Third year university students around the country are required to participate in the picking of cotton. It is meant to be an equalizer of sorts, a way to get the educated class involved in the hands, daily struggle of the common man. Picking cotton is a common experience that is woven into the lives of almost all the citizens.
Each year I have seen my friends come back from their two weeks of required labour with rough worked hands and sore muscles. They talked about the large daily quotas that each student was expected to pick, the blazing hot sun, or the bone piercing cold wind. I had yet to find a student who enjoyed their break from the books and a chance to work the land.
Yesterday my friend and I wanted to get out of the city for the day. We took the bus to a near by town that neither of us had ever visited. As we were riding along we saw cotton fields everywhere. They were filled with students and labourers who were bringing in the yield. My friend and I both agreed that it looked like fun. We imagined the students singing songs and having competitions for who could fill their bag of cotton first. In fact we so romanticized by the notion of ‘cotton picking’ by quoting lines from Gone with the Wind, that we actually wanted to join them.
So now I have knit myself into the very fabric of this place. I have a shared experience with almost everyone of the local people. I have picked cotton. I am a cotton pick’n kid. Okay so my experience is not totally the same as everyone else’s. After arriving in town and taking a city bus to the outskirts of the village, my friend and I reported for duty at about 11:15 in the morning. After talking with the ladies in the first field we came across, and getting a lesson on how to properly pick cotton. I worked for about half an hour (of which part of that time was spent taking pictures, and answering the ladies question about where we were from… and why did we want to do this again?) After half an hour I started to get frustrated, picking cotton is not easy on crutches, they kept getting caught in the bushes. Also my friend was wearing our backpack full of goods for the trip. We knew we wanted to see more in town and so we thanked the ladies for the experience and left. I guess half an hour, and being able to quit whenever I wanted, doesn’t really make me like the locals, who have to do it for two weeks straight despite their screaming muscles after all the bending down (which I also have, but I can nap today to help with recovery).