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20040842Today, Don took me south, about 100 km away from the city, to Punchak to visit his mom’s rice plantation. It’s here that one of their servants, Katiman, lives with his wife and child and takes care of the main house and plantation. The village they live in seems typical of a rural community here in Indonesia with dirt roads and oxen and cattle roaming freely. Houses are really nothing more than shacks built of bricks and cinder blocks with thatch roofs, dirt floors and no properly wired electricity, at least not by our standards. Katiman’s house was much nicer than most of the small houses in the area and was built more in the modern style with plumbing and electricity. Of course, the main house was enormous and thoroughly modern. Much of the fields look like they’re underwater since they are growing rice. The women tend the fields doing so much of the backbreaking labor of planting the rice, while the men do the occasional big jobs such as dealing with irrigation or plowing with the oxen. However, it often looks like they just sit around a lot while the women work.

What really caught my interest were a group of kids playing in the rice fields and covered head to toe with the gray-brown mud in which the rice is planted. That is, I thought they were playing until I realized they were actually catching eels in the mud. Freshwater eels live in the gooey mud of the rice fields, usually just a foot or two beneath the surface. The kids could find them from telltale holes in the mud that the eels make as they burrowed beneath the surface of the mud. I really couldn’t distinguish one little hole in the mud from any other, but they obviously could as they jammed their arms into the mud, often up to their shoulders, and within seconds would pull out what looked like a small snake. In a bucket with a little water, they would reveal themselves to be small black eels about half an inch in diameter and about two feet long. But unlike most of the animals I caught when I was a kid, which eventually were released, these eels were destined to become food for dinner.

Once they collected a bucket full of squirming eels, I was told they took them back to their home, where their mom would take the eels, smack their heads on a board to knock them out and squeeze them to remove any remaining mud I suppose. They would take about three of them, wrap them around their hand to make a loose coil of eels and then tie the coil together like a hank of rope with a rice leaf. After they had several little bundles of eels, they would drop them in a pot full of hot oil and quickly deep fry them. It certainly sounded intriguing, if not a bit strange. Don said I’d get my chance to try some of this later so I was happy just to know where they come from.

The rest of the day was relaxing and uneventful and we eventually made our way back to Don’s house in the city.

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