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The work group starts at 3 – nothing ever happens on time here so I’ll go against a life time of instincts and arrive a generous 20 minutes late. I get to the house which is hosting today’s cultivation but there seems to be no one there, they must have already started I think to myself. After closer inspection I find a woman taking a nap in the corner and announce awkwardly “I’m here to work in the fields!”. She gets up, looks at me, chuckles and tells me to sit down and wait, I’m so early that it’s like I’ve arrived at a party before the host. After about half an hour of waiting inside the house, she points me in the direction of the field and I make my way down, a hoe hanging off my shoulder and my precious water bottle in hand. I find an elderly man, the host, just beginning to clear the field in preparation for the rest of the available men in the village, from ages 10 to 70, to arrive. He too finds my presence amusing and promises to teach me how to work the field, but recommends I first sit under a bush to get out of the Sun. I settle down in the shade and end up dozing off.

When I awake, perhaps 20 minutes later, men are streaming in from all directions in clear indication they knew exactly what time they were supposed to arrive. About 30 show up and they fan out across the field, which at this stage is just a giant sea of green weeds, and very soon begin churning it into beautifully ordered brown peaks and troughs, ready for seeds to be planted. I insert at myself at random intervals into the line, vaguely imitating what they seem to be doing to the occasional encouraging, but possibly sarcastic, praise of “bon travail!” (good work). I discover afterwards that there is a very specific order which is supposed to be followed when cultivating a field and that everyone is competing to see who can finish the fastest. This would explain why, if I got a bit carried away in a particular row, I would often find myself at the opposite end of the field to everybody else and why people would sometimes point me in random directions just to get me off their row. Covered in sweat and dirt, my hands beginning to blister and taking increasingly frequent water breaks just to catch my breath, I eventually decide to retire and admire the work more passively. Everyone else, including the children and grandfathers, continues to work effortlessly and chat casually amongst themselves while bent in half to the incessant rhythm of their hoes scraping the dirt. When the last patch of green is finally weeded and neatly arranged, everyone walks up to the house to receive the equivalent of payment for their labour: the local currency of gratitude, some especially brewed beer.