MullerHitchhiking Vietnam
Page 68

The days meandered by and almost without my knowing it, collected into weeks. It was the planting season. Every morning a vast, slow-moving migration took place as houses emptied and whole families wound their way along the foot-wide paddy dikes to work their fields. I joined them, stooping for hours over the flat, wet ground, my legs sunk into the silt up to my thighs as I separated the bundles of rice seedlings and poked each three-inch stalk into the silky mud. The women around me worked with machine-like speed, their nimble fingers tuned to the exact dimensions of a healthy plant, their eyes no longer needed to ensure its proper place in the mud. My initial, painstaking efforts and wobbly rows were greeted with muffled laughter, and improvements pointed out with delighted claps and cries of wonder. When my planted seedlings toppled into my huge footprints, they pretended not to notice until my back was turned. Then they dug them out and smoothed over the holes, and looked up and smiled as though nothing had happened.

When the sun dipped smoothly under the mountain tops the women planted their last few seedlings, put their hands on their hips and painfully straightened their backs. Everyone shouldered hoes and empty baskets and joined the growing flood of villagers returning home. They stopped at the deeper channels and rinsed off the mud, their lower legs emerging white and wrinkly from the day-long immersion in silt. It seemed a simple life, filled with the rhythm of the seasons and the daily growth of the all-important rice. The work was hard but unhurried and their lives held few surprises. They could look into the future, at any given month or time of day, and tell you exactly what they would be doing. They knew where they had been born, and where they were going to die. They did their chores cooperatively and in relative harmony. As much as such a thing is possible, they seemed to have created a place where the individual worked towards the good of all.