I learned three words in the local language on Monday 19th September. The first two were quite important, ‘wamma’ is left and ‘dakauna’ is right. It was a bit daunting even as a back seat passenger in the car as we sped at snail’s pace through the mid-day Colombo traffic to hear my ‘dakauna’ companion say ‘wamma’ to the driver and the person in the front passenger seat direct him ‘dakauna’.
In the event we did a quick ‘dakauna’ running the gauntlet of the oncoming traffic and ploughed our way across the three lanes coming towards us. The cars, tuk tuks, bicycles, lorries and limos vie for space scattering themselves across the traffic lanes, each sneaking into the narrowest of spaces, gaining inches then yards ahead of the vehicle in the neighbouring lane.
This is accompanied by horns tooting, some loud and fulsome, others light and tinny but all add to the cacophony of sound which is a busy day in this bustling city.
There are five of us in the vehicle, the married couple, one complete set of parents and myself on the wing. We are shopping for a cooker, a fridge/freezer, dishwasher, a drinks cooler fridge and maybe the odd tv and aircon units.
There are deals to be had everywhere but one suspects the bottom price, or the especially discounted price was the price all along and we are just entertained by the flashing fingers which dance across the percentages on the calculators to triumphantly produce a figure in keeping with that “which madam had in mind?”
There’s no such thing as parking the car and walking across the street or the sidewalk to any of the stores. We drive in to the parking lot and a uniformed employee directs us to an appointed parking space. A different uniform clads the man who opens the shop door for us. Smartly dressed assistants, all male in the electrical shops, enquire if they can help and we are escorted to view the appropriate appliances.
The Singer shop has all Beko appliances, although you can pop next door to the Sony shop which may just have the smart tv I need for my room. Another company we visit has several different brands of goods, similar to visiting Thornhill Electrical in Skibbereen. But they don’t carry the range that Thornhills would. We three women each have different opinions as to what would be suitable for the new house. In the second multi-goods shop the two mothers are offered a seat on a leather sofa. Was this a kind gesture because we looked tired and worn out from shopping or was it to remove us from the debate?
No final decision has been made by the bride but I suspect the Beko shop with their courteous manner and copious discounts may well be the winner.
I can’t eat chilli or curries so feeding me is a problem. My experience in my previous visits here has been that restaurants and cafes really really don’t know how to do something to eat that does not have a chilli secreted in the food somewhere. (But I was proved wrong late last night). Yesterday’s lunch, of a beetroot and carrot sandwich – don’t ask – almost had me fooled until the last bite and there was I trying not to wheeze as the chilli caught my breath. It might just have been the chilli flavoured knife used to cut the bread or cut the sandwich but the chilli was there.
The fruit of course is magnificent and mangoes and watermelons are so different when they are just picked and eaten. The hand of four inch long fat bananas today was as flavoursome as you could wish. I think someone told me here are over 20 different varieties of bananas here. It’s very dry here at the moment and the coconut trees outside this house have not produced fruit. They cost all of 25 cents to buy! But it is hard to spend even that small amount when you are used to them for free off your trees.
Visiting family, doing homework with the daughter in law’s nieces, introduced me to my third local word of the day ‘latseni’ which means beautiful. The three girls are beautiful, each in their own way, and the middle girl has a reading age I would assess as age 13 and she is five months short of age 8. Study is so important here.
We were late driving home and stopped at Chapter One restaurant. There is a menu for drinks, a separate one for starters and a separate one for main courses. I studied each one carefully but there seemed to be nothing without a chilli or a local fire-driven curry. In the end we did the sensible thing and asked the manager. He said of course they would leave the chillies out. And they did! I had the most enjoyable dinner of spaghetti with mushrooms, thinly sliced chicken breasts and parmesan and a tomato sauce. It was delicious and the five of us ate for £45 – which my Sri Lankan companions said was expensive. I was just glad I finally could eat something chilli-free.
Next time I will tell you about the Pentathlon and Rotti.