Sri Lankan Blog

The Missing Pelicans

I can’t remember ever having seen a pelican before.   The son was driving me down from Negombo to Pelawatta through the usual heavy traffic.  As per normal I was looking all around me at the shops, the colleges, the government departments and the people, trying to take everything in.

I glanced up at the long double row of street lights in the middle of the road and thought, ‘That’s a very strange place to put a model of a bird!’  I didn’t comment out loud as you don’t.  When you are a guest in someone else’s country it’s not your place to make any observation that might be received as a criticism, besides I didn’t want to appear stupid, but stupid I was.

As if reading my thoughts, the son asked if I had spotted the pelicans!   And on cue one beautiful large whitish bird with its handbag sized pouch rose into the air and swirled off to the adjoining lake.  I have since tried to take a photograph of this species and held the camera phone ready but the minute the phone went into sleep mode, a bird appeared in the air above me as if to say – catch me if  you can.

It was the same with the small chameleon like lizard yesterday which I must ask the driver about as I can’t precisely identify it on line.   It was at the side of the road as we were travelling to the Maalu Maalu resort but although we tried to park off the road we were causing a traffic problem and there were police everywhere on the journey up yesterday.  They were obviously checking credentials, licenses etc, the driver of one minibus which overtook us at a rate of knots  was obviously fined for speeding as he was pulled over by the police when we passed him a couple of miles later.

We had a projected six hour journey North from Pelawatta which lasted longer than that with a stop at the magnificent Aliya hotel for breakfast.  It will take a couple of blogs to report on yesterday’s sitings.

We passed Paddy Fields, and plantations of pineapple, tobacco, rubber, coconut, mango, and teak.   It was amazing as we drove through the dry area of the country and one place which was a distribution centre for the small growers   The driver explained that the paddy fields are owned by individuals or families – no corporation owns them.  I watched men working very hard in the fields and I am told the remuneration for this Sri Lankan staple is small.

There was a delay at one point because the road had collapsed and we edged around a makeshift roundabout to safety.  However there is a huge amount of road building here.  Everywhere you go there seems to be teams of workers dissecting the countryside.  Not a lot of heavy machinery in evidence, but lots of man power in the shape of teak-coloured skins, lean wiry men whose strength belies their frame.

We were on the road from 5.30 am so we would miss the worst of the Columbo rush hour traffic.  It brought back memories of leaving Kent at that hour to have a straight run into London and breakfast in the city before starting work.  The things we do!

My driver is just lovely. He drives an automatic car and he is the epitome of a gentleman.  He is kind, considerate and courteous and has guided me through the Aliya Hotel and Spa in Sigiriya, which deserves a blog of its own. He hardly toots the horn, stops at zebra crossings when no one else does, and uses the indicators in the car when again no one else does.  I felt completely safe with him.

I was completely lost when I arrived at the Aliya Hotel and he pointed me in the right direction and was waiting for me in the foyer when I had finished breakfast.   There was a misunderstanding at the Aliya Hotel and Spa as I didn’t pay for my breakfast. I had tried to but my attempts got lost in translation and I must sort that out with the relative connected to the hotel.

My driver was just the same when we arrived at Maalu Maalu Hotel and Spa, as I was like a lost soul not knowing which or where to go.  He made sure I was handed over to one of the managers.  I was met with a melon sorbet and another member of staff gave me a traditional local welcome with a red dot of colour applied to my forehead.

The view as you enter is just as per the website and I have a lovely bedroom, balcony and a maalu-maalubathroom big enough to party in.  I am level with the tops of the coconut trees and the only sound is the ocean and some birds whose home is in the vaulted thatched roof of my suite.

 

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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.

Tata

I booked a small car to take myself and one suitcase to Negombo, on the coast north of Colombo and the airport on Monday, 31st October.

I had tried to book a taxi but with the sound of my non-native voice the first taxi company I contacted quoted me 7,000 LK and when I said too much, dropped the price down to 6,000 LK (about £30) immediately, but this was still way too much.

I tried the on-line http://www.budgettaxilk.com service next and it is a bit confusing – well I know I get easily confused – but I couldn’t work out if I was hiring a car for myself to drive (never would here) or a car and a driver.

The system is all so efficient, that is if you know what your are doing and I evidently didn’t.  Get on to their website where you can choose your vehicle, type in your pick up point, then your destination, but that is as far as I got before the screen sort of jumped to another page and it all got a bit beyond me so I dialled the telephone number.

A very nice lady had patience with my accent and mis-pronunciation but eventually we got there.  It’s not just a car and a driver you have the choice of. She asked if I wanted a TukTuk, an eco-car, a saloon car, a jeep or luxury car or a truck.   I wasn’t sure what an eco-car was but it sounded good.   She said it would cost around 2,500 LK and that the driver would phone me.

The company texts you with the assigned driver’s name and the registration number of his vehicle.

Unfortunately, the assigned driver, D G Priyantha, couldn’t understand me either, but I texted the pick up address and the destination on the mobile and shortly after a cream coloured Tata was weaving its way around the warren of streets adjacent to the Pelawatta house.

A Tata is quite a small car, petrol but you get good mileage, and you sit pretty upright in the front seat – my suitcase filled the back seats.  It was a really enjoyable journey with D G Priyantha as we chatted in half words and sentences, whilst he wove his way through the afternoon traffic.

The nearby roads are excellent because they are near the new Parliament but as the traffic became denser and slowed to a standstill, the white helmeted policemen directed the traffic at main intersections in the road.  The three lanes would become five or sometimes six lanes a side as TukTuks, motorbikes and even brave cyclists jostled for position in amongst the cars, lorries and buses.   With horns tooting consistently we moved further north and I agreed to pay the 300LK which would allow us to use the new motorway and shorten our journey time.

I had looked up Terrace Green Hotel on Tripadvisor and it seemed to meet all my needs for this week.   It’s just off the main road to the beach and came highly recommended.   It’s spotlessly clean and I was immediately upgraded to a larger room on the first floor.

I even have a flat-screen Sony TV but I haven’t watched TV since I left Ireland on September 17th apart from one schools programme on the 18th which I haven’t seen since.  I don’t know what is happening with all the soaps, who has died, who is sleeping with who and it is amazing how you can switch off from something – no pun intended.

I booked half-board and the dinner last night was amazing, although I couldn’t eat the main course, which was picture perfect.  The first course was described as Cordon Bleu chicken with curry and spices.  It’s all cooked fresh so there is a bit of a wait and I asked for no spices and no pepper.   What I got was absolutely wonderful.  Slim strips of chicken and a variety of vegetables all stir fried in a delicious sauce.  I almost licked my plate – it was just divine.  Then came cream of pumpkin soup with garlic flakes accompanied by a plate of feathery light tiny bread rolls.  I was full by this point and just had no room for the main course which was presented picture perfect so I apologised to the chef, and opted to have a dessert, curd and treacle and then tea.

There are around a dozen tables set in the open-plan dining room, which leads on to reception on one side and on the other, wearing pristine white uniforms and high hats three chefs work harmoniously together behind a high counter.

The waiter is from Colombo city and has been working here for around five months.  He gets the bus home on his days off but lodges nearby the days he is working.

The beautiful girl on reception wears fabulous saris, a pink one yesterday and a blue one today and she does have the figure to wear them.

It rained heavily during the night again and there were several rumbles of thunder followed by flashes of lightning.  The power went off two or three times last night but the hotel has a back-up generator.  However, it’s another hot, sultry blue sky day today.

I loved watching the clips on line of the rowing in Skibbereen yesterday.  So thanks for posting that up.  I was at the daughter-in-law’s niece’s rowing on Friday in Colombo.

 

 

 

 

 

Sri Lankan Shopping

The son dropped me off at the hairdressers last week and asked me to call him if I needed a lift home.  I nodded and said I would call him if I needed a lift.

I was let loose for the first time on my own and I had my credit card in my wallet!  I appreciate said son was only looking after my interests and I didn’t really need anything but some women were made for shopping and I am one of them.

It reminded me of the first time I visited my aunt and uncle in Canada.  My Glaswegian uncle was determined I would not spend any money at all.  It was the time of travellers cheques and in one store I was on the point of signing the cheque when he came running up, saying, ‘What on earth are you buying a duvet for – you can get those at home!’   I didn’t know why I was buying a duvet except that it was patterned and different and I was actually buying two, not one, for the boys’ single beds. I was desperate to buy something – anything.  I had been in British Columbia for two weeks and had bought absolutely nothing.   Uncle pushed the duvets over the counter,  tore my travellers cheque to shreds in front me and the bemused assistant.  I followed him embarrassedly out of the store.

He wouldn’t even let me buy any presents to take home.  ‘They don’t need anything.  You’re here on holiday not the family!’  I ended up fibbing about the time of my return flight so I would have time to stock up on gifts for the family in the departure lounge shops.

He too was looking after my interests.

The hairdresser was ready and waiting for me the next morning.  I had to have my hair cut as my fringe was blinkering my vision and I had asked for a cut and blow dry.  The hairdresser began by trimming my unwashed hair?   But maybe this was how they did things here.    She snipped slowly, taking section by section and when we both agreed that was enough, we headed to the single wash basin.  This was a shock as my hair was washed in stone cold water.   I exaggerate!  The cold water is not actually cold with the temperatures here.  It is always lukewarm.   But I don’t believe you can wash your hair properly without hot water.

I got over that as there was no point in asking for hot water if there wasn’t any.  The hairdresser partially dried my hair, then wrapped it turban style in a towel and we headed through the dividing wall to a section of the salon behind a frosted glass panel.  The pedicure was begun with my feet soaking in a very basic portable foot spa much like I have at home – I think everyone has one. I won mine in a raffle.

The foot spa was partially filled with cold water which she carefully topped up with water from a kettle until it was warm enough and added some liquid soap.  The pedicure was fine and I chose pink instead of blue nail polish and we returned through to the other part of the salon where she finished off by blow drying my hair.

She printed out my bill, €13 in total, and indicated I needed to pay in the men’s hairdressers on the floor below.   ‘Come back again soon!’ she called as I descended the steep stairs.

The son had told me where there was an affordable clothes shop so I made my way there.  It was above a bank and a uniformed man opened the glass street door and I went up the stairs to the first floor.  It was more than a clothes shop because it sold just everything from household equipment, linens, children’s toys and clothing for all the family.

I wanted to look at everything because I was on my own for the first time in a store and I could take as long as I liked.   I wasn’t on my own for long as much like bees around a honeypot, not that I am a honeypot, but you get what I mean, there were assistants in each department asking, ‘Can I help madam?’

They all smiled and they were very nice and very helpful or they would have been if we had understood each other.   The range of clothing was tremendous and some were obviously overs for UK stores as I recognised some of the brand tags, although many had been cut off.

I am neither small nor petite, well I am fat, but the lovely girl in the nightwear department tried to convince me that if I stretched the nightdress it would fit over my well endowed bits.  Who wants a nightdress that requires stretching to fit?

Then the very polite and helpful young man in the separates department kept bringing me tops or trousers to try.   Some were truly awful and others not my taste at all.

A pint-sized middle aged assistant came from out of nowhere, spoke to the lad and the lass, took one look at me and the bits of me that are larger than I would like and returned seconds later with an armful of tops which were perfect size-wise at least.  He took some persuading when I wouldn’t add the orange one or lime green one to the basket but altogether I kept three from him.  Mainly to appease the young lad who followed me like a shadow, I bought a white top which has shrunk in today’s wash and two pairs of thin trousers, one batik which, happily, has not shrunk.

The son very kindly collected me and we went supermarket shopping – another experience altogether.

 

Path Finder

I ventured out on my own steam for the first time last week.  The others were crashed out after a journey to visit a sick relative who had been admitted to a hospital up country.

It was the day there was to be no builders and they weren’t gone half an hour when the plumbers arrived.

The Pelawatta house is in a very nice area and quite close to a busy main intersection, although you can’t hear the traffic from the house.  If  you cross over the intersection and walk about a mile in one direction you reach the parliament grounds.  They are spacious and flat and ideal for walking.

Turn right at the intersection traffic lights and you have every kind of shop you can imagine.   I can’t remember ever living where I was so close to the shops before or had such a variety on the doorstep.

I have a reputation for shopping and when Maureen and I were on our great tour in 1999 we managed to shop at every stop on our six-week itinerary, even in the outback where there was nothing to see at first glance.   Like bloodhounds seeking their prey, we could home in on any shop in the vicinity.  In fact, we had shopped so much by the time we reached Sydney we had to dump a lot of the clothes we had brought out from the UK in aid of a dog and cat animal rescue group my school friend was running.  I had seen Sally only briefly once in the thirty-six years since we were mad teenagers together in Edinburgh, but had corresponded regularly over the years.

Animals were her first love and her home housed one beautiful dog and an incalculable number of cats.  Maureen and I tried surreptitiously to count the cats and reached the late teens but were never sure if we had missed any or counted the same cat twice.  Today Sally lives in the country at the back of the Blue Mountains with an even greater number of animals including horses, most rescued, some removed from people she believed were cruel to them and that she could do a better job!

With everyone asleep, last week I made the decision to find my way out of the garden estate and to the shops.   The estate is a rabbit-warren of houses, no two are identical and they are all close together.  This house is detached but neighbours in any direction are only a yard or so away.  Saying that you would never know as there is far less noise, if any, than there was in Ja Ela.

The houses are mainly gated and garages are alongside the gates.  I went along our little lane and turned right.  When we drive in we drive up a steep hill turn right and then drive down to access our driveway.  I thought it would be too steep for me to manage.

It was around 5 pm and with dusk approaching I turned right and right again. The roads are narrow with passing places for vehicles and the surface of the roads in some cases are perfectly finished and in others, of compacted red sand, or loose gravel and I came across some traffic bumps to slow down passing cars.

There was a right turn leading to a fairly steep hill which I tried to avoid and went straight ahead but discovered it was a dead end leading into someone’s home.  So I retraced my steps and tackled the steep hill.  It was only yards long and as I got to the top and turned left, to my dismay two dogs came barking towards me.

I froze but to my relief a lovely lady, the owner of one of the dogs, came out of her bottle green door and called her dog back.   The other dog ran off.  The lady had long dark hair and wore a deep purple kaftan.  ‘He’s only saying hello,’ she explained.   I returned a tentative ‘hello’ apologetically and went on my way without looking back.

At the end of this road I turned left and had reached a main road which led on to the large intersection.    The traffic was increasing on the road as well as on the pavement.  Men and boys in neat shirts and trousers, many holding rolled-up umbrellas, were purposefully walking in the opposite direction to me.

There are military bases in the direction they were heading so maybe the teenage boys were the sons of officers at the base.

I passed the Dialog phone shop where you can add credit to your mobile, a café selling butter cakes and breads, then a vegetable shop.  The dialog and vegetable shop were open to the street although I expect they must have some kind of shutter when they close up for the night.

A man was selling something cooked at the corner of the road and people bought paper pokes of the food and ate it with their fingers as they continued on their way home.  I couldn’t see what they were eating and didn’t want to ask in case I was expected to buy.

I needed my hair cut and a pedicure but passed by the first hairdressers as they advertise full bridal packages, facials and specialise in traditional wedding head dresses.

Only a few yards further up the road there’s a men’s hairdressers on the ground floor and a ladies’ salon to its left, up a steep flight of stairs.   The stairs are tiled and there is no handrail but I got there and at the top opened a glass door and dropped down a step to an immaculate salon.  There was only one wash basin and there were two customers, one with a hair colour applied and her hair pasted stiff in the air.  The other customer was seated in a chair in front of a large mirror and the only hairdresser I could see was styling her hair.

The hairdresser has lovely dark eyes and her black hair was neatly woven into a plait which hung down her back.  She was dressed in a black top and trousers and smiled warmly and pleasantly as she enquired how could she help me.  I explained and we agreed I would return the following morning at 9 am.    I descended warily down the white tiled stairs holding on to the wall.

I wanted to cross the road to the supermarket but the traffic was wild and furious.   I looked round at the traffic lights and wondered where the pedestrian walking sign was but in the growing darkness  couldn’t find it.

I decided I had ventured far enough on my own for one day and would see how far I could get the next day after the hairdressers.

 

 

I got two months, Part 3

Our visit to the passport office proved to be the first time I have felt cold since I arrived in Sri Lanka.  The air conditioning in the room must have been less than 25 degrees as that’s the temperature I usually keep my bedroom at.  It’s cool but comfortable but the temperature in the visa room was so low I felt cold even in a fairly thick cotton top and trousers.

Although everything I was wearing was cotton I kept slipping down in the stainless steel chairs.  You know that feeling that one moment you are sitting upright and before you know it you are almost horizontal and you have to hoist yourself upright again.

Eventually and it was eventually the uniformed official came through with bundles of paperwork and passports in his hands and called out the numbers.  It was like a free for all at the January sales in Oxford Street, London, as he was crowded, everyone jockeying for position.   I just sat back and the son joined the scrum and at long last I had a passport stamped with permission to stay here until 17 December.

One of the UK visa applicants we spoke to during our morning sojourn in the visa room, explained he had enquired before travelling how long he could stay.  He had been told six months and duly booked his expensive return ticket within the six month period.  He had been told, like myself on arrival at the visa office, he could only have another two months and was upset and annoyed that he might have to book a ticket out of the country and then apply to come back.

He enquired during the morning of various people and officials but was given a different story each time.  Someone told him he could stay 150 days confirming what I had been told at Heathrow, another that he was only allowed this current two month extension to his visa and has to leave the country, and yet another said he could come back and apply for another two months’ visa extension.

He wants to buy a property here but is not allowed.  Only Sri Lankan nationals can buy properties except in specific circumstances.  There are high rise flats being built all over the place and non-nationals may buy one of these flats, supposing they have the funds to do so but they must buy one say, over the eleventh floor.   There is 100% tax on a non-national owning a property here – or so one of our fellow visa applicants told us.

There are distinct economic advantages to Sri Lankans only being allowed to own property here.  There would be no overseas property investors, no holiday homes pushing the price of property out of the reach of locals and there is going to be no property boom and bust.

I loved the idea when we went to the Elephant Orphanage of one queue for non-nationals where we as visitors paid a higher entry charge and the locals paid a discounted entry fee.

That most basic of necessities, a toilet, is an adventure in most foreign countries.  I couldn’t understand when we visited Malaysia in 1999 why the toilet at a museum we were visiting was awash with water.

When I first came to this country every toilet I used seemed to be awash with water.   There is a hose fixed on the wall beside the toilet and what you are supposed to do is wash the toilet down after each use.   And that’s the reason every toilet looks as if there has been a flood.    Most don’t have toilet rolls, soap or a means of drying your hands.  And so it was in the public  toilets in the beautiful new passport building as I waded with my open toe sandals through water hoping that it was all clean water.

By the time we had secured the passport it was almost lunch time and as we exited the lift on the ground floor, there were so many people in this building I wondered if there was a concert or a special event.  There were literally hundreds of people everywhere and I tried to crane my head over one crowd as I thought that they were watching something but the huge semi-circle of people were all focused on a group of officials behind some office desks.

I wish I knew why they were all there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jacket.

 

The Monsoon

I don’t know if the Monsoon season is upon us but rain is thundering down as I write.  So far any rain here, and there has been precious little of it in the past month, has fallen at night time.

The thunder has been quite strong the last couple of nights and when it rains it is as if the gods are emptying the heavens.   Whether this is the actual Monsoon or just the start of it I really don’t know.

It was a very comfortable 35 degrees this afternoon when we went to the supermarket in search of candles for the birthday cake.   The daughter-in-law’s niece and I were sharing our birthday lunch.

I’d made one of my chocolate cakes which turned out okay but not the same as if I were making it at home…. different ingredients, different kitchen utensils …… but it worked out okay in the end and better than I thought it would.   And the only candles we could get had Christmas figures attached to them.  They don’t celebrate Christmas here – so what’s that all about?

cake

To my horror as the candles were lit and we were singing happy birthday to the lovely 12 year old, the candle grease melted to form a watery congealing pool at the base of both candles.  The Christmas figures were melting before our eyes faster than a snowman would in the tropics!

I am fascinated by the different flowers here and these large yellow flowers were on what looked like an evergreen growing over the wall bounding the property where the birthday lunch was held

.yellow-flower

Later, when we were doing a U-turn at a fork in the road so we could take the three girls shopping, I spotted this beautiful display of Bougainville.  bougainville

(The son said he deserved a medal because he had five women with him in the car and was brave enough or foolhardy enough to take all of us shopping!)

U-turns are common place here, even on really busy main roads and you swing right and wait for space to slot in between the oncoming vehicles.  The son’s car is so large more often than not the U-turn can’t be completed in a single turn and he has to reverse into the path of the oncoming traffic.

Zebra crossings are just there for decoration as rarely does anyone stop at them.  Sadly a young mother and her child were run over by a bus on one yesterday.   The mother did not survive.   Buses seem to be a law unto themselves.  They bulldoze at a rate of knots through the lanes and the most sensible thing is to give way to them whether you have the right of way or not.

There are gaily painted and decorated bicycles which you can stop and can buy a lottery ticket from the cyclist.  There is not enough profit for them to afford to sell the tickets from a motorcycle or tuk tuk.   A ticket sale of 200 rupees gives the cyclist a commission of 20 rupees.  1,000 rupees is the equivalent approximately of five euros.

I spotted a baby – about eight months – wedged between its parents aboard a motorbike.  The parents both had helmets on but the smiling little chap was as happy as can be enjoying all the traffic.

(It reminded me of the time I received a panic phone call at work from youngest son’s nursery school teacher to report my eldest son, abut 16 at the time, had collected the child as arranged but had wedged my precious baby between himself and his best friend and driven them down the main road from Streatham Hill, London, aboard his motor scooter.  My child too had enjoyed the experience of being driven home in this manner which was, I found out, quite a regular occurrence.)

People walk along the railway lines here just as you see in the Indian films.   And people walk everywhere here mainly holding umbrellas.  They use umbrellas for shade from the sun and tonight they were using them as shelter from the rain as we were driving home in the dark.  Some vehicles had their lights on and others just didn’t.

We passed a cyclist holding an umbrella aloft in his right hand and steering with his left. The other day, whilst stopped at traffic lights, a vehicle crossed ahead of us.  I couldn’t get the camera out of the handbag in time but the vehicle had two wheels between an engine, about the size of the engine for a ride-on mower and then the driver was steering the engine with two long straight blue handles whilst sitting on a makeshift trailer.

There’s also a little man we have seen on several occasions along the same stretch of road.  He runs at half pace, in the middle of the road, pushing ahead of him a fairly big wooden cart laden with goods.  He weaves in and out of the cars, buses and lorries and successfully manoeuvres over a busy main crossroads.

Today a tuk tuk came flying towards us on completely the wrong side of the road, against the two lanes of traffic, and cut across a gap to slot into the two lanes that were heading in the same direction as him.

I am exaggerate saying ‘flying’ as I am told they have a top speed of 30kmph.

Tomorrow we head to the passport office to renew my visa and if I am not allowed to stay  will be heading home on Tuesday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Day

It’s moving day and I slept in!  Friends from the UK got through on Skype last night and it was brilliant catching up with them.  The connection was as clear as if they were in the next room and we didn’t use video because I must have pressed a wrong button on the Skype on my laptop as it keeps saying I am on hold?, but using the mobile to chat was perfect.

It only dropped out once because there was a power cut here – just for a couple of minutes but long enough to cut the connection.   We had a power cut on Thursday night which lasted much longer.  As usual I was in front of the laptop which luckily I had just unplugged after charging.

The only benefit from Thursday’s power cut was the monk’s chanting over the loudspeaker was cut off in full flow and peace and serenity reigned over the parish once more.    I mean for goodness sake sometimes he starts at 3.30 pm!

At times there has been what sounds like rapid gunfire over his loudspeakers but I am assured it is the sound of fireworks in celebration of some or other holy day.

Last Thursday’s power cut was dealt with quickly and efficiently.  There are no street lights here of course.  Candles were produced and citrine oil burned in a brass bowl in my bedroom as a protection from mosquitoes.   The daughter-in-law placed a beautiful lamp on my dressing room table.  I am assuming it is battery operated because pressing a button switches it on and off.  It really is a lovely piece and the light from it is more than that needed to read by.   Whether it is to save electricity or not but most Sri Lankans expect you to have night vision.  They are averse to putting good lighting on although Sumitra did switch an extra wall light on last night for me.  We will have great lighting in the Pelawatta house though.

We are four and a half hours ahead of GMT and last night my friends from Kent understood perfectly that I was keeping the house awake and it was hitting midnight here.  By then we had each caught up with our various travels, adventures, children, grandchildren and mutual neighbours of many years ago.

There were reminiscences too of some really mad times we shared – I remember one Beaujolais Nouveau celebration at the local club – but that was a long time ago and better remembered than told in great detail.  Suffice to say I ended up looking up at the stars, cradled in the metal mesh that covered the fish pond to stop my ginger tom cat, Tigger, from fishing for my mother’s precious Shubunkin goldfish.   John M though had done his share of entertaining everyone earlier as he managed to roll into the opened taxi door on one side and disappear through the open door on the other side.  He is a huge man, holding today, thirty years later, four world records in weight lifting but he managed to complete this manoeuvre with the daintiness of a ballet dancer.     We were all helpless laughing at him laying in a heap so much so no one was sober enough to help him up.  It was a repeat of the same as I lay in the hollowed metal mesh unable to move and everyone laughing in the cool November air leaving me where I had slipped and fallen.

Sumitra and I are still here on our own – with the dog and the fish and geckoes and birds.   She diligently feeds the birds each day and the fish of course.   The dog should be as round as a barrel with the tidbits she is given but she remains sleek and trim.  I wish I knew her secret.

I have just been called out to the garden as the coconut man has arrived and he was half way up the tree before I could switch the camera phone on.  I have posted a video of it up on facebook.  It is very badly filmed, as not only was my heart in my mouth as I watched him stretch his limbs to the limit to harvest those coconuts that seemed beyond his reach but the sun chose that moment to come out fully and blind me.  I don’t know how to edit it.

This tiny man’s hardened brown feet and ankles were stretched between a loop of very rough hemp rope which was his means of climbing and gripping on to the tree.  His recompense was 500 rupees – around £2.50.

The son and father-in-law should arrive around lunch time so cases and holdalls are being packed and necessities for the move gathered together.  The dog is being transported by tuk tuk to her new home.

 

 

 

Observations

Here now two weeks in this, my third visit, to this country.   The first time I came in 2011 the amount of armed police and armed army officials was disconcerting.  On a journey to Haputele, with myself as a ‘white’ front seat passenger, we were stopped several times on the five hour car journey north and eastwards and sometimes within yards of being stopped.   The others in the car were Sri Lankan nationals.

Two years ago when I came out for three weeks for my son’s wedding, it was a completely different experience as there was a huge dilution of the armed police and military.  They were in evidence near the parliament buildings but we were not stopped once when we made the same journey to Haputele even though we were two ‘whites’ in the car, the son and myself.

On our journey to visit the magical Elephant Orphanage, (what an awe-inspiring experience that was), we discovered road building on a huge scale.  It was explained to us that Chinese money was helping the country to develop.   Great swathes of roads are dissecting the countryside making access easier for the every increasing numbers travelling.

At the hotel we were staying in for the wedding celebrations in Negombo I was helping lift the covers off the breakfast display so another guest could help himself when we got chatting.  He was a fellow Scot and explained he was employed by the British Government to train the trainers.  After the war had ended there were so many young men in the military and police who needed trained into other work.   What a sensible thing to do.

Two years ago the lady who came in to clean on a daily basis to help the bride’s mother, was paid £2.50 a day and today’s rate for the same work is £5.00 a day.

K-zone is as big, bright, sleek and swish as any upmarket shopping mall in Canada or the US.  Two  years ago when we first shopped there it was practically empty with few people shopping and many of the available-to-lease units empty.   Some are empty today but it’s a completely different shopping experience now as our quick trip there yesterday morning saw a busy supermarket and others waiting for the electrical stores to open and there are now clothing stores and beauticians and other shops.   There are stalls set up in the centre walkways selling clothing and haberdashery items too.

There is still a uniformed man to direct you to a parking slot and another to open the huge glass doors.   Inside all is shaded, cool and comfortable from the 30+ degrees outside at 10 am.   Whole families are shopping together.   Lovely to see an elderly grandma smiling proudly as she carried her latest grandchild, only a few weeks old, together with her son, daughter-in-law and other smaller children skipping and dancing around her, all shopping together.

In the supermarket there is someone to weigh and price the fruit you have selected and bagged.   There is one person at the till and there was a beautiful slim and delicate girl in a cerise sari who packed our shopping for us.

There are plastic bags everywhere as there have been on my previous visits, but the country is changing as there is a special offer on bags for life.

Another change is the lack of labour.  Gate Late the builder says that it is so difficult to get workmen the country is talking about importing workers.   Like all countries that become more affluent, and there is extreme poverty here too, locals can choose what they want to do and who would want to work at heavy building work in 30 degrees and more.

It is much easier to become a tuk tuk driver and choose your hours and days to work.  But that too is changing as legislation is being brought in that they must be registered and there are rules being imposed they must follow.

The most disconcerting change is the offer of discounts on purchases if you sign up to a credit card – the offer even being advertised in the supermarket.    At the furniture store we would have had a ten percent discount if we had an American Express card and these offers are in every store for other banks and lending institutions.

That does worry me, as debt is the road to ruin.   Coincidentally, as I was finishing Laura’s Dennis the Menace jumper last week, I listened to a US audio book on the Nineteenth-century entrepreneur P.T. Barnum, of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus fame.  He was much more than a master showman but an economic genius and would that his advice was drummed into everyone of us.   What a different world it would be.