Sri Lankan Rice Paddy Experience – As we reached the end of our trip in Sri Lanka, all we could think is that we did NOT want to go home. We HIGHLY recommend you check out Sri Lanka for yourself! Starting at number 1 and then ending back at number 1, here is where we went!
We have only posted about our favorite destinations along the way. You can find a post for number 1, number 2, number 3 (part 1), number 3 (part 2), number 5, number 12 and number 14.
Day on a Sri Lankan Rice Paddy
As we mentioned in Part 1 of this post, we not only had some structured activities during our homestay, but we also made sure that we had some unstructured time to simply explore the local neighborhood. It’s our belief that having an honest sense of curiosity and a willingness to go with the flow is one of the easiest ways to authentic experiences. In fact, that is how we ended up spending the day on a Sri Lankan rice paddy.
Here’s how it happened…
Around 9AM, with a few water bottles in hand (and unfortunately no sun screen), we set out down the road. We were eager to see what Kandy had to offer. After a few twists and turns through the neighborhood, we reached a narrow main road. As the cars whizzed by, the moving air gently pushed us backwards. We certainly didn’t feel safe on that road, so we quickly searched for another. Soon we were only hearing bird songs and calm, and far off in the distance, the mellow buzz of farm tools. We were surrounded by a lime green rice paddy on every side. This was what we were looking for.
Given the fact that it was Sinhalese New Year as well as Tamil New Year while we were visiting, as we wandered around the outskirts of Kandy, we walked by countless houses filled with extended families celebrating the holiday. Many of these homes had a rice paddy or two behind their house, but this was a time for rest and celebration. One family in particular must have been able to see the curiosity on our faces since they, without any hesitation, invited us into their home to share with us a number of different Kevum (sweet cookies and savory treats) made especially for the new year.
In the photo, the wheel looking ones are called Kokis. Rice flour and coconut are the main ingredients in Kokis, and they taste savory, salty and crunchy. The dark brown square is Kalu Dodol. The main ingredients in these are coconut syrup (like maple syrup but from the toddy palm tree) and rice flour. The oblong shaped yellowish/brown one is called Mung Kevum. The main ingredients in these are palm sugar and mung beans, and the round shaped brown one is called Konda Kevum. The main ingredients in Konda Kevum is rice flour, molasses and coconut milk.
To put it mildly, we felt stuffed by the time we left these peoples’ home. We weren’t able to communicate beyond our few words of Sinhala and their few of English. However, we certainly had made a pleasant connection with them. And, their outpouring of hospitality deeply touched us both.
On this high note, we continued our wandering. Far off, in the back of a rice paddy, we noticed a number of people working. Naturally we were curious to see what they were doing. But, we were also a little weary of the neck high grass between us and them. However, we decided the reward of seeing a rice patty in action would be well worth the remote risk of snake bits and ticks. We headed into the grass and back towards the paddy. We figured, if they were able to safely get to the back of the field, we could too!
After a few delicate minutes of walking while looking mostly at our feet, we arrived at the rice paddy.
We were eager to learn about what was going on, so we watched them work for a few minutes. Then, we took off our shoes, plunged in. We didn’t think we’d be working on a Sri Lankan rice paddy, but we were. So, we started helping them harvest the rice!
I quickly realized it looked much easier than it actually was. Bending down to cut the rice was challenging. I also struggled with using the hand sickle efficiently. And it was challenging to walk a 25-35 lb. bail of rice 100 meters to the pile. Frankly, I found the work exhausting.
At first, the farmers looked at us with complete and total bewilderment. It seemed as though they were thinking to themselves, “What in the WORLD are these two doing???” After a few minutes though, they realized that we meant no harm. And they seemed pleased to have two more able-bodied adults who could “help” harvest the rice.
I put the word ‘help’ in quotations because I think it’s a bit hyperbolic to claim we were helping them. I say this because everyone, the little girl included, out paced both of us by at least three to one. Regardless, we used a hand sickle to cut the rice. And, we used a tarp to haul it over to their paddy separator machine. After we worked for about two hours, we all had harvested the entire paddy.
We finished the last sips of water in our bottles, tried to avoid dripping our sweat on the other farmers and began to wash some of the mud off our feet. We badly needed to get some more water. So, we began to put on our shoes, and we turned to head back through the tall grass and out to the road.
Just as we turned to leave, one of the women with whom we were just working, appeared with a few bottles of coca-cola and orange soda. We were exceedingly thirsty. But, we are also not the biggest fans of liquid candy. So we each sipped on a small glass of soda, and then we started back to the tall grass path. But, before we got even got two steps away, the woman gently grabbed my arm and gestured to a nearby house hidden amongst a grove of coconut palms. She also spoke a little English and seemed to be saying that she wanted to feed us lunch.
By now, we had been away from our home stay for a few hours. We felt worried that they might be feeling worried about us! We also felt it would have been rude to leave at that moment. And in spite of our efforts to say and gesture to her her that it was completely unnecessary for her to feed us, she took us back to her home.
With the help of her two daughters, Champa, and one whose name we did not learn, she cooked us a three course meal of curry chicken, dal and some sort of curried vegetables. The rice she made for us came from her own field. To top it all, again in spite of our gentle urgings for everyone to eat with us, no one would eat with us but instead gathered around to watch us eat, and to make sure we ate second and third helpings.
By the end of the meal, both of our bellies were bulging quite a bit. So were glad to hang out for a while and let our food digest. We headed out to the porch to find a number of their neighbors. They all wanted to come and meet us. So we all acquainted ourselves with each other, and we did so with nearly no words. And, they gave us more food – fresh, sun-warmed avocados from their tree! The avocados were creamier and sweeter than any avocado I had ever had before. And they were perfectly ripe!
We hung out for a while more. Champa and her family made us feel very much at home. In fact, it seemed as though we could have spent the night if we had wanted to. But, we still worried about getting back to our homestay family. So, we took a few more pictures with everyone, and we exchanged some contact info with Champa. Then, we headed back to our homestay house. Without a doubt, this day on Champa and her family’s rice paddy was one of our most memorable experiences from the entire trip.
After experiencing everything we did that day, more strongly than ever we believe that having an honest sense of curiosity and a willingness to go with the flow is one of the easiest ways to have authentic experiences. This theme popped in the next portion of our trip too. During that part Ruwan, our driver, agreed to take us to his childhood village. And there, we saw even more of the local culture. If you’d like to read all about that experience, click on the link below.