¡Rice! Shining a light on Ecuador’s muddiest work

Nov 1, 2017 | 20 comments

In mid-September, Edie and I were traversing part of the countries lowlands as we worked our way up the coast from Salinas to San Lorenzo. As usual, we were on the look out for photo-ops but the atmospherics weren’t too accommodating. Eleven days of travel yielded eight rain days. Nonetheless, around the corner lay interesting things. Ecuador’s rice industry is not something I expected to see because I never hear of it. Cacao, coffee and bananas get all the attention!

So, here’s an editorial, a little reportage for you that at first glance seems to leave the world of creative expression behind. Well, the world is not always just the way you find it but, maybe more the way you treat it! In this case, I’m writing and shooting to eclipse the normal words and images by which photo-journalism is typically measured. I’m adding a little more to my recipe for this “slice of life story.” There’s a bright side to the agriculture affairs of the muddiest kind, rice farming! And the guys I met, well, they’re deserving of whatever light I can bring to shine on them and their lives, they are amazing and special people.

To get it out of my way, let me state the obvious. Rice, as a product, is cheap. And, it’s filling. It is a staple in the diet of most residents of Ecuador. I’m not into writing about how much is produced or where and how it’s distributed. I like my guys that I’m hanging out with at the paddies! Those big smiles are throwing a lot of light on our cloudy day!

The first thing I saw that made me brake El Fantasma down from his ninety kilometer clip was the fellows using the flat boards and motorized “mud-walkers!” To prepare the paddies for rice, by being sure all mud is level, they stand on a flat board behind their mud machines. This way, all the rice in the paddy is in the same level of water and will grow correctly since the mud has been leveled by the board being pulled over it.

Rice plants are begun in one area and then moved to another to reach maturity. After the tender shoots are about a foot long, they’re then transplanted to other paddies where the plants reach maturity by creating “heads” of rice on the terminus of their stalks.

I don’t bother to show you in my brief photo-essay but there are a seven or eight motorcycles parked on the dirt levee adjacent to the paddies. That’s the cheap and dangerous transportation available to my guys and how they get to work, take their baby to the doctor and bring home supper. Fact is, I’ve seen as many as five humans on a “moto” at one time, under power, headed down the highway. But, hey, it’s the culture here. And, so is being happy with what you have and making the most out of life, no matter how it seems to arrive on your doorstep. Just look at those smiles!

The moment we disembarked Fantasma and those white lenses came up firing, we were having a healthy verbal exchange with our new-found buddies. It was so up-beat with a fast tempo of Spanish mixed with shouts, friendly gestures and lots of laughing!

There were some races to see who could plant the most “shoots” the quickest. I loved shaking their muddy hands, every last one of them I could! They looked shocked that I would care to touch them; they were indeed grubby. However, Edie and I made it clear that we admired them as a group of hard working guys and liked them as individual people we were crossing life-paths with that afternoon.

So, what really happened out there on that deserted stretch of road in a lonely and sparsely populated area of Ecuador? Well, we had a cool exchange in which any differences in age, religion, culture and sex all fell to the wayside. We were all simply people in the world, socially embracing each other in a way that defied easy understanding yet defined the inherent good in all people. Even though I knew our time together was short-lived, I could tell it would be shared with others. I knew you would read about my experiences here as I shared my photography and words with you. And, somewhere that night, in simple bamboo homes in the coastal lowlands of Ecuador, I knew men would be telling their families of friendly gringos with cameras, smiling and making their photographs. They would wonder and chat of the fate of those photographs made that cloudy afternoon in the steamy lowlands of my home, Ecuador.


Brian Buckner

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