More on Harvest
I feel as though my last few entries have been lacking a little bit, so in order to maintain my meager readership, I’m hoping to make this an extra good post.
It starts out as the last one finished, with harvest. Wheat is the main crop here and it takes a long time to harvest. My family is now finished, and I think only a few families have any left.
One reason that it takes so long is that many of the fields are so far away. My town is in a valley, with just small fields surrounding it. As the valley continues up the riverbed, it narrows, eliminating any space for fields. After maybe 5 or so miles, the valley widens up greatly, with lots of space for farming, which is where the majority of the farming land is. The farming space is nestled up against the mountain and often on top of little hills. The wide part of the valley stretches for maybe 8 miles and much of it is covered in (now harvested) wheat fields. So if your fields are at the far end of the valley, you’re looking at maybe 13 miles between your house and the field. At first I couldn’t believe how big it was, but I realize now that it’s the land of two different douars (communities), making up maybe 1,200 people. This expanse of fields has its own name and there are even different names for different sections of the land. The distance that separates the town from the fields makes the harvest that much harder.
We woke up early (4:45) and rode two donkeys to our field. My host mom had to stay home to take care of the cow, so my family enlisted the help of two women to harvest – my dad is 72 and doesn’t work very fast and I could hardly be counted on to harvest all the wheat. Interesting side note about the women. One of the women is married and the word for her is tamtut. The other woman is unmarried, so she is called turbat – which is the word for girl. A female is considered a girl until she marries. The word for her, her basic identity, is dependent on her marital status (not so for men).
The four of us got to the field and started harvesting. It’s really slow going. The women sing, which makes it more pleasant. They told me to sing something, so I sang ”99 Bottles of Beer,” which satisfied my desire for irony. Truthfully, I’ve been dying to to share that story because it seemed so funny to me at the time. It was the first time in my life that I made it through all 99 bottles in the song. While you’re out there working, you have tea breaks and lunch of bread, tomatoes, onions, and sardines. We finished harvesting around 5 pm the first day.
Then comes the ridiculous part. We load this GIANT bag full of wheat and hoist it onto the donkey. It’s as big of a bag as you could imagine a donkey possibly carrying. The bag is loaded perpendicular to the donkey’s spine and extends maybe 4 feet on either side of the donkey. It might be 5 feet high. The women rode back on the other donkey, leaving me and my host dad to walk the donkey back. But he walks too slow to keep up, so it was just me and the donkey. Fortunately, it pretty much knows where to go without any help. The first day it was fresh and walked fast, so accompanying it was a workout.
The hired women are invited over to eat dinner, which I think is a cool custom. It’s not just an exchange of work for money. Plus it meant I got to talk to new women, which is nice for me because it’s tough for me to talk to women here.
The second day of harvesting went pretty much as the first and we finished harvesting the wheat. All of the wheat didn’t fit in one bag, so we had to leave the wheat behind to bring home the next day, which meant a lot more work, given the distance between house and field.
Walking back with the donkey, I ended up walking with another man and his donkey. His bag of wheat was not loaded well and not tied on well. Precariously balanced a top the donkey, a number of times it almost fell off; he would get to the bag just in time to stop it from falling.
However, he wasn’t really paying careful attention to the donkey. Instead, he was excited to be talking to me. His donkey got maybe 20 meters ahead of us and he hardly seemed to notice. All of the sudden the bag fell off the donkey, sideways. As the bag is tied to the donkey, this is kind of bad. The donkey kind of freaks out and tries to run, dragging this huge thing behind it. The guy finally got control of the donkey and motioned for me to come help him with the bag (by the way, there’s no way that two men could lift this huge bag back onto the donkey. MAYBE three people could do it, but four is preferable). So I left my donkey standing in the middle of the road and ran to help him. When I got there, we fruitlessly tried to lift the bag back up on the donkey. The donkey got spooked again and ran away a little. That spooked my donkey (which is an easily spooked donkey), which started running at full speed in the opposite direction from us. I took off after it.
Now, these bags are huge and easily displaced. Jarred from the running of the donkey, the bag fell off, which only scared the donkey more. It frantically jumped and kicked, trying to rid itself of the weight tied around its stomach. However, it tripped when the bag got tangled in its feet and fell to the ground, rolling as it fell. The gigantic bag of wheat fell on top of the donkey, covering it nearly completely. I got to the donkey and vainly tried to displace the bag. I was kind of freaking out as this seemed like a good way for the donkey to break a leg. A third man had arrived and was helping the other guy; neither had seen what had happened to my donkey. I yelled at them and the three of us managed to untie the bag and get it off the donkey. After some other people showed up, we got both bags back on the donkeys, although it was tough since the donkeys were pretty skittish at that point. The rest of the way home the donkey sort of limped and we walked slowly. The next day we went back and retrieved the remainder of the wheat and returned home uneventfully.
The biggest impression that this whole event made on me was the absurdity of the distance between house and field and how much harder that made the work. If people had pickups and the road was paved, sure, no big deal. But using donkeys means that the distance significantly increases the amount of time invested in harvest.
I also learned a lot about why people get sick. My host mom always says, “People get sick a lot in the summer, I don’t really know why. The sun causes diarrhea. People work in the field all day so the sun must be the reason people are sick in the summer.” But now it’s pretty obvious there are some other reasons. When people go out in the field, they drink water from wells, springs, and other sources. My dad collected water from a stream. Also, there isn’t a whole lot of good hygiene being practiced when people are out in the fields all day, especially with food.
So it was a good experience and I’ve learned a lot from it. Now the family is waiting for the one threshing machine in village to be available so that the wheat itself can be separated from the stalk.
Other than that…not a whole lot. I’ve been pretty exhausted when I’m not working. I’m reading East of Eden, which I’d forgotten how much I liked. I signed my rental agreement; I can move in to my house as soon as some improvements are done (bathroom added, counter installed, cement floor, water taps…) And I’m excited for that. This weekend I’m going on a small hike and hopefully camping near some hot springs. Hopefully we won’t get rained on; there’s been a lot of rain recently. Hope all is well.