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.