is harvested they have a tradition of offering
some to their ancestors. I was invited, so went and sat in a hut full
of people, right next to the mat where they placed six piles of lango
(pounded not-yet-dry rice that's really delicious, you eat it
uncooked), an ear of corn, some honeycomb, some tobacco and sugar-cane
alcohol, and the small knife that you use to harvest the rice. The
eldest man, my friend's father, called out to the ancestors, and said
the names of everyone who had died that people in the room listed.
Then chaos erupted as everyone in the room jumped up to grab lango,
and everything else from the mat--it was like a pinata had dropped and
everyone was laughing over who got the toka gasy (alcohol), and kids
were stuffing their mouths with the lango. So I guess we helped the
ancestors out, eating the food for them. It was fun to watch.

Then they put out two huge banana leaves, and poured a basket of rice
out, placed small bowls of beans and squash around it, and we all ate.
I was sitting next to the eldest man, and he kept heaping rice in my
bowl. I kept trying to eat it all, until my friend Solo told me I
could stop if I was full!

So that's the rice activity lately. It's fall here, so harvest time.
I'm also planting my garden bit by bit, digging up my yard to make
beds. The neighbor kids come over when they see me out there and
help. They are really sweet. Last night I heard someone pounding
rice next door and looked over and it was the tiny neighbor boy, just
throwing his body into each pound! I wanted to go over and help, but
he was already done. They are so hard-working! They have one more
week of vacation, then the kids go back to school. I'm hoping to meet
with the teachers when they come back and see how I can get involved
with the school, doing environmental education or something. My
language skills are still limited, so the thought of standing in front
of a bunch of kids talking is scary, but maybe we can get a few small
groups going...

One last little story before I get out of this internet cafe and go
eat lunch. On April 1st, I went out to the latrine to empty my po in
the morning. (Did I already tell you about the po, aka chamberpot?)
I keep a bar of soap and an old sponge in the latrine so it's easy to
clean out each morning. I unlocked my latrine, and went to get the
soap, and it was gone! I thought, did someone steal it? But the
latrine is locked and there's no way for someone to have gotten in.
Then I thought, maybe it was a rat--but would it have eaten the WHOLE
soap, plus the plastic bag it sat on? Then I thought, maybe I kicked
it in the hole, but I couldn't see the plastic bag floating down
there, and I would have had to be really unobservant not to have
noticed it fall in. So for days, every time I went to the bathroom,
I'd think about that soap...maybe it was an April Fool's joke! A few
days later, I put a new soap in there, and the next morning, it was
dragged from one side of the latrine to the other, with little teeth
marks in it! So I guess it was a rat after all... At least it's not
in my house!!!

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