The International Steam Pages

Harvest Moon, Dakhondaing 2010

A Burmese Rice Mill
and its Village.
26th March 2013

This is the tenth part of our 2010 Burma Crusade. Click here for the index.

My somewhat morbid assessment of the situation at Dakhondaing and links to earlier reports are on a separate page.

It's that three o'clock feeling again, in what's laughingly called the morning. We've spent the night so far curled up really quite comfortably on the floor of Daw Ei Ma's teakwood house in Dakhondaing but now if we want to film the harvest then we've got to stir ourselves. Her 13 acres are in the middle of nowhere, some two hours walk away west of the village, about half way to the sea. There's no proper road, not even a cart track and we'll have to walk along the paths next to and through the fields. As it's just two days after the full moon and the sky is clear, there'll be a fair amount of illumination to help us. Late November is what passes for winter here although being too cold turns out to be the least of our problems. Han is suitably equipped and even the lady, who is staying back to look after her sick husband, is feeling the chill:

We're too old for this kind of route march, but we can't hold everyone else up as we finally join up with the contract harvesters just before 04.00. It's not really the kind of journey which lends itself to any form of photography at all, I decline walking across one slippery bamboo bridge in favour of wading through the mud nearby but since I am holding the only camera at the time, my embarrassment is safe. In comparison, the bridge below is a doddle:

We try the odd video shot and we arrive at the encampment more or less just as the sun rises.

The half dozen harvesters demolish a breakfast which has been prepared by our lady's son-in-law who is outstationed here for the duration, load themselves up with betel nut and vanish into the field next door. They have been shipped in from the middle of Irrawaddy Division because all the available local labour has decamped to Myawaddy on the Thai border where they can earn far more than the 4000 Kyat a day on offer here (USD 4.5 at the current market rate). Frankly, you'd have to be pretty desperate to take such a job, I'd rather cut sugar cane in Java. Cutting grass all day doesn't sound too bad, except that the fields haven't yet dried out properly and the quality of the rice plants is so poor that the stalks have collapsed under the weight of the seeds. It looks as idyllic as a Constable painting of an English harvest but it's back breaking work gathering the tops of the stalks for later separation of the seeds.

Back in the temporary homestead, we are served the Burmese version of pot noodle as the temperature soars. Han is catching up on the latest news from the BBC and the cat is guarding the lunchtime rice. I ask how long it took him to walk here from the village but nobody seems to know the answer and he isn't telling.

Lunch is demonstrably on the way and the harvesters take a well earned half hour break where the prospect of a humungous feed is dangled in front of them to encourage them to try harder. A couple of Garfields also perk up at the mention of the word 'food', but they don't seem too interested in what the oxen are chomping.

In the best biblical traditions, oxen and humans will be sharing the accommodation tonight with the cat, but before that there's lunch to demolish.

Did I mention where the water comes from for our second pot noodle? The same place as the cat fish that are fried to go with it no doubt. Afterwards, Han regales our hosts with some traveller's tales

As a result, Han is rewarded with another ambition satisfied before we have to leave for what is a seriously uncomfortable trudge back in the heat. Here is incontrovertible proof that the camera can lie, we are hot and haggard, totally exhausted and we can't wait to get back to base.

Back in the village, we head straight for the rice mill where the contents of the water tank are put to excellent use, the cooling effect is almost as great as the cleaning.

There are no trishaws to the road junction as we have already missed the last bus to Moulmein. We could stay another night here, but creature comforts call and we at least can throw money at the problem in the form of a charter pick up from the village - it's more normal duty being delivering 'imported' goods from Myawaddy. But first, we do our duty and demolish a fried noodle which is as delicious as the instant versions earlier had been ordinary. Once back, I do confess to consuming a little Myanmar Ale to assist my sleeping. It's so nice to have an unforced pee and if it rains the proverbial virgins tonight then I confess that most likely I won't notice.

A couple of days later we were back filming what happens next.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson