For the past year I have grown to favor Ceylon Tea, and most recently the loose leaves from the Lover’s Leap Estate. The leaves that made the hot tea in my cup near at hand have been grown on moist mountainous land more than halfway around the world from me on the small island nation of what is officially called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. A small dot off the south coast of India, this tiny country was once known as Ceylon, then and still a major producer of the world’s tea.
My tea comes from plants grown in rolling fields and picked by women just like myself. Tea pluckers they are called; women from their teens into their seventies. In the idyllic promotional photographs, their brightly colored clothes look like flower blossoms dotting the vibrant green fields. They carry baskets on their backs. A good tea plucker can pick as much as 30 kilo grams of tea leaves in a day. My life may be far different than these women, but I am not unfamiliar with such work. I am reminded of how cotton used to be picked here in the south. My own mother-in-law tells of going into a field at the age of eight with a bag to pick cotton.
The tea I drink comes from women who spend all day on a steep hillside, often in the rain, barefoot, where there are snakes and leeches. It rains a lot where I live, so I can easily imagine the scene. According to a 2005 article at BBC.com, the women’s daily wage is about the same as the cost of a bag of rice. And in their culture, the wages are paid to their husband or father, not directly to them. Their homes are mostly ones built nearly a hundred years ago during British occupation and without even the basic running water.
I think of the women—like myself, wives, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, aunts, sisters–rising early to feed their families and get them off to school and work, before themselves going to spend the day in the tea fields on the steep hillsides. I think of their tired arms and weary backs, but of their gossip and laughter, too, which is always a part of life, no matter the hardship.
Do they realize what they give the world?
“Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.” ~William Gladstone, British Prime Minister.
If the women did not work, the world would not have tea. A contrast indeed.
World Vision International, Christian Aid, and the Ethical Tea Partnership are organizations working to bring change in the lives of these women, but, like all change, it does come slowly.
I might be tempted to feel guilty for drinking and enjoying the tea that has become so necessary to my own life, maybe even to give it up. But doing so would not help, and strikes me as unappreciative of the lives of these honorable women.
Instead, I choose to celebrate the gift these women give, and to honor them by drinking their tea. I can make my own voice known in their support. I will remember, too, that for them to improve, the price of my tea will increase.
I lift my cup of precious Ceylon tea to these women. I salute them, thank them, and offer prayers for change on their behalf. I doubt I will never see my tea as ordinary again.
CurtissAnn is the author of several novels. To learn more, visit her site, CurtissAnnMatlock.com!
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