Friday, July 8, 2011

I know where your rice comes from....

Danielle Shapiro (

How do I know? Because I planted it! Well, some of it. And just that part that you might get from Nepal, which, in all likelihood, is not very much. But let’s not get stuck on the particulars. The point here is that Ilaria, Isabella and I spent a lovely, messy, fascinating day this past Wednesday wading through muddy rice paddies planting with locals in a village called Chapagaun about 10 km outside of Kathmandu. The farmers we met are ethnic Newari, Kathmandu’s native population.

The Rotaract Club of Mt. Everest and a social event management company called Life Entertainment planned our venture. We were there because Ila is friendly with a wonderful guy named Raj Gyawali who owns Social Tours (, a travel agency based in Kathmandu. He worked with the other organizations to get the word out about the rice planting trip. He and his daughter Tara joined us too.

Turns out, that June 29, is the 15th day of the Nepali month and the first official day of the rice-planting season. However, because the rains have been so good this year – and we have seen a few good downpours during my visit – farmers actually started planting earlier. Nonetheless, the day is one of celebration.

We started our journey with a short trip to a Buddhist stupa dedicated to Shiva near Chapagaun and then made our way to the rice paddies. When we arrived, the fields were already full of brightly-dressed women (and a few girls) bent over at the waist, water up to mid-calf and hands full of long, thin, green stalks of rice. Men also waded through digging up mud and, it seemed, thus prepping the earth for the planting.

Dressed as we were to get filthy, we shed our shoes and cautiously descended into the paddy. Isabella was a bit scared and wanted to be held the entire time, but Ila and I got to experience that weirdly unsettling yet simultaneously pleasant squish of the mud between our toes and under our feet. Our walking was unsteady until later in the day when Raj gave us the all-important tip that we needed to lift our feet out of the water with each step forward.

Once we were in the fields, the local Nepali women approached with a bunch of rice seeds and showed us how to plant them. Take two at a time, at least, and place them deep into the mud, standing upright so the greens stick out. Ila went first, while Isabella and I watched. I followed. With the Nepali women planting next to me, it was clear what a novice I was. For every row of rice I managed to plant, I think they probably completed five, at least. They move quick! The result, as we saw throughout the day, are the delicately beautiful paddies full of bright green slivers bending gently in the wind.

In truth, Ila, Isabella and I spent most of the day watching, quite happily so, and I taking pictures. But the others on our trip – we were a group of about 20 – got so into the spirit of the day that they ended up utterly doused in mud, tossing each other in, wrestling and playing a game that sort of looked like tag. Isabella and Tara, Raj’s daughter who is just about Isabella’s age, loved that I started calling them “mud monsters” and ran from them each time one approached.

After the planting was done, we boarded our bus and headed to lunch. We ate a traditional celebratory meal with our hands, much to Isabella’s delight. The food started with beaten rice – pieces of rice that are flat and crunchy, and sort of look like cereal. To mix with this was an assortment of vegetable and potato curries, buff and chicken and as a dessert, fresh yogurt. With a touch of honey, that and the beaten rice was a surprising treat.

Thus muddied, fully-fed and exhausted, we made our way home. It was a wonderful sneak peak into the daily lives of Nepalis, especially now during the Monsoon. Raj told us they will spend most of the next few months in their fields. We saw how the farmers remained in the fields even when the rain pummeled down, with ponchos perched on their heads and covering their backs. Undaunted, unperturbed. Impressive indeed. A really special day.


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