It’s the end of November.  It’s quiet in Luang Namtha, the time seems to have come to a stop.  The market is quiet, the streets are empty and even the Beer Lao shops don’t seem to have too many customers. But if you cycle only five minutes out of town, you understand why. Here in the rice paddies, it’s far from quiet. It’s harvesting time.

The whole family is needed when it comes to harvesting rice. Not a single pair of hands can be missed doing this important annual job. Adults are walking around the field, carrying big bales of rice. Children climb on top of the huge piles of rice, covering the top with plastic to protect it from a possible rain shower.

For weeks, local people have nothing on their minds but rice. Even our staff can’t seem to talk about anything else. The girls ask for permission to leave early, to come in late, or to swap their day off. No problem, their families need them on the land.  As long as we know in advance, so replacement can be arranged.

As soon as the rice is harvested and put in one place, the grains need to be removed from the stalk. Some families have machines to help them out; others need to do it by hand. They smack the stalks to a sort of grid, to make the grains drop to the floor.

When that job is done, it is time to fill up the bags. Bags full of rice are taken from the land to the road. And by either motorbike or pick up, the bags of rice are brought to the homes.

But it’s not everywhere like that.  Different ethnic minority tribes not only have their own clothing habits, they also have their own customs when it comes to harvesting rice. Some tribes start dividing the grains from the stalks already on the fields; other tribes take the stalks to their village and do the separating job over there.

Whichever way they choose, slowly the bright green rice paddies turn into barren land. Locals start burning the dry remains of the rice crops. Now they wait, they wait until the land is fertile enough to plant the next ocean of rice.

Wilke Martens