Today we went to make rice. You can use rice to make a lot of things, you know. You can use the kernels to make food, but I guess you already knew that. Are they called kernels? I’m just going to call them kernels. Keep things simple. You can also use the plant part to weave baskets and sieves and little animals. You probably also knew that. But here’s something you probably don’t know. Once you separate the kernels from the husk, you can make the husk bit into rice wine, even though I think its technically whisky.
Ha. Bet you didn’t know that.
Anyway. Rice is planted in very wet areas, and so the planting grounds where we went to plant the rice and harvest the rice and plow the ground with the help of a water buffalo was basically… Mud. It was a very unusual mud, though. It was grey. It looked like wet cement. It was also quite lumpy. And it was so thin it was almost water in some places and so thick in others that you could barely walk. And it came up to just below my knee.
The rice plant was green and had long leaves that grew up around it on every side. In the middle were the stalks and kernels. When it dried out, so the leaves became yellow, it actually looked a lot like wheat. Well, first of all we went to plow the ground with the water buffalo. The harness had three strips of wood, carved to the perfect shape, one over its shoulders, one around the front of its neck, and the last knocking gently against the back of its legs, at about knee level. The pieces of wood were connected with strips of leather. And more strips of leather connected the harness to the plow. You would hold the plow, and sort of pretend to be pushing it when really the buffalo was doing it, and then when you got out everyone was like “Wow, what hard work!” and you would be like “Yeah, not really.”
Then came the planting. We were given a bundle of sapling rice plants, to plant in straight rows. Most people sort of planted two in a row, but I just planted them all in a straight vertical line, so my line was way longer than anyone else’s. Then the harvesting. Obviously, we didn’t wait about four weeks for it to harvest and then come back. We just harvested wheat that was already grown before we got there. I was actually really good with the sickle. I got the method of twisting it to cut through the rice plant before the guide even showed me. I loved using it so much I went three times.
Threshing was next. Threshing materials include a pair of sticks tied together with string that actually look like nunchucks. Ninjaaaaa! The method of twisting the “nunchucks” was actually quite hard to figure out. It’s this complicated twisty maneuver that ends with the sticks next to each other and the bundle of rice in an iron grip! Then you whack it against a slanted wooden platform and watch the kernels just fall out! Then comes the sorting.
Sorting rice is actually considered a very important skill for women in Laos. In fact, a woman is not allowed to get married unless she knows how to sort rice properly. A professional rice-sorter helped us with ours. She would shake the basket, and the rice would jump up. The good rice, which is a lot heavier than the bad rice, would just fall back into the basket, and the lighter, bad rice would fall out. There was also a sort of big pedal thing that we would step on at one end, and then when we stepped off the other end would thump back on the rice and squash it, and the professional rice-sorter would sort it.
Aaaand then comes the turning-into-rice-flour. There’s a machine that operates by you pushing and pulling at a wooden handle connected to the top rock of two rocks, making the top rock spin around. The guide poured in the now-sorted nice and heavy rice through a hole in the top, where it got grinded up by us. After we had all ground up some lovely rice the guide took it all out and kept about 5% of it because the rest was bad. All that grinding for such a small amount of flour!
The next step was grinding sugarcane to make sugarcane juice. There was a very long pole that ran across two big oval-ish stones. Two people turned each end of the pole, and two more stuffed sugarcane back and forth between the stones to grind it up into pulp. Soon it was just liquid. Then we drank it. It was very sweet.
The last thing was having lunch with only rice products. We had sticky rice, and rice pancakes (which aren’t really pancakes), and rice cakes (which aren’t really cakes), and rice sweet things, and rice wine. Except Thalie, Luke and I didn’t have that because it was alcoholic and not only do you not drink alcohol when you are children but it tastes disgusting and I should know because once I drank some of my mother’s gin and tonic because I thought it was water and it was HORRIBLE. Anyway. So ends the tale of the rice making. I’ll write again soon, Sacha