I grab ten golden stalks of rice in my left hand and bunch them together.
The serrated sickle in my right hand saws through the stems clumsily; it takes multiple efforts to cut them all. Salty sweat drips down my forehead and into my eyes; the stagnant humidity and the hot sun’s embrace are both relentless.
I straighten my back, and shuffle over a few feet to grab another handful of rice stalks. The curved crescent blade, rusted near the hilt, cuts and saws again. Success. I add more stalks to the growing bundle in my left hand and move on.
I have been doing this for a hour, and have fallen into an almost meditative trance. All that exists is the golden rice paddy, my tool, the sweat, the groaning protest of my muscles, and the rice in hand. Every time I cut down as many stalks as I can hold in my fist, I walk out of the rice paddy and deposit my cuttings onto the ground, into the large pile I have been collecting.
I stop to wipe sweat off of my face, stretch my muscles, and take in the beauty of my rural Cambodian surroundings. The sea of golden green rice paddy seems never ending beneath an almost-too-blue sky. Only one hour, and I’m already tired, ready to find some shade, a cold drink, and a stool to prop my feet up on.
I don’t think I would have made it as a rice farmer.