I planted rice today. Seems kind of minimal, no? Like, “oh you planted rice today?” Yes, I did. It was great. First and foremost, it (the rice planting) signified the achievement of a goal (planting rice), which is nice and rewarding and one of the few tangible personal “goals” that Ive set out for this program. Other goals (unclear even to me at this point) are abstract and fall in line with the more intellectual/intangible aspects of this program, which itself by and large has to do with concepts of class struggle, the politics of development, transnational neoliberalism, etc… Though grounded in the real world, our experiences thus far have an inherently academic positioning. These concepts are important in providing both a big picture perspective of the work we’re doing here in this country, and also in terms of basic sanity in that they serve as a useful buffer/safety net for processing the overwhelming spiritual/emotional/physical stimuli of my everyday life in Cambodia. In a way, constant engagement with those intangibles, however, important as they are, is simply unsustainable. It’s draining. Sometimes you just have to DO SOMETHING. So, today, I planted rice.
In the sweltering mid afternoon heat (is there ever any other way to describe heat?), the 6 rice paddies behind Tchey School bubbled a dark brown muck and brilliant verdant green. Today, a minor catastrophe was taking place: snails, some the size of a small clenched fist, had overrun the paddies, and eaten/killed about half of the rice crop. Young rice stalks, uprooted from their muddy base, drifted haphazardly on the chocolate-milk surface, frozen in rigor mortis, lost green casualties of tiny naval warfare. Standing next to Ponheary, I paid my respects and lamented the snails. 20 meters away, a few girls started replanting. Could I join? “Yes,” replied tuk-tuk driver / translator / goal-achievement-facilitator / life coach extraordinaire, Rany, “I’ll teach you.”
We grabbed a few pre-bound bushels of rice stalk, and walked over to the girls. I stepped out of sandals and into the rice paddy. Here’s what it felt like: warm, soft, squishy, pokey. Innocent enough adjectives on their own, right? In reality, the sensation was simultaneously seductive and revolting: one one hand as comfortable as stepping into a blanket of gentle earth-motherly love, and on the other, as oh-my-god-I-want-to-puke as (imagine this) your foot puncturing through a living pulsating membrane of larva that come up to your knee. With quick grace, Rien led us over to an empty patch, where he demonstrated the technique of (1) pushing the roots of 10ish stalks at a time deep into the muck with the thumb, (2), about .25 seconds later, squeezing a few inches of mud with the forefinger towards the base of the stalks in order to tether them in place, and (3), repeating, each clump separated by 6-10 inches. One smooth motion. Working in a grid, with several others along side us, we planted (replanted) our small paddy in about 20 minutes. Making a tangible difference feels good. The other planters (granted, they were mostly 12 year old girls), giggled at my efforts with a humility of their own that made me feel so good. Most people here do this almost every day of their lives.