Monday, December 31, 2007

our livelihood in waiting

it is not always what it appears to be if you dig a little deeper

the year that was (2007) a personal view

This was I am sure the toughest year I had to face and the blog I started about six months ago, when I had a few spare moments will attest to some of the trials I had to undergo. Looking on the bright side, I was not troubled at all by sickness, barely a headache in the year.The war wounds in the trenches, like having the deep scar when trying to cut paddy now appear mild (chronicled in my blogs)I am down to my ideal weight of 156 pounds I was last at over 20 years previously is an added plus.

I went on a short visit to Japan and a longer time of reflective thinking in Las Vegas, which inspired the blogs. I had some nice holidays in Sri Lanka, one in Nuwera Eliya, and another in Galle and a few others sprinkled here and there.I filled a whole year of journal ling and am amazed at the different things I did each day and some of the people I met.

I have had the worst luck with the weather as far as both my sales, and my growing activities are concerned and capped by the last few days of rain that ruined my papaya cultivation. I have had terrible labor problems in all three farming establishments I am involved in, and one where I was assaulted by the Manager, and hospitalized ( all blogged)

Financially, though all who know me value me on the worth of a particular property I live in, I have had the worst time, barely eking out an existence, but due to an inbuilt resilience I have been able to live personally on nothing, so that I could carry out my enterprise, albeit not as I would like, but at least not defaulted on the payroll of my 12 staff.

I have various loans to pay and capital expenditure plans for 2008, but I cannot think it can be as bad as 2007. I am looking forward to finishing my Ratmale cabin so that I can let it occasionally to paying guests for an alternative experience, and a much needed alternative source of funds to supplement my farming

I was once a news addict, and now I don't seem at all to be bothered at not knowing what goes on in the world, as it does not seem relevant to me and does little to enhance my quality of life. I was also a 24/7 Internet hound but now all I have is a moment to steal to load up my blog and disappear into the ether.

I liked socializing, but now prefer my own company most of the time, and tonight, at the stroke of midnight when the new year dawns I presume I would be sound asleep in bed, after a few late nights, protecting my fields, by stealthy transfer of water to feed my cultivation.

People take me for me now, and even at a last minute invitation to a grand Christmas eve party, I walked in my rubber slippers after a hard days work of selling, that was last Monday and not prepared to party.I did enjoy the party, the people and most of all the food!! and hey my attire offended no one.( I hope)

My uncle died a few days ago and I was not able to make it to his funeral, but I am sure he will understand, so I don't about the living, and I hope no one feels obligated to attend mine, that is if I ever have to die!!! no I am kidding.

Despite the apparent complicated personality that is sometimes portrayed here, I am a simple farmer, who works every day with the support of his staff to grow food, buy produce from other peasant farmers and bring it sometimes in the dead of night, through very rough weather and many police and army checkpoints and road blocks, and sells direct to homes of customers in Colombo and others in my little shop on the farm.

I also sell fresh milk from my cows to my customers minutes from the cow and hope one day I can make this loss making dairy at least break even.This has been my largest cash flow deficit, due to the high cost of feed and low quality of animal, both of which I have to do something about.

Most of all I am happiest in my little cabin overlooking the river which flooded a few days ago, and the property, where I enjoy working on the land. I like watching the eagles soar, and listening to peacocks making their awful mating call. The bathing place in front of the cabin brings different people, some who enjoy a little tease across the water.Watching the dogs, chase after the ground and water monitors and seeing mongoose dart accros the road and beautiful rock squirrals sniffing up the mango tree for the same mango that I need to get to before he does. Oh the beautiful birds that always most unexpectadly make their presence felt are an added bonus.

The open veranda is open to all so any of you who want a break from your hectic schedule come relax in my place to find an alternative ideal.

Monday, December 24, 2007

the village barber

At Kotelawala Handiya, a kilometer from my property, the local barber cuts the hair of the locals. The cut and the head massage for both the boys today, Rohitha and Ranga was 100 rupees less than a dollar

the beaches of Sri Lanka

I was priviledged on Friday, December 14th at short notice to be invited to Galle by some friends. On the following day we went to bathe in the Rumassala beach, a totally unspoilt beach in the Galle harbour which is slightly off the beaten track. One has to trek for ten to fifteen minutes down a fairly steep incline to get there over boulders and rocks, but the walk is worth every bit as this beautiful clean bay awaits you.

It is great that in Sri Lanka one is continously being introduced to these wonderful delights that makes one happy to live in this paradise isle. Oh if only politicians would leave and let ordinary people live, what a wonderful place it would be!!!

After the long dip in the water with appetites like lions,(sorry lionesses) we were treated to some super food at a restaurant in Unawatuna where my spheghetti in seafood sauce was one of the best I had tasted anywhere.

Friday, December 14, 2007

No day is without incident

Galdola Farm House, Godagama, Kirimetta, Meegoda

I sometimes wonder if I am living in a real life soap opera where all these different parties have their own agendas, which impinge into my life in one way or another.
Monday was my usual busy sales day in Colombo getting home exhausted. Tuesday morning saw Menika my home helper's clothes strewn on the fence in front of my shop.Her estranged husband had done the deed at night and when she came to work she was so embarrassed she said she was leaving and persuaded her not to as that would just give into this alcoholic's whims. He had then come again to the shop later and purchased some items, and when he was confronted by the lady who is the overseer of the farm, had scolded her in foul language in front of some of the staff, and she came crying saying she is leaving, as she was upset. I had business to do in an office and so went to Colombo after that incident thinking nothing of it, and was informed by phone that some of the staff had stopped work as a result and the animals needed to be fed and they did not have enough grass. I was told later that they had changed their minds and come back.
The next day Wednesday, no one came to work except for an old timer Siripala, who said he would go to cut grass for the animals.Leslie the man who climbs the trees came to cut the King Coconuts. As there was no sign of life from the workers, I went with Amila to the environs round the farm and cut 555 King coconuts in bunches of 15 to 25 and hauled them from the tree to the cab to transport them back to the farm as my farm does not have any at the moment. My trees are in the dormant period for the year and have to get my supplies elsewhere.
Remember no staff no breakfast or lunch, and in the after noon session I spent the next 5 hours cleaning the chicken sheds and hauling 50 bags of chicken manure all the way to the front of the shop to sell them. I realized then that what I did in that short time my workers each takes about 8 times longer to do especially those who struck work. I needed to hand the sheds the next day to the man who I rent the cages to.I had agreed to clean the cages, for the manure. I now realize my staff cost to clean the shed costs me many times the worth of the manure, and realized those who struck work were more trouble, so I was hoping they would never come back.
The next morning I sold all 50 bags to one person who hauled it away in a truck and all the workers turned up like mice with not a sound realising they were jeopardising a good thing for them.
All this time I had not confronted them as to whys and wherefores of their behaviour and acted as if I had no care in the world. When they turned up I only pointed out their laziness and showed them what I was capable of doing with no help, and told them to be ashamed of themselves, and left for Kitulgala to my other assignment trying to put some order in another comedic situation. That story is for another occasion.
Just to finish this one, the poor girl whose husband did the scolding was asked to leave by the old lady, and she rightly said there is no reason for her to leave. This was because the old lady's kids said either she or her mother! leave. These kids, supposedly pillars of the local community, in their attempt to defend their mother from verbal abuse from a drunkard, got some thugs to beat him up and turn his house, actually owned by my maid, upside down, and told the maid not to come to work. What right have they to ask an honest employee of mine to leave to satisfy their personal grievance against this estranged alcoholic wife beating husband.
Such are the petty games and I am glad I kept out of the fray not interfering in this at all and lets, time take its course. The old lady had commented on my lack of interest in the matter by not going to her house to ask her to return! I was not party to the incident so why should I interfere, and she is welcome to withhold her employment, and I will be the beneficiary not having to deal with personal vendettas.I only want performance for just pay, and I will not interfere in their lives.I am sure I have not seen the end of this as I am sure this lady who has been at the farm for over 25 years will try her best to get this girl off the place, and will try to influence my father, in the matter.It will be interesting to see the next move, and what sordid story will be cooked up to achieve this end. In the meantime I am trying to write a skit for a comedy, based completely on this story as I only see the comedy unfolding in this otherwise tragic case. Their is a lot more to this story with this girls two kids being hounded, a boy of 19 and a girl of 10 so villagers can be nasty. I think this is a case of one family who rose from the gutter to a status of wealth and power, not letting another rise from the gutter,for fear of being surpassed in the gutter stakes race!
It was pouring with rain today, Friday, and so the King coconuts cut have no market as Sri Lankans dont by the stuff on rainy days. I have a big loss on my hands.Thats the unpredictability of life. Each day had a share of unpredictability. I had to at 7 this morning go in search of Coconuts for my shop not knowing how many I will return with. I foung 200 at 30/- unhusked to sell on Saturday market day in the shop as my trees are dormant. I will only sell at a 1 rupee profit, but that is the price to keep the customers happy and ensure their return in the future.

Friday, December 7, 2007

foot and mouth disease

My usual route into Colombo for my weekly sales and deliveries results in my passing the parliament road that circumvents the National Assembly that is housed in a man made island in the middle of Diyawanna Oya. Owing to the budget debates now going on, the road is closed to my vehicle which comes under the category of a heavy goods vehicle. This means that I have to double back and get into more traffic, which delays my journey more than I would like.

I was commenting today, that parliamentarians on both sides, if one reads what is being said in the press, are in a jostling match amongst each other with very little regard to the needs, concerns and aspirations of the electors who put them there. It is either a slanging match on who can shout the loudest. Those who are actually doing much of the talking are full of themselves and not much else. It is like 'Nero is talking to the gods about all the good he is doing while Rome burns' kind of situation.

The comedy is further exacerbated because the police who are busy on all the approach roads, act as if each convoy that comes brings the president, as they are not told who the vip is on their way in. As there are over 100 ministers, the police give the same servile treatment to all and the Johnny come lately who is on his way to parliament is chaffed at the royal treatment meted out at the expense of the exasperated and long suffering motorist.

What is said and expounded on the floor of the house matters to no one, as what is said is meaningless, listened to by hardly anyone and reported only if the level of comedy rises to new highs. The results of the votes bear no relation to what is said in there.

I liken it to a foot and mouth disease that our lawmakers have, who are oblivious to the plight of the people they represent. Parliament consists just of yes men obeying their leaders with few who have the guts to come clean and talk sense. There is hardly anyone without dirt sticking to them. Even the muddied paddy farmer being visually cleaner than them.

The public are apathetic to protest or are in fear of protesting at these antics, for being incorrectly branded by the most corrupt as being unpatriotic. This is something to be concerned about.

Does no one see this drama for what it is and do something about it? or are we forever to be consigned to the scrap heap of history? We will be branded as a spineless populace with no backbone that allowed our lawmakers to ride roughshod over this land, and permanently disfigure its core.Lets not at all worry what others think of us, and only care about what they have done to the people living here, and the pathetic example they have shown.

This sums up parliamentary democracy Sri Lanka style. Keep the foot in the mouth and we will really be OK.

i created a paddy field from a patch of grass!!

Two days ago when I was coming through a clearing past the large Siyambala Tree (Tamarind) I saw this expanse of grass that had the tall scratchy mana grass mounds. It was the old 'kamatha' where the paddy is driven over by buffalo or tractor to seperate the stalk from the grain and then the grain is swept into the paddy sacks or put into the 'wee bissa' for storage and use.Due to new technology of using threshing machines, this practice has gone the way of the landline phone.

I was on the hunt for more space to plant my paddy seedlings and the thought occurred to me to try to see if I can convert this patch that had not seen any planting, but pressed down with years of straw, into a working field. We cleared the tall grass, diverted the water into it, dammed it from one side to prevent it flowing out at the lower end, and hey presto a lake was created. The tractor was then used to turn up the soil that looked packed with nutrients and the edges were cut into the center creating a fairly large field.

I have decided not to put any fertilizer and as I am sure that the soil here is better than any other place on my land, I am curious to see if the grain I get from here is drooping as compared with other areas. Even my staff are now amazed at the size of the field previously covered by weeds.

the sky at dusk

Do you look at the sky at dusk and at night. You will be surprised if you make a habit of it wherever you are as to what you will see. It is a free service given by the maker to keep us enthralled and hopefully inspired to expect the unexpected. I have been soo lucky to see extraordinary sites at dusk, especially a fusion of colors, but vey unlucky in not being able to capture them as well as I see with the naked eye in the eye of the camera.

Take a moment from your busy schedule to enjoy this and you will be surprised at what you see.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

fields of lime green in paradise is an illusion

Much of the country today is awash with fields of lime green, the color of young rice plants. The price of paddy having risen by 80% in two months, has resulted in most marginal paddy lands coming under cultivation. I would be surprised, unless bad weather intervenes, if we do not get an all time high (record breaking) bumper paddy harvest.

With the clearance of the Eastern Province of the security threat, many abandoned paddy lands have also now come under cultivation. Farmers all across the country are hopeful of reaping rich rewards. Much of the profit from the price increase has hitherto not gone to the farmer but to the mill owner and trader as the farmer sold his paddy at harvest time at prices that were almost at government guaranteed Rs 18.50 a kg instead of the Rs 33 a kg that the same paddy now commands.

The farmer wants to cash in on the high price and therefore have put in everything they have with hopes of getting out of debt this time. The reality will inevitably be heartache and mass suicides, as we do not have a proactive government that can forecast and make contingency arrangements now. The expected bumper harvest will leave farmers with massive amounts of paddy they cannot sell. The mill owners and traders know this before the sleepy government. They will buy the paddy at prices that are less than the cost of production. Thus the rice farmer gets nothing for all his efforts.

The government must plan now to have financial reserves to buy the surplus paddy at a reasonable price of say Rs21 a kg giving the farmer a possible small surplus to cover his labor. The farmer must be informed now of what the price the government is prepared to buy. So this is the floor price. If the market price happens to be higher, obviously the farmer would sell at the market price to the wholesale trader who comes with the cash to the field to buy upon harvest. Remember that most farmers cannot afford to hold stock, both for lack of space, and also for the need to pay off debts incurred on account of planting.

It is unconscionable that the price of rice has risen to such heights in a country where most people eat rice as their staple for three meals of the day. If it is purely a market driven mechanism, then there has been some serious lack of planning for this eventuality. I suspect more it has been as a result of the two or three largest millers, cornering the market creating an artificial shortage that has raised the price from which they themselves have only benefited. There is total lack of transparency in Government as two of them are Government ministers whose portfolio is Agrarian Services, and responsible for the purchase of the paddy. There is hardly a murmur from the press about this due to fear of these two powerful ministers.

three calves on a roll of a lifetime

I have mentioned earlier about the troubles I have had with trying to maintain a herd of milking cows. The main problem being the lack of food, namely grass in the environs of the farm and the unproductive labor being used to gather the grass from nearby fields, and transport them to the cattle shed.

Once we made the decision to drastically reduce the herd so we can at least find enough food for the remainder, I decided to move the three calves born in a short period since I returned, to my place in Plonnaruwa.

Permits are required to transport cattle in Sri Lanka. I first had to get a letter from the vet authenticating that they are my animals and then took it to the Gramasevaka who is the village authority responsible for any official duties pertaining to authenticating property and people so that passports, licenses and permits can be issued.

His letter is then given to the Divisional Secretariat, which in this case is Homagama to issue the formal transport permit. The permit mentions the age and significant markings of the animals. It further indicates the locations from where they are to be taken and to which location. The license plate of the vehicle is also indicated along with the permitted time of travel which in our case was between 6am and 6pm on Tuesday.

Once we returned from our weekly home delivery on Monday, the staff on the farm, prepared a makeshift pen on the flat bed of my pick up truck. Early in the morning they were able to coax these leery animals for their first and possibly only journey in a vehicle. Due to the nature of the cargo we had to go very slowly and made it in about 7 hours.

Not surprisingly, at almost every checkpoint, the police stopped us to check the papers. It is so funny that when it is obvious what cargo we are taking they check us, when we would be foolish to openly take cattle without a permit, and when vehicles go closed they don’t check when the likelihood of contraband is greater. My theory again about law enforcement. They enforced what is easy for them to do and they can justify to all what they did whether it is giving a speeding ticket for going one above the limit or checking a truck that openly is carrying nothing!! The police officers despite all the info being very clear in the permit nevertheless wanted to know from where and to where and whys and wherefores and that we should give more feed in the truck etc. These are people who know nothing about cattle transport and probably never had a cow telling us how we should treat the animals. It is also referred to as the typical mentality of the people who always offer advice on matters they know nothing about.

One observation I was quite incredulous of was that all through the journey, babies to old men turned round at our passing and in many cases got others to look at this sight of three animals on a pick up!!! It was quite an object of curiosity. I guess one does not see cattle transported like this as those are normally transported in closed vehicles where no one sees what is inside.
Needless to say many people were wondering if they were on their way to the abattoir. In this country where killing people is like a pastime, the thought that these animals may well be on death row provokes feelings of horror. Many people incorrectly must assume this automatically when they see animals in a vehicle as they do not rationalize that they maybe transported to a better place as in this case so their emaciated bellies can fill up with unlimited grass!!

The animals survived the journey without a hitch and were so delighted with their new surroundings. They jumped from the back of the truck, so we did not have to worry about how to get them down. They are now eating heartily like they have never eaten before and lazing in the shade of mango trees.

I will have to make an enclosure for them, and the staff have undertaken to take them down to the river daily so they will be in clover. Of course the intention is economic to be able to get as much or more milk from them here as I currently receive from a dozen head of cattle in Godagama.

The very happy trio, I should name them!