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Resistance Farming

SOUTH KOREA | Sunday, 26 March 2006 | Views [1657] | Comments [1]

The farmers continue to work despite the fact the government says they are no longer allowed to be on the land.

The farmers continue to work despite the fact the government says they are no longer allowed to be on the land.

I'm in Daechuri, a small rice farming village outside of Seoul. It's early morning and I'm walking through the streets with a couple of friends. We had come the evening before to join the candlelight vigil that had illuminated the village every night for the past year and a half and we stayed the night in a small room in the community tea house chatting with journalists and activists that are here to protest against the encroaching U.S. military base expansion which would dislocate the rice farmers (again) and effectively erradicate a large part of Korea's rice-producing capability. The South Korean government has been working since November 2005 to evict the people from their land on behalf of their commitment to the US. Half of the villagers have left already, but the rest have remained behind to fight for their land, their community, and their livelihoods.

Daechuri is quiet except for the humming of American helicopters circling above. Half of the houses are abandoned along with most of these people's possesions. Murals, banners, and graffiti embellish the sides of buildings, vehicles, and fences.  We're meandering through the walkways in the rice fields near the village when we see a dozen Koreans piling into the back of a large pick-up truck and we walk over to ask where they are going. One of them knows a little English and says 'work' and we decide to join them. After several minutes of barrelling down a dirt road, we arrive at the next village over on the other side of the rice fields, Doduri. We pull up near some women who are scooping and leveling rich soil into flat pans. The Koreans that we rode with jump out of the truck, put on gloves, and form a production line and, after establishing that we are Canadians with the elderly farmers in the group, we fall into line and begin passing finished trays to a man who stacks them in neat rows. Feeling the earth with my bare hands and the sun beaming down on my face, I feel instantly revived after the long night before that left me angry and disgusted. The farmers we are working with are singing and laughing, and if I didn't know better, I'd think that they have no care in the world. I'd have no idea that the land we are working at this very moment had already been confiscated by the government and there was a good chance all our work would go to waste because the farmers would be removed before they got a chance to harvest. Instead of the fear of this happening hanging over the group like a black cloud of woe, the farmers seem almost joyful, like a group of Whos smiling and singing in the face of defeat.

After about an hour or two, we stop to take a break. A elderly woman comes by with a large bag of candy and stands in front of me with a handful of little sweets. I say, 'hana' (one) and take a mint. Her husband, who seems to be the man in charge of the whole operation, sees this and rushes over. He takes the rest of the candy from her palm and shoves it all down my pocket despite my feeble protests and then I thank him as everyone around us laughs. Then he takes another couple of handfuls and pushes them into the pockets of my friends.

The man shovelling the hard dirt onto the sifting machine (from which the rich soil we were working with came), throws a shovelful of dirt onto the machine. Suddenly, a young woman screams and points to a odd clump of something bouncing around on top of the sifter. It takes me a couple minutes to realize it's a fairly large toad, because a man picks it up and tosses it to another man who dangles it in front of the screaming woman's face who nearly knocks me over as she runs away from it. Everyone's hysterical, either with fear or with laughter. Eventually, one of the elders takes it away and puts it in a safe spot away from everybody. Throughout the next couple of hours, more toads suddenly appear and the scene repeats itself. 

After a couple more hours of work, the old man in charge goes off on a motorbike. He returns with Korean rice wine, a very potent, very strange milky concotion that gets a person plastered in no time, and he makes it clear that we have to drink up. Again, after some feeble protesting, which everyone thinks is funny, because they know it's futile, I crouch down to take a drink. The most similar thing in taste that I can think of is uncooked bread, and actually, it's not so bad, but I worry about what effect it might have on me drinking it on an empty stomach while working in the sun, and so I stop after a cup and become adamant that I must get back to work. Chop, chop.

When we leave, the old man is dissapointed we won't stay for a meal and he conspires with the other villagers to get transportation for us back to Daechuri. We decline and walk away before he offers us something else for our modest efforts. The weather is beautiful and it's a great day to walk back through the rice fields to see the place as it may never be again.  

(For more information about the situation in Daechuri and area, please go to http://www.savePTfarmers.orghttp://antigizi.or.kr/english , or http://news.amnesty.org .)

Tags: People




hey you. hi. it's good to read your blog. haven't seen ya'll canadians in a while. we've got to get together in seoul sometime. actually what are ya'll doing on saturday?

  unity Apr 11, 2006 1:32 AM

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