Wednesday, April 21, 2010

an example of when work is fun and totally unproductive

The picture above reminds me of a painting scene in some famous gallery in old England where the farmers are all engaged in various activities.If not for the machine it could be a timeless shot.

In this instance there are a total of 10 people doing in theory a job that can be done by one machine and its operator. There is the tractor driver who just lies on the ground under a shade smoking a fag.(he is out of the pic by the way) He is just there in case the roaring tractor stops, as the tractor engine drives the rear wheel which operates this tsunami thresher. He is also the boss to whom I pay the money after the work is completed, and is the son-in-law of the owner of the tractor and tsunami.

Then there are 6 men/boys who work the machine, like carrying the bales of hay and stuffing into the machine. I know them all as they are all my neighbors, and there are some in school, who work on this machine during their hols.

Then there are my three who hold onto the paddy sacks that collect the paddy and have to move them out once they fill up while another holds the replacement to avoid spillage.

They all have some fun while working, though talking when the machine is in operation is hard due to the deafening sound of the thresher. At the tea break it is lying in the shade chatting about yesterday and plans for the evening after they get their daily pay. There is a fair in town and the famous musicals that rural areas are now being plied with as a source of entertainment is a topic of conversation.

If and when the work ethic changes, and money becomes the driving force in a society then these lands will be more streamlined, worked by fewer people, and all these people who you see as underemployed will instead be part of the driven workforce.

Will that ever happen in Sri Lanka? is the question, and many would say it should not happen, as work,growth and acquisition are just not compatible with the psyche of the people who only do what is necessary to survive.

A short drive to Pasekudah Bay

The day after New Year, which was spent quietly and with a few visits to neighbors, we decided to go to the beach the following morning.

We packed our lunch in banana leaves, after having a light breakfast mainly of fresh cows milk by the milking crew in the morning and left around 10am. We could not possibly leave Bahu the Ridgeback and Megha the Dalmatian on their own, so we decided to bring them along with us.

After passing Kaduruwela, and then the Japan Peace bridge over the Mahawelin in Manampitiya it was only 45km from there to the Bay. Total distance from my agricultural property was 80km and it took us 90 minutes as I was driving leisurely surveying the countryside I had not seen in decades due to the war. A fast car on this newly widened empty road, would have taken only 45 minutes.

Pasekudah was very different to when I had last seen it. There were no trees. I remember when it was so lush and thickly overgrown with trees and shrubs. The Tsunami must have changed the landscape dramatically.

We parked in a central parking spot teaming with all types of vehicles. The Bay was so full of people, probably 2000 with very few in swimming gear, and most of them in the normal clothes they wear. The women were in the water in their saris or dresses.
There were no waves, and there were about 5 boats plying the water taking people on a 5 minute ride and charging Rs500.

Those boats certainly did a roaring trade that day. I was all ready for the water, but the boys and Menika and daughter were completely unprepared despite my saying that it was the bathing spot par excellence of Sri Lanka. Only once they saw the place that they could not resist the temptation and decide they must go in.

I was worried because Ranga decided to show off and swim all the way to a far off rock, in long trousers!! Well he made it there and back much to my relief, saying that at the rock were some drunken louts preventing them from alighting onto the rock with their silly antics.

Of course I had an Elephant House icy choc the perfect accompaniment after a long swim and then took the dogs who had been waiting patiently in the cab till we finished our swim, to take them for their enjoyment into the water and to a side where there were not too many people as I did not want to frighten them.

having a late lunch from the rice packet we had brought, under a really cool Kumbuk Tree on the wayside, with a pond on the side. We could not have found a quieter more perfect place to relax and satisfy our hunger, having also bought a couple of cold water bottles along the way.

To see more photos of the dogs having the time of their lives see Sinha Bahu's blog which is

"new year" just another day in the life of a villager

At the break of dawn after the spectacular sunrise, the next work at hand was to milk the cows and here is a joint effort by a boy and a girl taking one teat each to pull on!!

throwing fireworks a dangerous exercise at the various auspicious times, in my opinion a totally wasteful and very hazardous occupation, much enjoyed by the young ones.

for the 7am boiling of milk before the start of the cooking

lighting more fireworks with each aspect getting more dangerous that one even exploded prematurely in one of these 4 little hands. Fortunately the dip of the hand immediately in salt water for 10 minutes saved it from burns and excruciating pain, after a moment of complete numbness.

After the kiri bath breakfast it was then a case of bathing the cows in the water and giving them a full scrub down.

then it was a case of photo op to remember the occasion by

not forgetting Bahu the dog, where is Megha when you want to photograph him!!

photos of the dawn of the new year in the rajarata

Even I could not believe my eyes when I woke up on New Year on April 14th 2010 morning and saw the dramatic colors at about 5.30am in the Rajarata facing due East. So here they are to share with you

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In the intervening period-- a case of taking care of business AS USUAL

This is Sri Lanka as someone just told me. I have learned the hard way to realize that I cannot rely on anyone. When I put people in charge of something, and they actually work destructively, to in this case knowingly reduce the harvest how can one hope for a future! (see blog entry below for details) If this happened within a few months of my return to SL, I would have burst a blood vessel or at least burst the aorta of the culprit, this time I just had to comfort myself as a case of ‘Déjàvu’ and not even tell my friends who will tell me to give up this lost cause.

It is ironic that the Uncle was the person who left for a family alms giving on the days he should have been sowing, and got into an accident on his return, which meant he left my service at a critical juncture for me, and the Nephew who did the same at a critical juncture just as I should have been harvesting, affecting the crop.

Today is Wednesday, April 7th so many people are leaving for their home villages to cast their ballot in tomorrow’s General Election. As Friday, 9th is declared a National Holiday, and Tuesday and Wednesday are New Year holidays, there will be no work done from today till Sunday April 18th as most people will be taking an extended break. This is bad for business and business owners, but great for the workers who look at it as a right which has been extended due to the election.

Now I have to spend time in Minneriya taking stock of my situation, and looking at other practical alternatives during the Avurudhu season fending for myself as I cannot find any staff at this time, meaning I have to mind the shop, while my relatives are holidaying in all places. During this period the ultra-rich flee the country as it is also hot and humid. The rich flee to cooler climes, the workers to their villages and Colombo, a ghost town, a haven for the cat burglars.

Unfortunately if I had private means to fund myself I would be living permanently in this property, possibly infusing the capital necessary to make this land as productive as possible using the latest agricultural techniques and eventually making it highly profitable. So without repeating myself, I stress the need to take stock of our agricultural practices, and encourage those with desire and knowledge to work the land and banish the louts and wastrels that currently occupy the country’s prime farmland under patronage from the government if we are ever to achieve the goals of being a net surplus producer of food.

Only when we can revive the work ethic still prevalent in the North from where we are now receiving food, affecting the inefficient farmer in the South to go to the government for help, can we get ahead as a nation, and not just be ‘lotus eaters’.

I should re-name this blog a “A bad dream into reality”

This blog documents the continuing ups and downs of a chosen lifestyle in Sri Lanka with particular reference to living in a rural area as opposed to urban, and attempting to farm one’s land, grow as much as possible to satisfy the desires of the consumers to whom I sell everything I grow. The most important goal was to achieve self sufficiency and have a surplus in order to release myself from being tethered to other work to subsidize my losses. I have been doing this for over 5 years and am being pressed both by readers and friends and family to give it all up get a nine to five job and live a life of luxury in Colombo, marry a wealthy socialite of which there are many waiting just to be asked, and give up this ghost.

While I still live in hope, I have singularly failed to break-even. I have no financial resources to fall back on, so I have to do other work to continue this venture and literally live a hand to mouth existence, in case my readers were wondering why I was cutting the paddy this last week. Just today, as I was doing another job, I was told that the paddy that was cut yesterday, (as you see in the previous blog entry photo, lying on the field before they are collected) was actually stolen overnight from the fields themselves. It is reflective of the rule of law in this country, where there is no justice for the average person, due to the grave injustices carried out by the elected officials, which prompt people to take the law into their own hands, knowing that they will not be caught, prosecuted, let alone punished.

I drove through the night from Colombo, after a day’s work, back to my property in Minneriya, only to find it empty. The gates were open, but my man in charge was missing. There was no sign of him and I could not wake the neighbors in the middle of the night, so I had to find a match, light a Godakumbura bottle lamp, eat the rice packet I picked up on the way, make the bed in the verandah and sleep.

The next day, I discover the man had left two days previously, leaving the keys with the neighbor, because I had scolded him for not organizing the paddy cutting as I had instructed before my earlier departure. He had pawned the phone I had given him, and had used the money to drink, and borrowed the money to go home.

Faced with this sudden turn of events, I had no option, but to immediately start the paddy harvesting, as it had already passed the due date, and a spell of rain in the intervening period had meant the paddy had all fallen, and in the muddy fields already ruined as it had got underwater, as can be seen from the photo here. The crop damage arising from this is substantial over and above the theft I alluded to.

In reality these fields if my instructions were followed and cut when they should have would have yielded an envious harvest as the neighbors said they had never seen these fields so heavy with paddy kernels, a reason for the falling with the rain.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The style and art of paddy harvesting with a scythe, soon to be forgotten

Paddy harvesting is done twice a year for each of the harvesting seasons on paddy land. It was the case in the past when the whole family participated in this, and one leaves the home after a big breakfast as much energy is used in the day’s activity.

There are songs, dances and traditions related to this activity. Now however with increasing cost of labor and lack of labor, it is the turn of the harvester to do this. Due the fields that I had to harvest, being too wet and muddy, I had to use manual labor the most expensive alternative to harvest these fields. The daily labor rate is Rs750 plus morning tea with a bun, lunch and afternoon tea with another sweet food item. Due to the severe shortage of workers and the seasonality of the work, this puts a premium on the labor at this time of year as a lot of paddy needs to be cut and there is no one willing and able to do so, in an increasingly affluent or lazy country depending on the outlook you may have to the Sri Lanka of today.

You take whomsoever you can find, and whether they are good or bad the rate is the same, a very anachronistic system, which is partly to blame for the low productivity of the workforce. Contract work is now the preferred route due to the labor shortage. People come to the area from other areas to cut the paddy, and they charge Rs8,000 an acre to cut and bundle and carry the bundles to the place where the mechanical thresher is used to thresh the cut straw into paddy.

I am late into this line of work, but last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, (yes that is Good Friday to Easter Sunday) while others are either at church or enjoying a break from work, I was reduced to cutting the fallen paddy in much the same way as is shown in the pictures, as well as enjoying the much needed calories refreshment to carry out the work. While the paid labor start at 8 and finish at 5 with 90minutes for lunch and 15 minutes each for the morning and afternoon break, it was no such luck for me as it was from dawn to dusk.

I am alive to tell the tale nursing swollen blisters and muscle aching pains, one wonders in these circumstances about the people sweating away in air conditioned gyms in urban centers, trying to get the same work out but with less longer lasting pain. It is in these times you appreciate the manual work people do, but also realize the utmost importance to find labor saving solutions to each of these problems as it is the way of the future, both in terms of productivity and cost reduction.

If I may make one observation from my area in Polonnaruwa, I did not see any women dong this job, as they used to in the past. No wonder they are so fat in comparison to the wafer thin men, scrawny out of alcoholism and manual work.