Life in a foreign town

When Mood Music
2006-07-08 18:29:00

Well I’ve found out what today will bring and it was bloody exhausting too! Some of the stuff behind the cut ‘adapts’ christian hymns.

Welcome to Cardomom County
Today is probably the first day that I’ve woken before Ajeesh: he usually wakes at 6.30, he tells me. However today I was vertical by 8 am while he didn’t surface until 8.30. I’m not sure what time we headed out to the ‘fields’ – I think it was 9.30 but certainly before 10. There we met his neighbour, Santosh, who is helping farm some land owned by Ajeesh’s sister Ajitha and her husband. He’s also called Santosh but he works in a restaurant. I’ve met him but couldn’t remember his face so put this Santosh and Ajitha together, much to everyone’s amusement.

The land we were working on is at the foot of a slope, just above a tiny stream and about 25 metres down a muddy path from the main path/track. This piece of land is dotted with banana plants and other trees but neighbour-Santosh had yesterday done a lot of work, clearing the undergrowth and digging some holes in which cardomom plants would eventually be grown. These holes are about 4 feet wide by 4 feet back by up to 2 feet deep and require a lot of work: there were many more to dig.

At first Ajeesh used a long-handled tumbar (mambati tambar) to mark out the area of each hole and start it off; then I used another mambati tambar to dig the hole to the right size and depth; then Santosh made the walls vertical and the floor flat using a short-handled tumbar (koryi tambar). This system worked up to a point – I’ve got better at manipulating a long implement but it was still hard going, even after Ajeesh tried to teach me the finer points of mambati tambar wrangling.

About 10.30, Jaya called us in for breakfast: steamed ‘rolls’ (coconut and rice powder boiled in aluminium tubes [oops here comes Alzheimer’s!], boiled tapioca and pickles). I was quite dirty, having given up on my sandals early on. The feeling of dirt trapped between my feet and the sandals and the clumsiness to which it led were far from fun.

After breakfast, we went back to the field and tried a different system: Ajeesh and Santosh marked out holes while I used the koryi tambar to deepen and finish them. So I’d finish a hole in the time Ajeesh finished two but my holes looked quite good! Also I found it much easier to lift soil out of the hole with the koryi tambar – I could get it full of soil and then use my hand on the koryi tambar’s heel to lift and throw the soil. I also found that I could get more leverage if I sat on the edge of the hole and chopped away at the side opposite me. This did have the unfortunate effect of making it look as though I’d had horrendous diarhoea.

I think I’m now responsible for 10 cardomom-plant holes and feel for the first time in days that I’ve earned my stay here. I was utterly exhausted by the time Jaya called us for lunch (rice, sambar, more tapioca and coconut & jackfruit-seed curry) and found it difficult to summon up the energy to lift the food into my mouth. I also have only two tiny injuries

  • a burst blister on the inside of my right thumb
  • a cut in the quick of my right little finger where I knocked it against a stone in the side of a hole while cutting out a root.

By the way, the knives used for such tasks, for cleaning tambars and even for cutting up paan, ‘boost’ and many other tasks are called something like oo-arr-kutty.* The curved design means that it’s difficult to cut yourself when cleaning spades and that you’d be really unlucky to get cut if one fell on you. Bruised: yes; but cut: probably not.
*There are two other names – I didn’t hear clearly enough to write them down.

To keep myself going, I sang out loud bits of Holidays in Cambodia, especially

Well you’ll work harder with a gun in your back
for a bowl of rice a day.
Playboy soldiers strum on guitars*
and then your head’s skewered on a stake.

*the official version is ‘Slave for soldiers til you starve’

and adapted a hymn when Ajeesh brought some tea from the house

Give me chai in my cup – keep me working
Give me chai in my cup – I pray
Give me chai in my cup – keep me working
Keep me working till I fall down dead.

Sing ‘Khardum chaya’
Sing ‘Khardum chaya’
Sing ‘Khardum chaya’
To Camilla siniensis-parker-bowles

There was another Bruce-mangling of a hymn but I forget what it was. (This is probably a good thing.) Oh well, I seemed to amuse Santosh and Ajeesh – he even tried to adapt Holidays in Cambodia to Holidays in Nedumkandam!

After lunch neither Ajeesh nor I were fit to carry on. I do feel better for working, however: a bit more honest and my lungs are busy getting rid of the last of the yuck. So after Ajeesh had showered, we came to town. Ajeesh is with the boys in Shaji’s office and I’m here blogging although I waited for about an hour for power to return. During the wait, I talked with Mr Ozhathil and his sons. Mr Ozhathil is keen for his sons to learn correct English pronunciation and I’m happy to help if I can. When requested, I also explained the differences between England, Britain and the UK!

Tomorrow Ajeesh is driving someone to Kollam (aka Quilon). Not sure if I’m going: I feel I should stay and plant cardomom in the holes I dug. However that depends on Gopalakrishna, Santosh or someone else being available and willing to tell me what to do. I’ve very aware that for them, this isn’t a game, no matter how much they joke and laugh. This tiny-scale farming is a major part of the family’s income and I want to get it right so that they get crops from the work I did and so that I haven’t been making my back ache for no reason!

Somewhere in the middle of it all, Ajeesh asked me how British people farmed their land. My answer was ‘most don’t! We’re very urbanised and farming is mechanised so that tiny numbers of people work large areas of land. The nearest most of us get to farming is a garden with a lawn and a few flowers or maybe an allotment.’ I’d appreciate your comments on how near to the truth this is, mostly so I can give Ajeesh a correct picture of the UK.

OK, I think I’ve spun this one out as far as I can – time to go Mr Floyd!

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