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Travel Talk: An Amazing Tea-Plucker I Met On My Travels

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Travel Talk: An Amazing Tea-Plucker I Met On My Travels

Bill Bryson, one of the best travel writers of our time ("A Walk in the Woods," "Notes From A Small Island," "In A Sunburned Country"), wrote, "To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." That's  how I felt when I met and spent the morning with Rael Langat, a tea-plucker in Kericho, in the Rift Valley in Kenya. I simply spent a few hours at Rael's side plucking tea leaves while we did a very 'everyday' thing: We talked about our families, shared snippets of our work lives and described for each other what our home lives were like. Our conversation wasn't so dissimilar to the kinds of chat you'd have with someone at a bus stop or in Tim Horton's on a Sunday morning anywhere in Canada. But the surroundings, however, were very different. And listening to Rael as she revealed details of tea plantation life in Kenya made me keenly aware of all the things we take for granted back home. [caption id="attachment_2287" align="aligncenter" width="417" caption="Rael Langat: hard-working tea plucker, determined mother"] Real photo - proportioned enlarged in edit[/caption] Plucking tea is back-breaking work. I was pathetic. Rael was very kind and generous, quietly going back over the tea shrubs picking all the buds I had missed. Rael is very determined. She's up at 5 a.m. every morning, sees that her kids are clean, dressed, fed and off to school. She walks several kilometres to work in the tea fields for ten hours at a stretch, and on her one day off each week, Sunday, she walks to church. [caption id="attachment_2314" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Plucking tea leaves at Kericho Tea Plantation, Kenya"] Plucking tea leaves at Kericho Tea Plantation, Kenya[/caption] Rael's home is a one-room structure without electricity or running water. Luckily for her, however, working on the Unilever Tea Plantation Estate means her children get free schooling and healthcare. It's a sustainable community, with a stamp of approval from the Rainforest Alliance. (To earn the RA accreditation, Unilever had to meet certain criteria - criteria that means workers are cared for and fairly treated.) Rael's husband works here too, though when I asked if her children will one day work on the tea plantation she responded with a very determined, "No, I want them to get an education. They will get better jobs." [caption id="attachment_2389" align="aligncenter" width="426" caption="Tea plantation, aerial view. Kericho, Kenya."] Tea plantation, aerial view. Kericho, Kenya.[/caption] The things Rael wishes for her family - education, healthcare, decent housing, clean water - are basic benefits of living in Canada that I appreciate, but, to be honest, I do take them for granted much of the time.  Spending time with Rael altered that somewhat. Hers words weren't layered in sympathy or regretful longing. Determination was the overriding tone.  Hearing Rael describe her efforts to acquire the basics for her family made me listen up. There's a force flowing through her, and indeed, through many of the other tea pluckers in the field that morning. It became clear that Rael's vision of her family's future is what spurs her on, is the source of her unflagging energy. [caption id="attachment_2280" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Rael Langat, Doug O'Neill, Kericho, Kenya"] Rael Langat, Doug O'Neill[/caption] At the end of our morning together in the tea fields, when our everyday chit-chat about our lives came to an end, our sacks of tea buds were weighed. My contribution was paltry. "Don't worry," said Rael, "You will get better. Oh, yes, you will get much better one day."
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Travel Talk: An Amazing Tea-Plucker I Met On My Travels

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