Slave Island, Colombo, Sri Lanka

I cringed the first time I heard the name ‘Slave Island’ as we were heading to the Don Carlos, ‘most expensive furniture store in Sri Lanka’ shop.

I am Scottish, (half Italian and half Scottish to be precise), with Irish ancestry, so why do I cringe when I hear anything that I know is going to be connected to the time when the British pink covered most of the maps on the globe.  You just know the Brits had to be involved in some way with Slave Island.

Why are we brought up to be responsible for the sins of the generations that went before us? My maternal grandfather was a pacifist by the way, which was another sin during WWII and almost instigated WWIII when the subject matter was brought up by my stepfather, who was to suffer for the remainder of his short life from injuries sustained during WWII.

slave-island“Slave Island is a suburb in Colombo, Sri Lanka, located directly to the south of the Fort area of Colombo. The name Slave Island was given during the period of British occupation and administration, and refers to the situation under Portugese and Dutch administration when slaves were held there, most of them from Africa.  Most of the slaves later returned to Africa. However, a very small group of African descendants are scattered throughout Sri Lanka and are collectively known as Sri Lankan Kaffirs. The suburb contains Beira Lake, a large lake and its esplanade is visited by many for recreation. Slave Island is mostly a commercial area with hotels and shopping centres.”

The above is straight from Wikipedia thanks.

I spent last Friday at Beira Lake, well I think I was at Beira Lake, for the all Sri Lankan National Colleges Rowing Championships.  Daughter-in-law’s niece was amongst the rowers, although the traffic was so crazy despite our 7am start we arrived at the lake as said niece was rowing towards the finish line.

It was the first real day off I have had since being here. It was wonderful to spend the time with the DIL’s sister and the other mums.  We sat under the shade of a huge canopy – a quilted marquee open at both ends.   Pure dedication for the mums as most of them had set out from home at 5 am or earlier to have their rowers to the lakeside for the off.

There were teams of rowers from four colleges for girls and ten colleges for boys.  Everything was orderly, as the teams worked together to get the appropriate boat in the water and to wash down the boat immediately it came out of the water.

It meant we spectators had to keep a watchful eye out for the narrow metal rowlocks as the boats were spun over our heads and into a resting area until they were needed again.

The colleges where the competitors came from, are all fee paying as education is of huge importance in this country.  If you thought grinds were purely an Irish pupils’ penance, that’s nothing to what is going on here.  Every single night and at weekends too there is an extra class of some description whether it is maths, science, piano, tennis, rowing, elocution, ballet – the list seems endless.

The head of sport in the Army, officially opened the three-day event.  The schoolchildren lined up in their school teams and stood politely to attention for the Sri Lankan National Anthem as we adults rose to stand in respect.

The army commander spoke of the ethos of the sport of rowing, team work, fairness and spirit of the sport were amongst the words I caught as I was standing at the back near the lake edge.  The teenagers raised their arms during these words swearing allegiance to the sport.  The Army official then encouraged those who were interested to enrol in the army and he spoke of a huge investment the country was making into the sport of rowing.  (Gary and Paul O’Donovan of Skibbereen Rowing Club have a lot to answer for.)

As schools are single sex, this was a first meeting point for the teens of the opposite sex in their age groups.  I observed shy glances, from boys and girls, in the other’s direction, and much walking up and down from the shelter of the Colombian rowing club to the water’s edge but the bevy of chaperoning eagle-eyed sentinels, (the mothers), were enough to dampen any burgeoning interest or ardour.

The girls in the niece’s team were solicitous hostesses bringing chairs and tea for the mothers.  The niece’s partner in the pairs rowing had been attending the rowing for two years, helping carry, clean and wash the rowing boats down.  Last Friday was her first day being allowed to row, and she and the niece were presented with ‘Certificates of Awesomeness’,  “in recognition of having mastered the technique of rowing.”

There is no holding back such determination – two years washing boats! Magdalene Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj will have competition for Tokyo 2020.

I had hoped to slot in some of the photographs I took on the day but instead of photos I took videos and I am posting some up on facebook and will head them Slave Island.  You will see in one there was a huge monitor lizard swimming alongside the waters edge.  At one point it raised its head out of the water looking around at what was going on. I was the only one paying attention.  For all the other rowers and spectators the lizard was a regular participant.

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