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Off to the Rice Fields

I woke at 6 am. Yes I cannot believe it either but I did go to sleep around 10 the night before so I guess it’s not too surprising. I sat with Ary and two of her friends showed up, Galle and Hastate, I think were their names. The girl did research here and I’m not sure about the guy, but he graciously said he could take me around Denpasar and help me find seeds to take home. They all, but mostly Ary told me about other local plants or fruits that have healing properties. She had had cancer and beat it, four operations she said but still beaten. I did not ask what kind of cancer but my first guess is cervix.


They left and Ary and I took off. Down the road and then down another smaller turn off. It was basically a one lane road but bigger than the pathway of last night. She told me about different plants as we walked past them.

There was a small stream and we walked along a path next to it. I don’t remember if it was a turn off or the road just became this. On either side of the stream were rice fields. It looked like there were places where you could stick a board in the stream, damming it, and it would flood your property. I was reminded of my old irrigation on the Clay St. property of my youth.

At one of the rice fields we walked out into it. The fields here are special because they are stair-stepped one below another so that the water floods from one to the next. The fields are on the side of a mountain so this is kind of necessary. Each paddy is in a small section, maybe 10 by 30 meters, some smaller and probably some bigger. We went up to the owners little house in the middle of the property, I later learned they were just care takers, the land owner doesn’t do the work of farming. They watched us walk up with smiles on their faces. This has been my experience in most of South East Asia, no anger or suspicion at someone on their property, no idea of trespassing or claim of ownership. They don’t suspect you to steal something, or to ruin something that can’t be fixed.

They didn’t speak English so I just said “Hallo” and Ary did all the talking. She wants to make records of the culture because most of Bali is now just for tourists. There is not going to be any of the old culture left soon. It will be a new culture, a salesman culture, not traditional or living off the land.

DSCF5666 They offered us a seat and food right away. I sat but didn’t know what they were talking about so I got up to take pictures. Their home is on the side of a large mountain. Most of the mountain is trees, except for the place cleared, what looks like a long time ago, and made into a livable, workable property. It is a small house and about 2 acres of rice. When you look across the valley to the mountain next, you see from a distance dense trees of dark green, then cut outs with bright green rice fields patched across the mountain side. You can see the many different levels of the fields too and there are patches of palm trees around the fields and a house, usually centered on the property

DSCF5675The people’s house that I was at had a few papaya trees and some ponds right next to the house. In the ponds were hundreds of fish, and the furthest pond the fish were one foot to one and a half, and some orange coy, as the rest were thinner grey fish. The fish poop and fertilize the water. In the water they grow morning glory, and the water flows into the rice patties to fertilize them. I didn’t see much else growing so I guess they buy or trade for other vegetables.

Along the front of the different rice paddies is a path to walk which is higher and holds in the water. There are ½ foot cut outs here to let it drain into the next pond. On the corners there are steps cut into the soil to go up to the next level, but not at every corner so it is a bit of a maze to get to where you want to go. This style horticulture, of stair stepping the paddies and letting the water run down from one to the next is special, and one of the cultural techniques that may be lost to them in the near future.

DSCF5684 I think you could stand for hours looking out across the mountains. The sky, this bright blue. The different greens of the mountains. I think it’s all alive, other than the rare house or a road if you can spot one, which is unlikely. It’s all alive. Even the people here are more alive. They talk. And they just sit. And they work. One of the older guys had lost many of the teeth, something that I have problems with. His fronts were ok but his backs were mostly gone, he just had one good pair that looked pretty weak and dying. I stared his two usable teeth for a while. He was probably 50. And I imagine he will be out pulling rice and working hard in 3 days when the harvest comes. Like I said when we showed up, they were sitting. Resting. The oldest man – maybe 60 – started sharpening the blades of some scythes and the hoe. They were harvest yet and had no TV to watch or computer to waste their time on. Their house was a few rooms with no ceilings. They had a roof but basically there was no sound privacy and the bugs could do whatever they pleased. The house was concrete and cold. Not much on the walls. Not much color. Life is outside, the room is for sleep. Now I must say this is the rare case and these are old, poor people. Most people, especially kids have smart phones and want to be like the west. Processed foods are moving in and Facebook is king. But they still talk and laugh and have a good time in a close personal way, without alcohol most of the time.

Ary finished talking with them. Took a picture of the woman and man. The woman looked away from the camera and tried to act natural and to laugh and be beautiful, but she was very self-conscious. I think the man was similar but I didn’t watch him while his picture was being taken. Then we left and made our way through the maze, climbing up from level to level. I had forgotten my notebook and they yelled for me. I would have been very sad if I had lost it, or had to go far back to get it. We got to the next property, very close by, and I sat and looked out at the valley and imagined a life here. So boring but so much more fulfilling. My heart and soul nourished, but maybe my brain bored, wanting videogames or something stupid like keep my brain active but my heart numb. I thought of marrying an Indonesian woman and having a farm. My mind jumped ahead to how much happier I would be when I died, though it would not be an easy life. The farmers I met did not own the property, there was someone else who had many places and they got about  50% of the money earned from the harvest. Maybe I could be that guy. Or start an English school on the side. Or even have a hostel or farm-stay to bring in more money. And also…my mind went quiet. And I just sat. So quiet out there. So much to take in, but all of it simple. So peaceful.

We walked back to the stream and saw a mother and her son collecting coconuts. We went to their shop and drank one. They had two dogs, a cat and some chickens. I think the family was a husband, wife, two sons and a daughter. The boys played football, the man talked with a friend and the wife cut open our coconut and did dishes. The little girl picked up a pole and walked down the mountain out of my view. When we left I asked how much and she said “up to you.” I was very confused as was Ary, but up to me. I gave her 10,000, about one dollar. I guessed it would normally be 5,000 but she was nice and if up to me better to be generous that cheap I guess. I think she was smart and figured I’d over pay this way, and she didn’t have the guilt of charging me more than normal.

We walked back to the house. It had been about three hours. I wrote and was ready to sleep, but I didn’t think it was a good idea so I walked to a waterfall Ary had told me about. She told me the back way. I got lost for a second but then a little kid told me the way and then a woman with a baby whose dog wanted to eat me did the same. The waterfall was very nice. The way back was all uphill and my legs were very tired from 4 days of intense workout. I was actually getting overwhelmed by all the great things I had been seeing and experiencing. I think some of them had far less of an impact because I had been amazed so much already. So the waterfall was really special but I have few details recollect, it was just peaceful.


My First Blog

image201402090001Well here goes. This is my first blog on WordPress and my first public blog. I wonder what I should write and what people will like. I expect to be read by people I have never met and those I know well. I want my personality to come through in my posts but I realize that in order to get others to read what I write I have to find a way to catch them, and pull them in. I have no idea how to set up my pages, when and where to use pictures, what topics are interesting and  how to title them in way that someone browsing across a page full of articles might stop and give me a shot. I want to dream big but more than likely in the beginning it will be fairly unrewarding. I imagine probably only a handful of friends will read my blog, and fewer strangers, but I have hopes too, hopes that there are lots of people out there interested in strangers writing enough to spend their time reading what I have written. I suppose all of this is probably the normal reaction to starting up here.

The things I plan to post may turn out to be more for myself than for others I do not know yet. I plan to post some writings I did while traveling in Indonesia first, then maybe some from Vietnam and I will also post some poetry, essays and book reviews that I write. The real purpose for me to get a blog is just to write more. Read what I write, tell me what you think, in the spirit of the internet and it’s anonymity attack me into writing better material and to defending what I decide as the right thing to put out there.

Thank you

Jon Raby