Harvest time
Summer slowly rolls into Central Vietnam, with one heat wave and thunderstorm after another bringing about a change in the land before harvest time.

The once tall, green, flowing stalks take on golden tones, and the reaping comes shortly thereafter. The quiet fields turn into busy farm land and the streets turn into drying racks.

Farmers and their families take to the fields amidst the scorching heat of summer, and sickle in hand, begin cutting and carrying in their mature crops. Bent bodies disappear into the tall rice stalks, leaving only the iconic conical paddy hats and a pairs of shoulders sticking above the diminishing amber and green.

Little by little, the crops disappear from the fields and reappeared as giant mounds overflowing on the sides of the road. Separating machines rattle on the roadsides, shaking and grinding the grain from the stalks, while the leftover hay sit aside ready for burning.

The once quiet corner of our village has turned into a veritable rice factory, and its fields and streets are now filled with families and neighbors working together to bring in the harvest. When one plot is cleared and brought to the streets, another is just underway.

As the crops come in and underwent separation, the roads are reduced to single lanes, with rows and strips of drying rice taking over the entire area. Workers carefully comb through the piles, evenly exposing the grain, leaving the roads looking like intricate Zen gardens. The leftover hay from the separation now burn in the fields, rejuvenating and enriching the soil, sending a pungent black smoke throughout the town.

All hard works reap rich rewards as the old saying goes. Each bale of rice that is brought in, each pile spread and bag filled will provide the families with enough rice to last them until the following harvest. It is necessary work that would ultimately provide them with the most important staple in the Vietnamese diet.

The rice harvest clearly takes precedence over everything else, and even the cars, motorbikes and bicycles have to yield to the zigzag strips of grain and piles of hay scattered all over the roads.

I like to watch the harvest unfold. The only time I ever saw someone other than the workers pass over the rice, was when a group of buffalos mindlessly clomped across. Everybody understands the importance of the harvest, and it’s no surprise to anyone who has ever lived in or traveled to Vietnam.

Not only does the labor ultimately feed the families, but it brings the entire community together. It connects them to the history of the land and to all their ancestors who harvested the fields before them. It’s a process that has been going on for centuries, twice a year, sometimes three times a year;  old and young working together, learning the fields and labor, passing it down through generations.

The harvest is not only important for the Vietnamese, but for foreigners as well. Even though we generally don’t take part in the harvest, we can witness the amazing amount of work that goes into producing the essential grain.

More often than not, we order or cook a bowl of steamed rice, mix it with something and swallow it down. We seldom take the chance to reflect on the land, labor and time that go into the rice production, and therefore take it for granted.

In witnessing the harvest, it’s a live reminder to reflect on and appreciate all the work that has gone into the production of our meal, far beyond the kitchen that cook it. Not only does rice give us energy and nourishment for the day, but it connects us with all the people, animals, land, generations and history that are packed inside.

Daniel Robbins (VOV Online)
 
*
*
*
  Send