When I first found out I would be serving my Peace Corps Service in Madagascar, I ran to the computer and researched where I would be living. Madagascar is more prominently known for their vanilla. If you are a serious baker or chef, you tend to use Madagascar Vanilla when the recipe calls for it. However, Madagascar is not just about the vanilla. It’s also about the rice.
Rice is farmed all over the country, in every nook and cranny that there is. It’s not just the staple when it comes to feeding the masses, but it’s their income. A large majority of rice farmed in Madagascar is actually exported to other countries, and then rice of less quality is imported to feed the nationals.
So as I did my research regarding Madagascar, not exclusively just watching the Pixar movies, I started making mental lists of what I wanted to accomplish while living here. Planting rice was one of them. At the time, ‘planting’ rice seemed like such the right term to use. But, I have lived in this country for a year and a half already, and I know better. My Agriculture and Environment Peace Corps counterparts would be so disappointed if that idea still existed. ‘Planting’ is not the only action taking place. There are so many steps, and so much I don’t know. Rightfully so, my focus in country has been business development, and not so much rice farming. Still, helping farm rice has always been high up on my to do list.
Just my luck, I was invited to help transplant rice in a neighboring village. As the day grew closer, I got more and more excited. I headed out to the fields, all pumped up to show the Malagasy people, I can do this. And then reality set in. When we got into the rice field, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was handed a bunch of sprouted seedlings (that word not be correct) and told to go to the middle of the row and start.
It took a few hours to start to master walking in knee deep mud, swiping the seedling into place, and let my back go numb from bending over. By lunchtime, I thought I had it down. I kept telling everyone ‘look how fast I’m going. I’m so mahay (expert).’ As if I was being taught a lesson against bragging by the universe, I lost my balance, stumbled forward, and while trying not to fall flat on my face, threw my weight backwards, leading to me falling flat on my butt in the rice field. And the mud was unforgiving. It was like quicksand, and I was quickly surrounded by mud, sinking into the field.
I only did a half day of transplanting in the fields, but I left with a whole new perspective. I have so much respect for the women and children who farm fields and fields of rice to provide for their families. My body ached for four days after that. People laughed in my town as I limped down road trying to stretch out my sore muscles. I have mad respect for farmers, not only in Madagascar, but everywhere. And finally, never, ever, am I meant to farm rice or be in any profession with mud involved for a living.