We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Threshing Lessons

Threshing is thoroughly therapeutic … is what I want to say for purely alliterative purposes, but actually it is just exhausting.  Slow, back-breaking hard labour in one very hot field. We went out to thresh the rice; it is what the whole village is doing now from dawn till dusk and many during the night hours as well. Many are sleeping in their fields, couples leaving children with bibi (grandma) and spending every waking and sleeping hour with the rice. It is an important time as the livelihood of a family for the coming year depends on this harvest. One plot could yield 20 large sacks of rice, one of which might sell for 90 000 shillings (£40). This is the years’ earnings in one fail swoop. 
Rice plants ready to cut
The rice plants are cut with a machete from the field, sometimes waist-deep in water and then laid out on dry ground in piles on large sacks sewn together to make a “floor.” The bundles of the long plants are then beaten on the sacks to shake out all the mpunga (unmilled rice) The unmilled grains are gathered up and carried back to the village and laid out on the ground to dry for 3 days. Then huge sacks are filled, ready to sell or store for the year. Some will be reserved to plant for the next season to yield 30-fold! 

We went to thresh with Ezekiel who is working on his fathers field with his brother-in-law before doing his own plot. I was tired by the time we got to his plot in the rice fields!  It was a long walk in the hot sun through muddy fields and on the slippery raised pathways between the fields. The piles of rice plants ready to thresh look daunting and the amount of rice coming from each mighty thwack is rather disheartening.  We didn’t last very long; feeling rather more in the way than helpful, we left them to it! Meanwhile they stayed at it; and there is such as lesson in that! One grain of rice is such a very, very small thing. But that is where it all starts. Grain by grain, bundle by bundle, the pile of rice grows slowly. A bucketful, a sackful, a harvest.


We also had a lesson from Bibi on how to make a bamboo “slingshot” of sorts with which to shoot the birds that come after the seed. The girls are now keen on practicing their shot (best to stay clear!) Back in the village, Tim and the girls later helped our neighbour fill his sacks – no small task! Barefoot, bare-legged and bare-armed, the girls were happily right in the unhusked rice shovelling bucketfuls. But when all was done, they were not so happy! They were both scratching themselves silly, hopping and crying with the awful itching (rice husks seem to be similar to fibreglass!) I threw them, wailing, into a bucket of water in the outhouse!
Filling the sacks

The outer husk is removed at the milling machine
The man we helped, very kindly gave us a bucketful of rice for our help. So we took it to the “mill,” a man nearby who runs a machine to mill the corn and rice. For 200 shillings (9p), in it went and then out it came as good old familiar rice. What a labour-intensive process! It surely does make you appreciate a cup of rice. I realized again how we take so much for granted, so much is just easily available for our personal convenience. And we expect it to be so. What we experienced was not convenient and was certainly not easy. But what we did experience was appreciation, appreciation for the simplest things. Appreciation for friends and family working together, sharing, helping, laughing.  Appreciation for a cup of rice.

The field left after the rice plants are harvested

1 comment:

  1. luella meighen14 May 2012 at 14:42

    Lovely, Rachel. Recently we visited in Bali, staying out in the country where the rice fields stretch almost to the edge of the beach. I realized while there, that I had never taken time to think about what rice looks like as it grows, and more puzzling, how it is harvested. You have provided me with on-the-spot descriptions of the process. Thank you. I am ashamed to think of the rice I have wasted over the years, cooking too much, spilling as I measure, throwing out rice that seemed too old. I have a new appreciation for it, and for the process that so many go through to have the rice they need to stay alive! I am so blessed by your appreciation of the community aspect of rice growing. You are learning, and you are sharing what you learn with all of us. Thank you!


Please leave us message! We love to hear your news and thoughts too!