Sunday, May 29, 2005

Cows and Sheep

I'm slowly starting to like going to the farm while at the same time learning new excuses of why I don't want to have anything to do with it.

Nahida and I went off in my dad's car, it was the longest distance I've ever driven. The road was full of checkpoints, all of them Iraqi. A few of them stopped us. One told me not to approach so fast because he would've shot at me, but it was getting ridiculous when one checkpoint was only 10 minutes after a previous checkpoint. A couple checkpoints asked for the car papers. One or two made us open the trunk and open the coolbox. With less than an hour left to reach the farm, the car began to break down but continued to move at a slower speeds, fortunately it got us there, without any discomfort.

The first thing I noticed at the farm was the amazing amount of cows and sheep present. Most of which are owned by travelling shepherds. The shepherds had tents set up. I even caught saw one of them talking to the sheep. They had brought their herds to feed on the stalks on the ground left behind by the combine harvesters.

After we unpacked and cooled off a little Fozzy and I stopped by my uncle's 'wakeel' (The wakeel is the guy that takes charge of a farm when the owner decides not to do it himself. when this takes place the wakeel gets the larger part of the owner's share of the harvest.). In the guest hall of my uncle's wakeel I learnt that alot of the young men in the farm have now got jobs. The uni graduates got government jobs and the strong guys got jobs with the police or the army. As a result of all this employment, the quality of the labourers has gone down, and the price has gone up 3 times.

The guest hall had posters of the Shiite imams and of that Sadr fella. I asked if it was right that to have a graphical depictions of the Shiite imams. They said it was okay. I remarked that old mosques don't have images of the imams built into them. They told me that there was a political element to the images. There was one poster of the young Sadr guy and a militia man with a big machine gun. I wanted to ask what the meaning of that poster was, but didn't.

My dad who's in the UK, wanted me to go see the farm at this time to see how the harvest is performed. Which I got to see as soon as I arrived. A combine harvester dumps about a ton of grain on a spot. Then hired labourers would sack and weigh the grain in 50kg sacks. Once the mat underneath the pile shows they stop and count the number of sacks. Then an old guy would calculate how much of the grain is to be left to the farmer.

First 10% of the grain would be ear-marked for paying the guy who owns and runs the combine harvester. Then the fee for the labourers is subtracted. The group of labourers are paid 2 or 3 dollars for every 100 or 1,000 kilograms. The remainder of the grain is then divided between the farmer in charge of the plot and the owner of the land (I'm the owner). Now we continue subtracting from the half of the farmer the cost of the seeds that we provided, and half of the cost of the fertilizers, and whatever little money that the farmer borrowed from us. And finally we reach the amount of grain that the farmer withholds and the rest of the grain goes to us.

The guy in charge of calculating the shares of grain writes out a piece of paper that states the amount of grain on board the labourer's tractor which is then signed to confirm receipt of the grain at our storage facilities. At the end we pay the combine harvester guy and the labourers in cash.

The crop this season was really bad, producing about 500 kg per 'dohnam' (dohnam is the area unit used here, it's equal to 2500m2), because it was infected by some parasite. In some areas the seeds of a previous and different plant sprouted, which also messed things up. Regarding the parasites, it was explained to me that the government used to spread insecticide with crop dusters, but haven't been for the past 5 years. I'm trying to remember exactly what the matter was but can't. I'll have to get it explained to me again next time. I remember when I was with CBS a CPA officer talked about the problems regarding the use of a crop duster since it doesn't look like a military plane and that forces on the ground would mistake it for an enemy plane.

One of farmers has gone out of line. He withheld his harvest of rice the previous harvest, and took a few sacks of wheat this harvest. Under Saddam's rule not a single farmer would dare to do such a thing since we would tell the authorities and the cops will come along and drag him straight to jail and keep him there till his trial. Now the rules have changed, if anyone accuses someone of theft they're not taken into jail until a trial takes place. Whoever reading this would think that that's a good change, but it really isn't when there's a weak rule of law in the country and the trial's take months to happen. That same farmer is now threatening Fozzy because my dad took filed a complaint.

So now that the government law isn't much help, the matter is being dealt with through the tribal system. Our Sheikh is going to have a word with the farmer's family and hopefully find fix the problem. Hopefully the other farmers will note it as an example and not fuck around anymore than they already do.

I planned to spend only two nights there so in the evening of the second night we went into town to make an appointement to tow the car the next morning. We only found one tow-truck and he wanted to charge us 160,000 I.D.. We were expecting to pay about 75,000 I.D.. So when some guy mentioned that his cousin got a dude from nearby Diwaniyah to come to baghdad and to tow it back to Diwaniyah for 75,000 I.D. we took him and his cousin to take us to the tow-truck dude in Qadissiyah.

On the way, the cousin asked me in a low voice how much the previous tow-truck dude asked for, and I told him. How much I really regret telling him. When we got to Qadissiyah the cousin got out of the car and had a word with the tow-truck guy before us. When we got to speaking about how much he would charge he said 135,000 I.D. Fozzy and I were a bit shocked, and then I got pissed off because I realized what had happened. The cousin had told him how much we had been offered to put him in the know. I accepted anyway, because I didn't want to spend an extra night in the farm. Some suggested that I take the car to Najaf and fix it there instead. But that sounded like a bad idea to me for many reasons.

The next day we towed the car straight to our regular mechanic who quickly found the problem. Apparently there was rust in the fuel injection system.

On the whole the trip was pretty good, I was glad to find the climate there somewhat cooler than here in Baghdad. And that even though the electricity came half the time it comes in Baghdad, it was easier to go to sleep because of the climate, and also because I had those sleeping pills. I'm somewhat looking forward to going back there soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Shaggy,

I think the English term for "wakeel" would be "tenant farmer".

Do you think you may stay longer next time you go to the farm? The drive between Baghdad and the farm sounds so difficult and kind of scary.

Please take care.
Tell us more!
Love, Tilli (Mojave Desert)