I woke up this morning, February 25th, 1988. I heard strange noises coming from the front of the house. I asked myself all kinds of questions. What time was it? It was about 4:45 AM. What was that I heard? As I looked out my window, I saw a cart—a wooden cart with two great wooden wheels with metal rims, one on each side, being pulled by a large carabao (water buffalo) past the front of our house. Our road was not paved. It was just hard dirt that was a bit rocky, and those metal rims on the wheels made a loud noise as they clattered along. I wondered what time this man had gotten up this morning in order to get here by such an early hour as this. When I asked him later on, he told me, “3:38 AM!”
“My! Why so early?” I exclaimed.
“Well, the first thing I do is start the wood fire, which takes a bit of time, then fix our breakfast, eat, clean up, and leave for the field. We get to the field at 5:00 AM.
Other carts come, too. In one, is a woman, the farmer’s wife; in another, four people, probably the farmer’s family or neighbors who will help him when they get to the field. In some carts, there are four or five children going along to help, and there are baskets for putting the corn when it is picked. I see one man sitting on a carabao going by and a woman walking quickly along behind. She looks like she is trying to catch up with him and the rest of her family that is in the cart. Small carabaos walk alongside the larger ones.
I look to see how the people are dressed to do the work of harvesting. They are dressed in their oldest clothes, oftentimes those which have been patched. Usually the ladies wear long pants, a dress over that, and a long sleeve sweater or blouse. Usually they are barefoot.
They wear a kerchief or small or large straw hat. The men are barefoot, too, and wear either long or short pants and a jacket or long sleeved shirt with a hat or smaller denim cap pulled down hard on their heads. Sometimes a man will have his wife riding behind him on a carabao on his way to the field. Though her sweater may have been patched many times, it is sufficient to keep her protected from the coolness of the morning and later on from the insects in the fields.
I wonder where the carts are coming from. I realize they must be coming from farmers’ homes in town where they had been standing all night in a little shed or yard with shelter. I had seen carabaos and carts in the sheds of several farmers’ yards.
I decide to follow one to see for myself where it is going. Hurriedly, I get dressed and go out. The cart I follow goes to the corn field where the farmer gets out and starts picking corn and putting it into a basket specially made for carrying corn. When that is full, he throws the corn into the cart until the cart is well filled. Then he covers the corn with a thin layer of corn stalks to keep it from falling out, and he takes it back to his home in town.
I ask him how many trips he makes each day. He tells me he makes up to six trips if the weather is cool and the sky a bit overcast. If it is very hot, it will be less than that.
When I ask him why it would be less if it is very hot, he said it is because the carabao could not be allowed to get overheated. He could only work when he is able to breathe well, and he could not breathe well if he is too hot. He is called a water buffalo because he needs water. Since he has no sweat glands, he can not perspire to keep himself cool. Therefore, his skin needs water to keep him cool, He has to be bathed at least four times a day by the farmer if he is working in the field all day. If he grazes in a field that has a pond nearby, he will probably immerse himself six times in one day or maybe just stay in the water.
Now at 8:30 AM, one family is almost finished filling their cart, so they are nearing time to go home. They have their corn baskets with them, which they fill, empty into their cart and go back to fill them again. In the meantime, their carabao is eating weeds and stalks of old corn plants. They stop to eat some bananas they brought long for a snack time, and then they go home.
Fan and his wife, friends of ours, have several children. Some go to school, and one older girl stays home to clean the house, wash clothes, and cook for their noon meal.
In another field near Fan’s, there is a group of twelve who are picking corn. They are neighbors and represent seven families. This field is not their land, but they are working for the owner. They will each get three baskets of corn for their labor for the morning. Their job is to pick all the corn in that field.
I ask them what time they had gotten up this morning, and they say they got up at 5 AM and arrived at the field about 6 AM to start work. They brought a little six year old child with them to take care of the carabao and play while his parents worked. Already they have filled two carts and are now dumping their newly picked basketsful on the ground to wait for the owner who will return with an empty cart. He has taken one load home already and the other is sitting in the field waiting for him.
“How large is your field?” I ask the owner when he brings the first cart back.
“The field is about 3,000+ square meters,” he answers (about a third of a hectare or three-fourths of an acre).
“How many carts do you expect they will fill today?”
“Only three. Usually I get four carts from this field, but this year’s crop is not so good,” he says.
What do you think about their pay? Was it good or not? Well, since one cart holds about 30 baskets, and they got 36 between them all, those people will have gotten at least a third of the corn for their labor. This farmer is being very good to his workers. In other places the people only get two baskets of corn for a morning’s work.
Most of these farmers are corn farmers. They save what they need for planting the next crop and also for their family’s needs. What they have left over to sell must be processed. They cut off the kernels and put them into plastic bags like gunny sacks. Then they pour the corn kernels on the cement road to let them dry out completely. If we drive down the street, we just go around the corn, or if it covers the width of the street, we drive right over it. The carabaos also walk over it, as does anything else that comes along, and the corn gets pretty dirty. It has to be put through a machine to clean it and grind it up. We buy this kind of corn to give to the poor people who need to eat. It is cheaper than rice. They call this ‘corn rice’ or baggat mait. Actually, it is probably more nutritious than rice, and they eat what we give them if they want it.
Going back to the field, in the distance we can see two ladies and four children coming down a path carrying bags that are part way full. Who are those people? They are gleaners. They go through the fields after they have already been harvested and get corn which has been left behind. They are allowed to get one bag full per person. As they come nearer, we can see that they are also dressed in very old clothing. The work is dirty and the fields are muddy. They are a mother and her five children.
Let’s find out about her family. She has three children in school: one in the sixth grade, one in fourth grade and one in the second grade. Today is a holiday, Liberation Day, so the children could come with her to the fields to glean. Her older daughter wants to go to high school but because of sickness in the home and other needs that have to be met, she cannot go. Yes, life is sometimes hard here, but they can have their basic needs met as far as their food is concerned, and that is very important.