When the strong sun slowly sets behind the towering green peaks of Ban Lien, the busiest time in the couple’s working day starts. Tea picker families in their colorful clothes bend round the corner to gather their heavy bags full of tea leaves at the entrance of the factory.
Nhung takes her place behind the desk. As many days of the year she manages the inbound of tea leaves. Bags are weighted, leaves inspected, account is kept handwritten in the yearbook and money is exchanged, all while talking about the latest gossip of the commune. Nhung’s office becomes the commune’s busy market place and on the twenty square meter space between the door and the tea processing line, community life is suddenly unfolded.
Nhung multitasks and every of her maneuver is to a tee. She keeps the muddle under her control, never losing her smile and friendly attitude. Today’s sobering quality of leaves does not upset her: “All pickers did their best but in final days of a harvest period, leaf quality naturally decreases a bit” she knows. Quality requirements and prices per kilogram are visibly published in front of Nhungs desk. 8.500 Vietnamese Dong for one kilogram of Quality A, 7.500 and 6.500 for Quality B and C.
People stay for a short talk with other pickers, new groups of farmers arrive and others buy essentials in the small convenience store which is also included in the factory’s entrance. So it goes for hours while in the factory hall the drying and rolling machines are clattering and chattering to process the fresh tea leaves into the final dried loose green tea.
Unnoticed aside this continual hustle and bustle, Than and two of his employees have just prepared dinner. Than and Nhung share all their home duties and jump in wherever needed. It is up to Than today to prepare the traditional homemade dish, of which every delicious ingredient has grown or lived around the house. “We have definitely no doubts about the origin and organic quality of our food” Than says with a twinkle in his eye. When the dish is served Than seems totally relaxed, knowing well that at the same time his wife is busy. “I know she masters this easily”, being sure it will soon be the other way around. Calm moments like this at dinner are the sparse free time and they take every moment they get. “Usually during the nine-month tea harvest season we work seven days a week, almost without leisure time” Than explains. Only a few weekends they take off to visit their families in Phu Tho.
At eight o’clock Nhung suddenly drops into kitchen: “Farmers having dinner themselves now, more will arrive and I have to go back to work until around ten” Nhung expects while horking down a mouthful. Their working day will end at midnight, when the last processing machine in the factory is switched off, the fire is wiped out in the drying machines and the remaining employees start their motorbikes heading back home to their families. Then, a sudden calm will overcome the place until tomorrow morning when Than and the employees will finish processing the tea, cleaning the factory and transporting the final products to the warehouse. For Than several meetings with the provincial leader, potential traders are pending. He will be back right in time in the evening, when the tea picker families will bend around the corner again.