Jai Ela

Broken down tuk tuks and Chocolate cake

Yesterday’s almost Red Letter Day in Pelawatta was in the end to have a happy ending, although all three happenings to make for my personal RLD occurred by the time I was dropping with tiredness.

Indika, he of metal doors and windows fame, did turn up – very late at almost 9 pm.   Most here are awake at 5 am so our ‘working’ day has shifted slightly.   I didn’t see him but the son reported he arrived in a tuk tuk with said missing windows.  He was full of apologies saying his own tuk tuk had broken down.  The windows lay stacked beneath the curved staircase leading off what will be the sitting room overnight and we wondered how long they would stay there undisturbed.

Indika promised he would return this morning and he did, around 10 am which is very early for him as he regularly appears around 5 pm.  But he was all smiles and is at the moment up in the attic room drilling away.  Some of his workers arrived before him, armed with toolboxes and a sense of purpose.  They knew what they had to get on with and get on with it they did.

The washing machine too was plumbed in last night although we couldn’t use it as they made some sort of concrete gulley and drain channel which was soaking wet when Gate Late explained how the drainage system would work.   The washing machine is now working away on its second load and the new Beko condenser drier is working perfectly too.   There is no space outside for a washing line and with the workmen still painting, surfaces being levelled and tiles being cut, it is more economical to use the drier which seems mad in these temperatures but at least everything hardly needs an iron.

The others have made the trip to Ja Ela to meet the lorry which will bring the last load of furniture and boxes down here.  They will go back once a week to sweep the leaves, feed the fish, birds etc until the property is refurbished and put on the market.

So I am here on my own today but there are workmen everywhere as the final thrust is on to complete as much as they can.  One of the young workmen concerns me.   He has worked mainly outside and wraps his head up turban style in a thick cloth, protecting himself from the sun.  He sometimes also winds a clean piece of white linen around his mouth against the dust.

Everything, at least on this refurbishment is done laboriously.  There is no such thing for instance as a bag of sand ready to use.  My headcloth workman slowly sieves every bit of sand from a pile that has arrived from somewhere and been deposited in a heap on the drive in front of the garage.  Whether it is to be mixed with cement or used as a foundation for the small round pebbles in the courtyard every scoop is painstakingly sieved.  (The small round pebbles are a temporary measure until the black and grey linked block arrive and are laid.)

My headcloth man is at times in another world.  He will lean on the top of the handle of his shovel and stare intently into nothingness.  At times he crouches on the ground amidst raking the small round grey pebbles and he stops mid-task and as if frozen in time remains motionless.

He works long hours and my instinct is he is sick.  He is very thin but most people here are slim and thin.  Carrying excess weight is not comfortable in this heat.  The son agrees the headcloth man is probably sick.

One of the other workers concerns the son because this man is always tired.  He works hard here all day and then sets off to drive a tuk tuk as darkness falls.

Other workmen lay flat on the paved area under the porch canopy and sleep flat on the ground during their lunch break.    Most smile a friendly smile when they first see me and I smile back – it’s the most common language isn’t it.

I am halfway through making one of my chocolate cakes.  The daughter-in-law’s niece was 12 yesterday, (her gift from her parents was a white mobile phone) and we are having a combined birthday lunch on Sunday with the rest of the family.   Tiara is a rower and her dream would be to meet Gary and Paul O’Donovan, West Cork’s Silver Olympians.  Their fame has truly stretched far and wide!

I bought all the ingredients at one of the many local supermarkets and have baked the first half of the cake using what was labelled as ‘cake flour’.  I naturally thought this was self-raising flour so different from the ‘plain flour’ which was the ‘cake flour’s’ next door neighbour on the shelf.

By the looks of the cooling first half of the cake the ‘cake flour’ too has no raising agent so I should have added some baking powder.   A thick layer of chocolate butter icing will cover up my mistake.  I really need to learn Sinhala.






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.