By mandevu at 3:38 pm on Sunday, February 15, 2009
Harvesting grass for roofing. This tends to be a job women engage in.
There’s a pretty narrow window when this can take place. The floods have receded by December or so, and then by the end of February most of the savanna will have been burned.
People cutting grasses to tie into roofing (to use themselves or to sell) need to act quickly before the harvest sites are all burned. The woman above is tying the grass onto a bamboo splint for roofing.
By mandevu at 2:59 pm on Sunday, February 15, 2009
I am back in the field! I got back about a month ago, and am charging along on the last leg of my fieldwork before I write all this business up. One of the big foci on this trip are descriptive ecological inventories of the floodplain vegetation surrounding the village. I have done a lot of interviews about these different landscapes, so it is important that I am able to at least describe some of the plants out there.
Since the area I cover is too large to count every single plant out there, I have to sample a bunch of different areas (actually 60 locations in total, randomly selected, stratified by land use/land cover type from an orthophoto which I classified). Then I will use some statistical techniques to make generalizations about the floodplain flora. To do this, we lay out a 20m by 10m plot and then count the trees and shrubs which fall within this (there’s more to it, but that’s the punchline). We string together 5 of these at each site. The image above is of a couple of my research assistants laying out a line for a new plot.
Not only are we counting, but we are recording names (above). Most of the sites so far have been in rice fields or open savannas.
The open plots are fastest, as there are few trees or shrubs to actually record, (see above). However in addition to the big plots I mentioned above, we are also setting smaller plots within the main plots in order to collect data on the herbaceous understory– usually grasses and sedges. Above is an image of my research assistants setting out the sub-plot.
So we are cranking through these plots relatively quickly. I am happy with our progress so far, though I expect that we will slow down once we reach the sites farther out from the village. As one might predict, the areas closest to the village are mostly rice fields or savannas. Further off is where we’ll be getting into the thicker forest. That should be fun!
“Most of our presenters are not professional and besides, they are not acknowledged by our Ministry [of Information]”, Nouv Sovathero deplores. Some speak Khmer with a heavy foreign accent! It is something that worries us. With the new law, they will be required to be of Cambodian descent, able to read and express themselves in accordance with the rules of Khmer grammar. Foreign presenters who speak Khmer will not be authorised to exercise any longer, due to their incorrect and inaccurate pronunciation”, the Secretary of State detailed, insisting on the fact that the point was to make people respect “morality” in programmes broadcast throughout Cambodia…
There is a new law being drafted in order to extend the Ministry of Information’s control over media. With the intent of protecting morality, the focus seems to be on games and entertainment sites, with news sites being left alone. I am just a little distressed as this would force me to abandon my dreams of being a wildly popular dj your FM dial. I guess I should stick to the agricultural stuff…
This is a Yilida YD-10000. It is a flashlight. In fact, it is a special flashlight. In addition to the classic spot light, it also has a flashing yellow light (for emergencies) and a siren (for more serious emergencies). It is owned by a friend of a friend, who brought it with him when he came to the village to fish. He was throwing cast nets well before dawn, so his need for a flashlight makes sense. He is also a police officer, so his need for a yellow emergency flashing light and siren also sort of make sense (if seemingly impractical in their application in the field).
What I liked about this flashlight is the labeling. Now, I must confess to an appreciation for awkward English-as-a-third-language translations when I stumble upon them. However, the story which this flashlight tells is a little more complex.
Most interesting here is the last feature in the list, “easiness schlep.”
Now schlep, or sometimes shlep (or sometimes שלעפּ), is a word of Yiddish origin (from: shlepn) which usually means to drag, to carry or to pull. It is from the German: schleppen, to drag. Though in Americanized Yiddish usage, it can also be used to mean to travel somewhere with connotations of difficulty (as in, “to schlep across town”). For non-Yiddish speakers, like myself, this is not a particularly arcane word. It is one of many Yiddish words which have made their way into English. However, it is a colloquialism. And it is not so common as to be a synonym of drag or carry. Thus, this flashlight caught my eye.
I took this picture late in 2007 in Kampong Thom Province. But I still wonder about the engineers and graphics department at the Yilida factory. How did schlep make it onto that label? Where had the label translator learned his or her English? Might they have lived in New York for a time, or someplace else where there are many people who either speak Yiddish at home or (ab)use Yiddish colloquialisms? Might their teacher have learned from someone (like myself) who was fond of Yiddish? What about their teacher’s teacher? I have certainly seen linguistic ticks (word preferences, grammatical errors and sundry misappropriations) transferred across generations of English teachers. All I can do now is speculate. I’ll never know. But I still marvel at how a word from a language spoken mainly by Jews of Eastern European origin (with speakers numbering a little over 3 million people) found its way onto a Chinese-made flashlight, and then into the hands of a police officer in rural Cambodia. No, it is not the first example of nifty global linkages which I have ever seen. But it is indeed one of my favorites.
Disclamer: I am no expert on Yiddish. I just live in Brooklyn and have read a couple of books by Leo Rosten (one of which I purchased in Phnom Penh!). So if any of you Yiddish speakers or Chinese flashlight engineers out there have further insights on this, feel free to share.
First, let me apologize to my three readers for the length of time between posts. I have been busy with fieldwork, and have not had time to write new posts. On the bright side, this post is the first to include video of some of the farmers who I am working with. The video embedded below is a montage of the steps involved in preparing the seedbed for a rice nursery, from which seedlings will be later transplanted to other fields. This also illustrates one of the solutions some farmers have used in response to the early flooding in August.
By way of background, in August of this year there was heavy rainfall in the mountains of eastern Kampong Thom and adjacent Preah Vihear Provinces. This flowed downhill and out onto the floodplain, flooding many of the rice fields around the village where I work. Such flooding is a normal part of annual ecosystem processes– flood waters from the uplands flow downhill while floodwaters from the Tonle Sap rise. They usually meet and mix on the floodplains south of the village. This flood pulse is a major factor in driving such a productive system. Land use systems in the village depend upon it. However in this case, the floods arrived about a month early. The water rose very quickly, over just a few days. As a result, rice plants were not yet tall enough to survive the flooding. Even other floodplain grasses such as Oryza rufipogon, important as sources of fodder for livestock, were affected. That first pulse has since receded, and was followed by another pulse of floodwater. Though this second pulse of flooding was on-time, the damage had already been done.
Farmers were, and still are, in a difficult position. Next year is likely to be a difficult one. In response to this flooding, I have seen a few strategies which they are using to mitigate loss. Some farmers have borrowed unflooded, uncultivated land from extended family members and planted another crop. Some are preparing to plant dry season rice in a few months. Others lack seed or resources to buy/borrow seed for another crop, and are waiting for the floods to recede to see how bad their situation is. Signs of coming foreign aid are starting to appear, though I do not yet know how much, who will receive it or who is sending it . A few farmers are using the technique of flood recession rice production. In this technique, as floodwaters recede, the newly revealed land is planted to a rapidly maturing rice variety. The farmer in this video had transplanted his fields 3 days before the early floods. Little of the crop survived, though the few individual plants which did survive were transplanted elsewhere (another crop recovery technique!). As the water drained, he traded seed with another farmer for a more rapidly maturing variety (maturing in about 70 days, as opposed to the 90 or so of the previous variety) and re-established a nursery. Since this video was made, we planted out the seedlings at 3 different sites. He and is family also have rice fields further out on the floodplain which remain flooded even today, and have not recovered. Though this technique may help to buffer his family in the coming year.
The steps illustrated in the video are: plowing, harrowing, baling water from the field with a snaich (water shovel), final seedbed preparation by hand and lastly, sowing of the rice seed. They are pretty typical of the farming techniques which I have seen used by other farmers in the area. What is novel about them is their timing with respect to the flooding and other ecological and agricultural processes. His brief commentary at the end of the clip describes these steps (I ask those more fluent in Khmer than I to forgive any mistakes in my translation)…
Farmer: Today I started by building a snaich (water shovel), an old-style snaich. When I finished with the snaich, I plowed and I harrowed [the field] in order to sow flood recession rice. This flood recession rice, I traded with someone [for the seed], the name [of the variety] is Srauv Chhlong Ndaing. So today, I started a crop of flood recession rice.
Me: Yes, and why did you change rice varieties?
Farmer: The reason that I changed rice varieties…last month I had already sown [a rice crop] and it had grown tall, I had pulled the seedlings from the seedbed and transplanted them already, then when the river water arrived everything was flooded. The variety that was flooded was called Srauv Romdoul. All of my property has been flooded.
This is the first video which I have ever put together. I am hopeful to include a few more, and am especially keen to teach some farmers how to use the camera. I think that their movies would be more interesting than mine!
Lastly, massive thanks to Beth Kanter and Jinja for technical support and encouragement in this new video stuff!
By mandevu at 8:09 pm on Saturday, September 8, 2007
At the request of Refuter, here are some fish. Actually, I do not have any images of the ones caught by the kids behind the house. These were caught in a gillnet which was stretched perpendicular to the current, along the border between a rice field and a pond in a completely flooded landscape.
When the heavy rains hit the mountains in the neighboring province a few weeks ago, all of this water flowed downhill into rivers and onto the floodplain. Many people have lost at least a portion of their rice crops, because this wash of rainwater came about a month early. So in many fields, the rice was not yet tall enough to withstand the flooding. Next year, many families in the village will have problems both with having enough rice to eat, as well as seed for planting. Ironically, there has been little rainfall the village itself.
This early flood also brought a flush of riverine fish out onto the floodplain, into the waiting nets of fishers. For a week or so, harvests were pretty good. However, the water level has since dropped and fewer fish are moving from the rivers onto the floodplain. Catches are now generally small, both in the total weight of the catch, as well as the average size of any one fish caught.
The water under the house from my earlier post has drained, so the kids have taken their fishing elsewhere.
By mandevu at 10:06 am on Sunday, September 2, 2007
This past week, I took a couple of days off from my work up on the floodplain to come down to Phnom Penh for the Cambodian Blogger Summit. I had a great time! This event featured two days of presentations and discussions focusing on blogging, ranging from the technical (e.g. an introduction to podcasting) to the more theoretical (e.g. envisioning the role of blogging and the internet in Cambodia in the future). I met a lot of neat folks, and learned a bunch too.
One of the particularly inspiring aspects of the conference was that it crystallized out of the efforts of the Cloggers Team– 5 young Cambodian bloggers who are so motivated about the medium that they developed Personal Information Technology Workshops which they then voluntarily facilitated at 14 universities and high schools. To date, they have taught over 1700 students about blogging, Khmer Unicode and related topics– all on their own time, driven by their own passion. I have immense respect for the DIY spirit of this crew, and am grateful for their efforts. Plus, they put on a great conference.
In light of the fact that part of my reasoning behind this blog is to share some of Cambodia with people abroad, I am going to start pointing you towards other blogs about Cambodia– other people, other themes, other ideas. Check them out– they are a refreshing change from my usual, “How about this fence…” kinds of posts.
As an appetizer, I will refer you to the blogs kept by the members of the Cloggers Team. All Cambodian, all quite different, all fun reads…
By mandevu at 7:55 am on Sunday, September 2, 2007
Over the course of my project here in Cambodia, one activity which has sucked up a lot of time is the accumulation of spatial data, ranging from paper topographic maps to digital orthophotos. These are invaluable for general thinking about land use, as well as developing landscape histories, which are an important aspect of my research project (as well as not getting lost!). One sort of data which I have yet to properly assemble, are locations of government land and fishing concessions to private individuals, companies and communities.
However, a post from Details are Sketchy drew my attention to Alt.Map.Cambodia. There, one can find Google Maps of fishing, mineral and agricultural concessions (like the map above), documents dealing with border negotiations, and more miscellaneous geographic information. An excellent resource!
Alt.Map.Cambodia subsequently pointed me to the Danida-funded Cambodia Atlas project. The website features an interactive Java-powered map of Cambodia, which allows users to modify which information is displayed on a base map of Cambodia (i.e. which layers of the GIS are active). It includes layers for forest cover, UXO and land mines, community fisheries and much more. Fun to play with. According to the site, this is part of the effort to get this data into the public domain, which is a good thing. However, I am not sure if they are making the datasets available for download so that we can actually use them in our own spatial analyses. That would be a really good thing.