Milk and Honey

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.