Thursday, August 9, 2012

On Rice

We are home in Flagstaff now, and more than a month has passed since my last post; yet it remains a good segue to today's ramble...

Darrell and I on a bike ride along the rice paddies
On our last day in Bali, Darrell and I took a mostly downhill bicycle tour of the rice fields of Bali. The subak irrigation system of the fields is a manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana philosophy, bringing together the realms of the spirit, the human world and nature. Temples, dating back to the 9th century, are the focus of a cooperative water management system of canals and weirs from that same time. The subak system of democratic and egalitarian farming practices has enabled the Balinese to become the most prolific rice growers in the Indonesian archipelago. Considering there are over 18,000 islands, that is impressive! 

Our guide, Kadek, explaining the Subak system
As most of you know, rice is the most important grain for human nutrition, providing more than one-fifth of the calories consumed worldwide. While more corn is grown than rice, much of that corn goes to non-food items. And I will count the ubiquitous high-fructose corn sweetener in that category!

Rice cultivation is common in countries with low labor costs (as it is so labor intensive) and high rainfall. The traditional method involves flooding the fields when the young seedlings are set. This reduces the growth of competing weeds and keeps out vermin.

Young rice planted in a wet field
Because Bali has a warm climate, there may be three rice crops in each year. In Bali, the men plant the seeds and work the fields.

Hard work in the rice fields
The pattern of the rice fields is one of the more beautiful of man's efforts.

Tiered rice fields
The rice is then harvested by the women.

Harvesting rice
The rice fields may then be burned to clear for the next planting.

Burning rice fields after the harvest
The fields provide food for geese as well.

Geese in the fields
The harvested rice is dried in the sun. Sometimes it is dried along the sides of the streets if there isn't room in a safer location. We biked by lots of drying rice.

Drying rice
We also got a tour of a family compound. Several families often live together in a cooperative group. That way they can share valuable livestock and work together as a small community in this rural environment. Though we were only an hour from the city of Ubud by car, few of the family members had ever been there. There were four families in this compound. Each of the women had their own kitchen, and each family had their own sleeping area, but there were also communal areas including a temple for their daily prayers and offerings.

Weaving a bamboo wall
Kids playing hopscotch
While emotionally difficult to witness poverty, it is valuable to see how these families live and work and play together. I won't muse on about this - but just leave you with one more image of a girl on the brink of womanhood. May she find, like we wish for ourselves, a life of love and meaning.

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