Rice in Tanzania
From Paddy to Table to Bricks
by Karen Wiggins
Rice is one of the wonderful crops around here in East Africa. As I drive from here to there through the seasons, I love watching all the hard work that happens. Growing rice is one of those things that I love to observe. Building up the earth to about two feet high into mini swimming pools to capture the rain, the women work hard in the fields even before the rains come. All women here wear dresses every day. It is sometimes two dresses. One is underneath and a piece of cloth is wrapped around their waist. Another kanga (dress-like material) is tied around her head. With all these colorful African shapes and flowers shining like Christmas tree ornaments all over the fields, I am amazed with the wonderful ease with which they bend at the waist like a clothes pin and stand so proud and graceful to a perfect posture of a model. This happens again and again in all the steps of growing rice.
Now that the walls of all the pits are made trying to look like a beautiful quilt and succeeding, we just wait for the rain to fill them. Not too much time for the women to wait in the process of making rice. This is just one of those times. When the rains come filling the pits, these same women return to plant the rice. Those I have seen are planting the shoots not seeds. This calls for them to kind of tie the bottom of their skirt and kanga up to their knees. With bare feet, they wade out with their basket on their arm full of shoots. They again bend pushing their arm down to the water planting and up to get more. I am reminded of a little toy I saw as a child that had a bird that would bob up and down with a weight on his tail retrieving toothpicks I think. The speed they have with job is fascinating. These are most always women. Some are old. Some are young, all are fast. They may be paid very little for this task but they all know this means food for the future for everyone.
The rice seems to grow very fast but this is again a waiting period. Still many come to see if all is well and the cattle or other animals are not coming and breaking down the dikes that hold the water in. Much the same as watching this process in Arkansas, but without the tools that make the work easier.
Once the rice is above the water line with a beautiful green glow, the quilt is looking even more beautiful. Workers still have to watch the rice to keep cows who also think it is beautiful and want to eat it at this stage. Birds really are not a problem yet until the rice comes. Waiting until the time for the rice comes is not a long wait now. Birds will eat the rice even before it is ready to harvest. This is when the women make scarecrows to stand in the field. Many fields have live scarecrows standing out in the paddies. These can be young boys or those same women. Within a week, some white birds that have a real appetite for rice can eat one entire field in just a week. All that work thus far would have been for nothing.
Harvest time is really busy. Still having to watch those birds, they cut off the long strands of stems and leaves with the rice on the end. They have a tarp ready for the hard work of hitting the stems on the tarp to release the rice that are still in the husks. This job looks really hard and many times you see men helping with this task. Filling the bags with this, they take it home. Almost every home and store has tarps covered with this rice in the husk drying. When it is dried, you see women with a flat basket throwing them up to let the letting the wind blow away the husks and leaving the rice in their basket. I flash to Jesus time every time I see this. This creates many mountains of husks. We know the rice will be saved in the house, sold at market, and 10% given to the church. But what about the husks.
Some go to feed chickens. Most of it will go to make rice bricks. Just add water, press into a form, let it dry and they have a yellow brick. They stack them is a way where there is space between the bricks and put fire in the middle. They do not cover it with mud like fired mud bricks. They just cook them. They look very nice and are said to be very strong.
With just a brief visit here you may get the impression that my friends are uneducated. Uneducated and brilliance can be in the same person. They may not know how to read or write, but they can still know how to solve problems.