Saturday, August 9, 2008

Portrait #44: Falahyeen

Today as I rode down the highway, I passed tent after tent set up for tomato harvest season. These tents sat up on the fringes of enormous fields of greenery. Outside one of the tents, there was a celebration going on: I could see the men dancing traditional dabke folkdance and the women sitting around clapping. But this was the exception. Most of the falahyeen were working hard.

Along the side of the highway there were fruit and vegetable stands set up in which about 80% of the produce offered were ripe red tomatoes. In the fields behind the produce stands, I could see the women in their long skirts and long-sleeved shirts and covered heads, tirelessly picking tomatoes off of vines.

Near one of the produce stands, there were half a dozen women crossing the road. Most of them had enormous buckets of tomatoes - there must have been 20 kilos of tomatoes in each bucket - resting on their heads as they sprinted across the south-bound lanes, then walked across the grass median strip to the north-bound lanes. They stood in the median strip waiting for us to zip by.

As we sped past them, I noticed they were wearing very bright clothing. One woman was wearing all red with faux gold coins adorning her headscarf and her waist. Another was wearing a blue skirt with a bright flowery blouse and a headscarf in another bright colour that I can't now remember. These women walked tall and strong and with unending energy.

On one Saturday a month ago, we actually joined three falahyeen women in their work. They were picking rocks out of a field that is used for a eco-agriculture project, and we joined them for two hours to help them clear the rocks away. We worked for two hours and went straight for the cola and tea. They had had been there before we arrived, but they managed to make a dazzling party for us out of the arduous task. Each girl wore a long skirt and trousers under the skirt, a warm long-sleeved blouse and a headscarf. But I don't think they wore it for decency - after all, they were happily flirting with the boys in our group. But it's what they wear.

Some of us stopped by their home after the work was over for the day, and they had cleaned up from a dirty day in the fields. Their faces were still dark and sunburnt, their heads still covered, their smiles just as wide. And their clothes just as bright. They looked about ready to start making their lunch but wanted to stop and drink tea with us before we headed back into the city.

The falahyeen I saw today lived in tents on the sides of the fields. They are a sort of migrant worker, going to the fields where there is work, when there is work. Right now the tomatoes in the south need picking. The sun in August is relentless here, and they work all day in the fields. But their energy doesn't let up. They jog and laugh and party, and the girls talk with boys and the boys with girls. They get the tomatoes picked and even take them to the produce stands to be sold on. Their clothes are as bright as their smiles, which are just about as bright as August tomatoes.

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