Month: September 2016

Cricket Pitch, Bamboo and Hairdresser

The man with the ‘Whassup?!’ printed on his black t-shirt who was booked to climb the trees in the garden and bring down the coconuts today is not coming as promised.  Sumitra says he likes alcohol and he cannot climb the trees when he has drunk alcohol the night before.  Then she explains that he drinks every night, so the coconuts may well remain in the trees long after we have left this house.   The mango tree man turned up as well yesterday but a couple of months later than requested and the son and daughter-in-law (DIL) had been forced to trim the tree themselves.

Yesterday we were moving in on Saturday and today we are moving in on Sunday!   You guessed it – tomorrow they may decide Monday is a good day on which to move.

Realistically work on the Pelawatta house has stepped up a pace with a plethora of men there yesterday.    The solar panels for hot water are arriving and being installed today.  Sri Lankan telecom are connecting us to the local fibre optic tomorrow.   Curtain poles are being put up today but not by the original curtain supplier.

He failed to turn up to the first appointment because of ‘personal problems’ and when he did measure the windows, and there are lots of them, he didn’t send his quotation until he was phoned and asked for it several times.   Then the curtain material chosen by the DIL is not available for some months and so the saga goes on.  It would have been a good sale for him as there are roman blinds, full length drape curtains and a finer curtain, (like nets) which allow us to look out but the neighbours cannot see in.  The DIL felt sorry for him but has given him every chance.

So one of the soon-to-be neighbours has recommended a local curtain shop and that is where the purchase will be made.  They are less expense too than the first supplier.

All beds have been delivered although the bed that Gate Late phoned us about the other day when we were stuck in traffic was not ours and the delivery driver was sent to try someone else to deposit the bed with.   The beautiful painting of the monk has not been collected yet but as soon as my bed is put together – today probably – we have to make another trip to Don Carolis so I can choose my bedroom furniture.   I don’t want to choose the furniture until I see the ‘very good’ bed frame my son has bought for me and had shipped over.

This bed too is higher than the prescribed three feet from the floor where the control switches have been fitted so the very patient and accommodating electrician has had to undo his completed handiwork, cut out the plaster and move the switches to a higher position.

The ensuite bedrooms are being finished and mopped today, the maid’s bathroom and bedroom on the ground floor is complete but the tiles for the garage floor have still to be chosen and laid.   The pump for the water system was fitted yesterday and the man who is to put the finishing touches to the staircase is doing that tonight, after the other workers have left.  All the Beko electrical equipment comes today including a super duper fridge/freezer which was chosen yesterday.  It filters the government water so dispenses with the need to carry in 5 litre plastic water containers.  It also chills the water and make ice cubes from it.  There is one section which you can change from a chiller unit to a freezer compartment and it is AA rated.

Sumitra and I were dropped off at Salon Nayana (35 years of making you beautiful) yesterday.


The photo taken from inside is meant to show you the palm trees on the skyline opposite the road.   The salon is uni-sex with a frosted glass dividing wall providing privacy for the men.


The wash basin chairs have you almost horizontal – a weird experience.  I wanted my hair washed in hot water as there is none here – it is always barely lukewarm.  Of course a blast of chilled water was what first hit my head so I stopped the beautiful tiny girl who was shampooing my hair and asked her to please wash it in hot water.   She did and shampooed it very well and finished off with a head massage.


My pedicure was done by the bespectacled bearded funky young man whose hat was glued to his head.     I got more than I had bargained for as he massaged my feet and legs as far as my knees.    I have as much Sinhalese as he has English so there were lots of smiles and nods during the one and a half hours the pedicure took.   Meanwhile Sumitra had shed years off her age with her hair now an all over beautiful black.

A taxi, (a small white car), collected us and the driver waited whilst we shopped at a supermarket and then brought us back here.  On the way back I took these photographs from inside the moving car.   I am fascinated by the fact bamboo is used as scaffolding poles and I have mentioned the cricket pitch up the road so here it is.



I am becoming adept with the scabbard knife and have cooked for myself several times here.  This becomes an adventure as the sweet potatoes the DIL bought in the supermarket were like no sweet potato I have ever seen.  The skin was purple and the flesh white but they were the same size, shape and texture as a sweet potato.  They didn’t really taste of much when cooked.   I made soup yesterday but the vegetable labelled as leeks in the supermarket I am sure were large spring onions, but they are the same family and all turned out well.  Son and DIL were grateful for it when they returned late last night.







Ja Ela

Ja Ela, where I have stayed before, is a more rural area but within easy access of the railway line and transport is via tuk tuks if you don’t own a vehicle.  Not many do.  There are stalls set up on nearby roads where you can buy most of the basics.  There’s also an excellent tailor on the road and a seamstress along the red sandy lane from this house.

The day begins with the bread van’s melodic Viennese waltz music awakening even the Doberman who stands guard in the grounds.   She starts barking before the music begins and as soon as she recognises the sound of the tuk tuk’s engine. She has a sweet tooth and loves the fresh sugary buns, long pointed finger-like twists of bread all freshly made.  The bread van whirls around these streets several times a day until darkness falls at 6 pm.

The van carries a variety of breads, but mainly white bread.  Its buns are coated with a glazing and there are also cup cakes and fairy cakes.  The bread is as light as a feather.

There is a cricket ground further up the road and the routine for the men in this house is to rise shortly after 5 am and walk twenty times around the cricket ground before returning to the daily chores.  Many more do this same walk and as cricket is a national sport the cricket ground appears to be a meeting and gathering place for different age groups.

There’s also a Buddhist Temple thanks to the daughter-in-law who helped the monk set up by giving him a computer.  He earns money from consulting astrology charts on line and passing the advice on to paying customers.  From this he has a living and so has earned enough to build the temple.  His recent purchase of loud speakers is causing problems in the area.   These polite, gentle and reserved people, who don’t complain about anything, have gone in groups to ask him to consider the elderly, the sick and the children who need their sleep before school.

He is genuine in his wish to spread the news but over-zealous as regards volume.  Here the main faith is Buddhist and Catholic with the Muslim population smaller.   And there are Sinhalese and Tamil living happily side by side.   The Tamil lady who did some dressmaking for me two years ago and who lives along the lane is Catholic.  The Buddhist population are as concerned about the hours of music and sermons from the temple.  I have got that I know the temple music off by heart.

But we are to move within days to Pelawatta, where there will be no bread van doing its rounds, there will be no loud speaker from the temple but there will be a bin collection where there is none here.   Rubbish, and there is very little of it as nothing is wasted, is burned in metal bins in the garden.  In Pelawatta, the shops are all within walking distance, and in fact most of what we need and want will be within easy reach.  The most beautiful parks will become the venue for the men’s daily walk.

Till we move the routine is the walk around the cricket pitch and then the steady sweeping of the leaves on the red herringbone brick-laid paths in the grounds of this house.

Sumitra’s routine is cooking first thing and there is always a pot bubbling on the stove, even at 5.30 am when I got up this morning.   The dog follows her up the lane as she picks flower heads to place before the Buddha’s statue in the large sitting room area.  Today’s flowers were a circle of white jasmine and a large yellow trumpet of yellow hibiscus at the centre.

Yesterday evening she served the Buddha a cocktail of lime juice, sugar and water.   I thought she was going to drink it as I was offered a spoonful to taste.   When she was satisfied it was just right it was carried through to place before the Buddha’s statue.  I don’t know what happened to the drink.

Prayers are said reverently morning and night.   Food is placed before the Buddha too and I it has just been explained to me that the dog is given the food that has dried overnight in the bowl in front of the Buddha.

Each person has their own cup, plate and bowl.   The son and I are given cutlery.   One knife, fork and spoon was unearthed for me on my arrival and place in a white plastic box on the kitchen table.   We each wash up our own dishes and utensils under the running tap over the kitchen sink and leave them to dry in the air on a wire plate rack.   Sumitra, her husband and sometimes the daughter-in-law eat mostly with their fingers as is the custom in this country.

Today Sumitra and I are being dropped off at the beauty parlour.   I have struggled with many things here as I am not technical or practical and the language is difficult.  I have a phrase book now but my pronunciation leaves a lot to be desired and sometimes Sumitra dissolves in laughter at my attempts.

I have had lukewarm showers since I arrived here.   Have had to wash my hair in lukewarm water and it was only when I asked my son’s help as to how you got hot water in our bathroom, that it was discovered the water heater light was all that was working.   The heater was not working.   Hence the trip to the beauty parlour to have my hair washed in hot water.

Solar panels for hot water are being installed in the Pelawatta house on Saturday.   And we will probably be installed in the Pelawatta house on Saturday as Anne Barre forecast in August.  But I have come to learn that nothing happens in an orderly fashion or how you would expect it to.   It is all in the hands of the gods, aka Gate Late the builder.

Furniture and paintings

The third part of Monday took us to Colombo city in search of a new bed and mattress for the son’s in-laws for the Pelawatta house.   Driving there was pleasant and the roads were not too busy.  I had heard about the ‘art road’.

Much like Hatton Gardens in London, which is a street lined with jewellers’ shops, all the shops and galleries along ‘art road’ are connected with the arts in some form or other.  There are theatres and performance space, municipal and government offices and departments too -most of which have a uniformed guard at the entrance.

We slowed down to a crawl as we came across paintings for sale hanging in the street along a wall and displayed on the pavement.   Viewed from the slow-moving car the variety of work was extensive and with varying degrees of size, expertise and content.

One painting in particular drew the attention of the five of us.  Set on a black background this painting was of a monk, sitting on the floor, shaved head bowed, shadowed so you could not make out the expression of his face, but the orange/red robes from which his thin muscular limbs protruded, presented a sad figure in contemplation.

Martin Stone, the painter living in Skibbereen, paints pretty much in the same genre.  He manages like the Sri Lankan painter, without painting features or an expression on a face, to convey what the subject is thinking with a haunch of a shoulder or a curve of a limb.  It is a real talent and skill which fascinates me.

When everyone has agreed that we would love the painting in the new house in Pelawatta, Jaia starts negotiations with the painter.   He starts at the equivalent of £45 but as the painting is brought to the kerbside for closer examination we discover a flaw in the canvas which being painted black would be highly visible under a light.  There are also blobs of orangey/red paint splattered in neat little rounds where they shouldn’t be.

Jaia points these out and the price drops to £35 but we explain we would pay the full price for a painting without faults.    The salesman immediately runs off to a spot near the wall that bounds the pavement and from a stack of canvases produces a similar painting, black background with a monk, sitting on the floor, shaved head bowed, shadowed so you could not make out the expression of his face.

I laugh and say there is probably another dozen stacked up waiting to dry.  However the salesman does not bring out any more.   The second painting is so similar to the first but the painter has not managed to paint the crossed legs properly and they appear like bony sticks out of kilter with the rest of the work.

The salesman agrees to remedy the faults of the first painting and we will collect later in the day.

We head further on to Don Carolis & Sons, furniture manufacturers, near the railway station and a river.  It’s one way traffic, and we turn in a loop over a bridge over the river then alongside the river to the shop.   The road is one of the worst roads I have travelled over here but there is a large construction site to the left of us where a notice explains this is a social housing project.  There are masses of buildings under construction and many workers and never a safety helmet in sight.

Despite the rough road to the entrance of the furniture shop, there is a uniformed parking man, and another uniformed man to open the door for us.  A young male sales assistant politely enquires what we are looking for and takes us to the area where the bedroom furniture and beds are displayed.  Most have a tag saying the furniture is sold, but the sales assistant assures us that anything can be made very quickly if they don’t have it available in stock.   We are learning that very quickly means a different timeframe here to that expected in the West.

All the furniture here is either solid mahogany or solid teak.   The substantial wardrobes have locks on the outside and on one third of the inside area there are shelves and another lockable drawer.   The hanging space is divided with a rail inches from the top and then half way down so you wouldn’t, for instance be able to hang a full length dress.   It is possible to remove the bottom rail and a sliding drawer which sits above the bottom rail.

The headboards are solid wood too as is the frame and footboard of the beds.   Light switches, air conditioning controls etc have been set approximately three feet from the floor in the bedrooms in the Pelawatta house.  The reason being you can control everything you need from the bed.

The headboards made by Don Carolis are mostly over three feet tall so a quick phone call has to be made to the builder at the Pelawatta house to double check what space there is for bedside cabinets, again of solid wood, and what is the maximum height the headboard can be.

Don Carolis is the best but the most expensive furniture shop in the country.   Eventually the son’s in-laws are persuaded this is a good investment being made for them.  Jaia is asked if he would like to lay on the mattress on the bed to see if it is comfortable.  ‘It will be because laying on the floor is comfortable too!’ is his reply.

Paying for your purchases takes some time and there is always a delay for one reason or another.   Madam is asked about delivery because if they want the furniture delivered immediately that day there would be a charge, but it could be delivered on Wednesday free of charge, which is the option chosen.

We hit the worst traffic ever on the way back to the Pelawatta house as we pass colonial style buildings.  These are in very poor repair, but the architecture is stunning and speaks volumes of another era.   The area is known as slave island.

The traffic continues to build up and our progress is so slow we miss the curtain shop too.   When there are huge volumes of traffic during rush hour here the police switch off the traffic lights and control the traffic from a centre point in the road.

It’s difficult working out what the policeman’s hand signals actually mean.  It’s a case of following what the vehicle in front does and hoping that the hand stopping your lane does not wave you to a halt so you are the first vehicle in the line and can’t understand what the hand signals are directing you what to do.

Then we have a call from Gate Late the builder.  Have we bought a bed because there is a van at the Pelwatta house trying to deliver a bed!





The Land of Milk and Honey part 2

With time approaching 10.20 am Sumitra has everything prepared.  A statue of the Buddha has been carefully transported from the country house to the Pelawatta house.  Before it was transported a new toothbrush had to be bought with which to clean and scrub the Buddha so it is pristine for the ceremony.  The statue sat in the front passenger seat of the car until we were ready to leave and was carefully cradled throughout the journey.

sumitra-preparesThe new clay pot, filled with coconut milk, ground and liquidised from coconuts grown at the country house, is set on top of a metal stand underneath which is a ceramic tile to protect the newly tiled kitchen floor.   The dried coconut palm leaves are folded to fit under the pot and set alight.  They are so dry that it is easy for them to catch fire.

clay-potWe wait, and wait and wait for the milk to boil over.  The new red clay pot becomes blackened in the flames and the fire is fed some more palm leaves.   Everyone, family, workmen and the newly arrived air conditioning installers from Singers, come to hover over the pot, almost willing it to bubble up and boil over.

It takes its own time and eventually does.

The boiling over of the milk represents a household which will always have plenty and never be short of anything.

mike-and-ru-step-into-new-homeCeremoniously the couple enter the house, she carrying the statue of the Buddha and a brass oil burner and he carrying a basket with food.

This is taken upstairs and set out neatly, the oil lit in the brass oil burner and the white flowers offered to the Buddha


Sumitra swings what seems like incense around the house in great clouds and then goes to each corner of the house to sprinkle drops of the cooled boiled milk.sumitra-blessingincense








Gate Late, the builder, presents the couple with buffalo curd and palm syrup.  Likewise Sumitra’s other daughter has sent similar gifts to bless the occasion as it is the custom to present milk products at these ceremonies.

Now the furniture comes in and some of the builder’s workmen help transport it to the different rooms and floors.

food-on-tableSumitra’s earlier cooking is laid out for all to share.  There’s the white rice and coconut which the locals ball into a perfect round with their finger tips.  There’s a bowl of some reddish mixture which I am warned not to touch as it will be too spicy for me and there are several sweet treats, of different flavours as well as biscuits and bananas, again the small four inch fat ones which taste delicious.  Fresh tea is made and cups and glasses are filled and shared and some choose only to drink water.

When the workmen on the upper floors are called down to share the feast they come down the curved staircase in single file and walk past the food into the downstairs cloakrooms where they wash and dry their hands before coming back into what will be the large sitting room, to eat.



The glass doors to this room are two four panelled floor to ceiling doors, which fold back completely.  The adjoining veranda is shaded by a large wooden canopy which gives shelter from the sun, and some privacy.

Here, in this multi populated island and especially in this area, space is expensive and at a premium and we are cheek by jowl beside other houses.  For all that it is very quiet although the son says he has soundproofed my bedroom in order to give the neighbours some peace as I am always singing around the house.

I wonder what on earth is going on now when I see the daughter-in-law start stabbing the red earth around the house with what looks like a metal pole – there is not much garden here and I can’t understand what she is doing digging up what is there.   It is explained that the Monk – and they have another name for a Monk who advises on the Most Auspicious times – has given them little bottles filled with precious oil and these must be buried around the grounds of the house to protect it and its residents from harm.

Eventually this morning’s early awakening takes it toll and we flop one by one on the large leather sofas brought over in the lorry.    Sumitra is especially tired as the whole ceremony and the earlier cooking has been laid on her shoulders.

But it has been a job well done as the fire lit, the milk boiled over, there was more than enough food to sate everyone’s appetite, even though there were more workmen present than expected, but there is more to come on this busy day before arrive back at the country house very late that same evening.






The Land of Milk and Honey – Part One

Monday 26th September started very early in the Ja Ela house.  4.20 am to be exact as the son’s in-laws rose to prepare for the lorry which was to transport what it could of the yellow post-it note labelled furniture and boxes to the Pelawatta house.

The Most Auspicious time to enter the house was 10.20 am and to move furniture or ourselves in before the prescribed time is considered unlucky.  We were running the gauntlet of the Monk’s advice anyway as Gate Late the builder – whilst bringing about 15 workmen into the house over the past few days, was still not going to have the house ready for us to move into yesterday.  Jaia, the son’s father-in-law, was nominated to stay there last night but much was to happen before we deserted him to his lonely vigil.  (He has just phoned this morning to say he didn’t sleep a wink last night!)


Firstly think West Cork Time and double it.  Jaia and Sumitra woke me at 4.20 am but I was able to get back to sleep until around 6 am by which time they believed the lorry had abandoned us.   In any event the lorry driver and lad arrived at 6.30 am.   And so began the task of cramming what they could into this vehicle.

Meanwhile Sumitra was busily preparing for the blessing of the house and the Buddhist traditions which must take place to ensure harmony, peace and success in the couple’s new home.    Food was cooked, white rice and coconut, some small bottles put aside, oil, leaves gathered from one of the coconut palms in the garden.  The leaves were dry and brittle and shredded and folded into smaller strips.  Some fresh white flower heads which cascade over a wall on the lane, were neatly snipped off and dropped into a small plastic bag.  Sumitra swung the plastic bag over so it ballooned with air and neatly twisted and tied the top to keep the flowers as fresh as possible.  We did not have the brand new clay bowl needed for the ceremony so a call was made to Sumitra’s other daughter who lives near the Pelawatta house to have one delivered to the house for our arrival.

The first drama was before we got to the main Ja Ela road.  We have to cross a railway line which has no safety barriers.  There was a queue of traffic in front of us all trying to cut across on to the main road.   The bell was ringing warning of the impending arrival of the train and it was a case of do we go or don’t we go, in case the train arrives first?   We did go and the train didn’t arrive first.

The next drama was when we were on the motorway.  Locals mainly don’t use the motorway as it has toll stations on it but it saves us a great bit of our journey and the traffic is light compared to the main drag.

Suddenly the son, driving, called, ‘Will you look at the size of that – it’s huge – it’s enormous!’   I twisted and turned from my back seat vantage point looking all around me for a huge truck, lorry or car.    Well that’s what you would expect on a motorway in any other country.

The enormous beast was a very large lizard, looking like he came from a prehistoric age, was at least six foot in length with a large swinging tail and he was crossing the six lanes of the motorway, (three in each direction) without fear or favour.  He was on his own territory and with his head erect, and ignoring the line up of cars, which had been commanded by a policeman to halt, the lizard continued looking neither right nor left, but headed in a completely straight line to the muddy river which bounded the other side of the motorway.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get my camera phone out quick enough to snap this.

The lorry had arrived at the Pelawatta house by the time we got through the traffic.  The traffic is crazy but this is an island approximately the same size as Ireland but with a population in excess of 22 million and I think each and every one has at least one car or tuk tuk or scooter.  Everyone is going somewhere.

I remember being told not to ride the clutch when I learned to drive.  If you learned to drive here – and I pity anyone who has to – you need to be taught how to honk your horn.  There are ‘let me through there please honks’, angry ‘get out of my way now honks’, and continuous honks which mean ‘I am coming through no matter what and you have been warned’.   Drivers just press the car horns for any little thing and it becomes a language which accompanies any journey here.   And I think my son is the only one who knows what indicators are for in this country.


We arrive at the Pelawatta House in good time for the ceremony.  Sumitra’s other daughter has sent a driver around with a brand new pristine clay pot.    We are almost ready to begin the blessing which will be detailed in the next blog.









Sewing Circle and what becomes routine

Sumitra’s Singer sewing machine, operated by pedal-power clickety clacks along its track several hours a day.  Customers call and present her with fabrics, mostly new but over the last few days I have met the daughters-in-law of a lady who died last month.  In this country, where nothing is wasted, the mother-in-law’s clothes have been shared amongst the family and two of the daughters-in-law have arrived here with garments for Sumitra to alter.

The said mother-in-law died suddenly but very peacefully in her sleep.  She just didn’t wake up one morning.  I would imagine from what I have heard of her she was well-loved, had fifteen grandchildren and the youngest granddaughter, age 2 was especially loved being the youngest daughter of the youngest son.  Or so the Buddhist daughter-in-law told me who brought along the brand new, beautiful and expensive broderie anglaise material, white and pristine for a Buddhist ceremony she is organising.  This girl was extremely beautiful and became quite emotional speaking of a lady she obviously respected and loved.

The next daughter-in-law I met had a yellow cotton fabric blouse overlaid with a dark blue lace material.  She wanted the mother-in-law’s blouse cut down to fit her size and the collar detail altered.    I watched Sumitra, the mistress of the scabbard knife, dissect the garment in several free hand cuts, this time with a pair of scissors.  Without any measuring tape, but just her eye to measure she sliced inches off the garment, perfectly matched the opposite side of the blouse, the shape of the sleeves, the collar and satisfied all was in order, the Singer sewing machine melded the blouse together again.   (The only person I have ever seen who can do this freehand, without a paper pattern but with such skill is my oldest friend Moyra in Edinburgh).

All the while this was happening the daughter-in-law and I were chatting.  She had perfect English and told me she was Catholic.  Throughout our conversation she kept excusing herself to answer her mobile phone.   ‘Yes!   I am okay – okay!’    Each time she seemed to say the same words.   A little embarrassed she eventually explained.  ‘It’s my husband.  He hasn’t got over his mother dying as she did three weeks ago.  She just didn’t wake up and he is worried that something will happen to me.’   This lady too was well-loved and very beautiful as was her sister who arrived with more clothes to alter this afternoon.

Life quickly becomes routine.  I have been in this house just over a week now, arriving just after lunch last Sunday.   We turn the fans on when the flies come out – and they generally disappear.  Around 5 pm you reach for the Jungle formula spray as the mosquitos are looking for a quick feed. This country is officially malaria-free but there is still dengue fever, which is very serious.  There are strips you can get for the skin said to protect you from dengue fever – cheaper in Singapore, which is almost four hours’ flight away and people go shopping in Singapore or have what they can’t get here shipped from there.   It’s only 1hr 40 mins to Male in the Maldives from Colombo.  Now there’s a thought!  Anyone for Male?

As morning breaks and as dusk falls the routine is bathing and then lighting the oil and offering the flower heads, gathered in the lane, to the Buddha.  Prayers are chanted quietly and solemnly as I type this blog on the dining room glass table in the background.    The Buddha comes first, the husband next, then the children and like many countries the mother is the glue which holds all this together.

Electricity is expensive here.   I have always been accused of having my house lit up like Blackpool Illuminations.  So I am learning to switch off the fans and the air con when I leave a room.   I love the stillness of this country place.  The temperature is plus 30 degrees and I find it very comfortable.    I love that I can get Sensodyne toothpaste in the supermarket and all the other toiletries I brought with me except the Aussie moisture shampoo and the L’Occitane shower gel I use.  You can even get my favourite ice cream, Haagen Daz locally, but it has a competitor now for favourite as the local Elephant brand of ice cream I had for dessert today, mango flavoured had chunks of the fruit in it.  Yum!

Tomorrow Palawetta and the Buddhist blessing.

The Move to Pelawatta

Tomorrow’s planned move to Pelawatta will only take place for my son’s father in law.    The rest of us will move in later in the week.  Jaia will stay on site as security and to comply with the Auspicious Day advice from the Monk.

Yesterday’s pressurised day ended very late for all of us – we the parents waiting for said son and daughter to return with news of what had transpired in the new house.   And they arrived back here very late indeed.

A different set of plumbers arrived on Friday and yesterday disclosed they had discovered that all the pipes laid by the previous set of plumbers were leaking so all pipes have or are being replaced and redirected.

The ceremony will still happen tomorrow and we will all travel to the house for that.   Cleaners are in the Pelawatta house today and furniture and furnishings which are being taken from this house are being dismantled and stacked ready for the early arrival of the lorry/van tomorrow morning.

We are getting to the end of a long road and what adds to the pressure is the hour and a half drive from this house to and from the Pelawatta house each morning and night.   Lots of lessons have been learned in the renovation of this house.  During the planned building at Haputele, my son has said he will stay on site through the whole process.

We have a lady who comes in to clean in this house three times a week.   I discovered the reason why the €3 per yard for the beautiful material was considered expensive and why the £45 for dinner for five of us was also thought of as expensive.  The cleaning lady is paid the equivalent of £5 per day.   She takes two buses to get here and we only know if she is going to arrive when she makes an early morning phone call.   Whether she is going to come or not depends on her husband.  He is a lorry driver, and doesn’t know she works here or anywhere else for that matter.    She waits until she knows he has gone to work and the coast is clear to set out.   Sumitra has a friend who will employ her when we no longer need her here.    She is a tiny pleasant woman and I noticed yesterday brought her own lunch, wrapped up firstly in newspaper and then in a plastic bag.    There is always plenty of food in this house but she may have her own reasons for bringing her own lunch.

Poya Day is a Buddhist Holy Day also known as Uposatha.   It is celebrated as a holiday once a month when there is a full moon.   There was such a Poya Day the day before the wedding last August two years ago.  The hotel staff at the Negombe Beach Hotel had warned us ahead of time that they could not serve and we could not buy alcohol on a Poya Day and some of the lads had prepared by buying champagne and crates of beer etc.  However the Saturday night high jinks went on a lot longer than anticipated and there was precious little alcohol left for the next day, if any.

Close friends, family and rugby club mates, who had travelled out for the wedding joined my son and myself for his last meal as a free man, at a restaurant set back one row from the beach front.   The restaurant owner apologetically explained about the Poya Day and how he could not serve alcohol, which we all understood.   For whatever reason, he had a change of heart and politely handed us a cocktail menu – as we were all tourists he didn’t consider cocktails as alcohol – was his reasoning.   So the image stays with me of all these burly rugby players sat twirling cocktail sticks and paper umbrellas around the cocktail glasses.   They had quite a night.

A practicing Sinhalese Buddhist observes a Poya Day by adding a further two rules to the five they should practise on a daily basis.   They should not lie, commit adultery, do deliberate harm to anyone, kill a living creature, or eat meat or drink alcohol.  On Poya Days the further two rules are they should visit the temple and sit on the ground remembering how humble they are and they should keep their arms close to their body so they do not wave their arms which could hurt anyone.  Apologies if I have any of this wrong as this is as it has been explained to me.   Happy if anyone corrects me.

I think much as religious observances have been relaxed around the world, Poya Days are now seen as public holidays and families take the opportunity to spend time together – which is what it is all about anyway.



The Scabbard Knife

I grew in stature here yesterday as I was allowed to use the scabbard knife, long handled and as sharp as any blade or operating theatre instrument. Its dark wooden handle is perfectly round and as I mentioned earlier doubles as a garlic crush with one swift sharp swoop.  I am warned to be careful using it.

I am confused when I am handed the two chicken breasts purchased the day before in the supermarket.   The two chicken breasts I thought the daughter-in-law purchased for me in said supermarket have been transformed overnight into a chicken breast bone with thick pink meat attached.    But this is no chicken.  I would estimate it is an aged hen.

Sumitra looks at me askance.   I say, ‘Okay! Okay!’ and smile, so she returns to her sewing.  She is making an outfit for a customer for a Buddhist ceremony.   The material is exquisite, like broderie anglais, but not as a trim, the whole fabric is of a lace effect and there is pristine white cotton with which to line it.  Sumitra says, ‘Very expensive material!  At least €3.00 a metre!’

I meanwhile wonder what to do with the hen.   I have been asked to make soup as well as a chicken dish and there is nothing for it but to boil the half chicken carcase and use it as stock for soup.

Meanwhile the scabbard knife lies waiting in anticipation.  I cannot slice the carrot, leeks or potatoes as thinly as Sumitra – she has after all years of practise as she deftly makes short work of anything before her.   Perfectly thin slices appear as if by magic under her closed knuckles.

I peel and slice the potatoes, carrots and leeks and leave them in a covered dish.  Flies appear as the sun rises, but the large fan over the even larger kitchen table dispenses with them as they escape the wind from the fan through the open kitchen door and windows.

Eventually the hen is cooked and within another hour soup is ready to eat.  Sumitra is Buddhist and eats no meat so will not sample the soup because of the chicken stock.

I leave the cooked meat to cool, again under a cover and when completely cool find space in the overflowing refrigerator.    I intend to do a sauce with leeks and potato but my intent is lost in translation.  I am called in the evening to eat my dinner, a spaghetti dish with neat cubes of the cooked hen, flavoured with peppers, tomatoes and Swiss cheese.   The others will have a hen curry.

Only when the son and daughter-in-law and her father return from a very long and frustrating day securing air con units, fans, a promise of delivery of the container for Tuesday, and the discovery the beautiful mosaic tiling laid in my new bathroom has been messed up by one of the plumbers, and that the electrician has forgotten to put electricity in the new attic room, so the walls will have to be scored to lay the cables – well the mystery of the disappearing chicken breasts is nothing compared with what they have faced.   Also they have learned they should not shop on a Friday if needing to buy from a Muslim as they go to prayers on Friday.

When everyone has eaten I ask about the disappearing chicken breasts but they are there still in the fridge intact.   Sumitra’s reasoning was to give me the chicken/hen carcase because it had been bought the day before the chicken breasts from one of the open stalls up the road on the way to the cricket ground.   There are cricket grounds everywhere in this country.  So I have to do the chicken breasts today.

Will Monday’s move happen?  It depends how many workers arrive today and tomorrow to the Pelawatta house.   A lorry is booked to remove some of the furniture from this house early Monday morning so the process of yellow post-it notes on everything to be taken to the Pelawatta house is ongoing.  Sit still long enough and you will have a post-it note applied.

What will happen on Monday is a Buddhist blessing of the new house.   It must take place at a specific time and I am told Sumitra will conduct the ceremony which involves blessing the four corners of the house.

Usually these ceremonies involve burning oil and presenting flower heads to the Buddha.  The oil will burn dry, the flower heads will die by morning – a reminder that nothing is forever.  We are here but for a short time and should do good whilst we are here.





Mangoes and Auspicious Days

mangoThe breakfast mango was truly the most delicious I have ever tasted.   Think about double the size of the green and red ones that sit on the shelves in Irish supermarkets, and this one had a yellow skin similar to a honeydew melon.   It was shared between three of us and the stone kept to be planted in the grounds of the new house in Pelawatta.  Contrary to the in-laws’ disdain of supermarket foods, this superb mango was purchased at the supermarket and there will be more purchased in the hope that cross pollination means we can grow similar in a trellis like fashion along the walls that surround the Pelawatta house.  The daughter-in-law believes this mango has been cross-bred to produce such succulent flesh within the fine golden skin.

I still haven’t seen the complete preparation of a Rotti.   The air conditioning was working in my bedroom last night and when I did get to sleep it was too cold at 26 degrees, so turned it up a few degrees.  I must be getting acclimatised to the intense heat here.  I don’t have one single pain in my joints which is wonderful.   Being so comfortable I slept in until around 7.30 am and breakfast preparations were well advanced.

The Rotti today was made with the husks of grain which is ground down to produce a fine but heavy flour.  (Nothing is wasted in this country.)   It is grade 3 flour I think but at times translations are difficult and one is never sure that the smiling face nodding in agreement actually understands, but we will get there.

A small amount of the grain mix, about the size of a golf ball is worked together and rolled in the palm of the hand until completely smooth.  The round ball is then flattened in a metal dish about the size of a side plate.  It is then griddled over a mesh plate which sits atop a small frying pan on the stove.  I could only eat half a Rotti, because the mango, was followed by an omelette filled with local vegetables.

Most Auspicious Time

We are moving into the Pelawatta house on Monday, after 10 am, and must not return to stay in this country house.   A local monk has been consulted as to the most auspicious time on which to move house.   He consults astrology charts before giving his verdict, and his advice is followed to the letter.   It is forecast to rain on Monday for the first time in a month, so I wonder.

The president who stopped the 30 year war and who governed this country when I first travelled here five years ago, also consulted the Monks as to the most auspicious time to go to the people for re-election.   I am told that they gave him the most auspicious date.  He could have stayed in power for months longer, but he took their advice, went to the country early, yet he failed to get re-elected.  So did the Monks have their own agenda?   I know so little about this country, Buddhism or political matters I wouldn’t know what to think.

But we will move on Monday come what may.

The rush is on now for all the last minute things, like curtains, (ready in another ten days); the Beko appliances to be delivered on that day, removal van to be booked for what they are taking from this house.  There are no such things as removal vans and removal men here.   They had a van to bring the toilets, wash hand basins and sinks etc from the Pelawatta house to here for storage and a very elderly man as thin as a stick but wiry and strong, accompanied the van.  The son says they were all helping him, worried he would topple over.    The said toilets, wash hand basins and sinks and anything else not needed for the Pelawatta house will be moved once more to Haputele, in the tea plantations in the mountains where the retirement home will be built, once the work on the Pelawatta house is complete.

I will stay in a hotel for a couple or three nights.    The dust has to be cleared from the Pelawatta house before I can move in.  Besides which, my especially bought mattress and bed is amongst the furniture, crockery, electrical goods and linens etc in a container, unloaded in the docks, but yet to be signed for and transported to the new house.

Exciting times ahead.




Coconuts, Tencel, and supermarket shopping

I am learning so much, bursting with information about this country.

Today, thanks to daughter-in-law, I learned that cotton has a high carbon footprint and Tencel or Lyocell is a more sustainable fabric. It is regenerated from wood cellulose, similar in hand to rayon and bamboo, both regenerated fabrics. However, Tencel is one of the most environmentally friendly regenerated fabrics, and for several reasons. Tencel fibres are grown sustainably.

So we went shopping for fabric for more dresses for myself. The fabric shop sits in a row of shops between two busy roads with access from each road. Every colour and hue imaginable is here stacked on the back wall of the shop, the width of the area between the two roads, piled high on the long wooden counter to the right and on the left there are banks of material some looking like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The young man deftly pulls out the bales of cloth we wish to examine and the stack above doesn’t topple. Some fabrics are beaded, embroidered and bejewelled. However the shop has no electricity and we don’t enquire why.

We choose two fabrics, a deep blue with elephants along the border and the other with huge flowers along the border in pink and turquoise. The 2017 fashion statement is everything with embroidery on it, so you heard it here first. The fabric for the two dresses cost €11.50.

We go supermarket shopping. The in-laws here would not approve of supermarket food as they buy everything locally off the little pop up stalls that open daily on the road into the town. They say supermarket food is not fresh.

And the local food is delicious, tomatoes, carrots and green beans, were part of yesterday’s meal and so full of flavour.

But it’s good to wander around a supermarket and find out what I can and can’t buy. I can get Sensodyne toothpaste and Haagen Das ice cream.  There is no Aussie shampoo but a choice of others.

Most of the toiletries I packed are available here and are less expensive than I paid at home.

I am fascinated how the food preparation is done in this house. Fresh food is prepared and cooked three times a day and Sumitra wields what looks similar to a scabbard with a perfectly round solid dark wooden handle. She slices vegetables and a myriad of foods so thinly you would be forgiven if you thought a machine had done the work. And work she does – from when she rises after 5 am and walks up the lanes picking flowers for the Buddha – to clearing up after the evening meal around 9 pm.

The scabbard shaped knife was used to neatly and efficiently to crush garlic cloves. A brisk turn and a slap of the round handle of the knife on the garlic clove did the necessary.

There are lots of dried food available in the supermarket, bins filled with all types of rice and there are sacks of different types of rice you can buy. We bought some fruit and vegetables and a young man weighs your purchases and slaps a price sticker on the white plastic bag. They still have plastic bags here for free but there are loads of them flying about on a windy day.

coconut-toolHave a look at this kitchen tool. Can you guess what it is? The white flakes will give the game away.  The coconut is put over the metal teeth and Sumitra cranks the handle round and round until she has shredded all the coconut from its shell. I have never seen one before and didn’t know how they got the white coconut out of the husk.