Excellent blog post by a volunteer about the good and the bad of the relief efforts in the recent floods & landslides to hit Sri Lanka. As Indi brilliantly put it “Sri Lankans are actually amazing in a crisis, but if we were organized we could actually be effective.”
Endless lessons have been learned in the last week of witnessing and being involved in activity to help support families affected by floods in their time of need. Lessons we’ve learned on the go and after making mistakes, as this relief effort has by and large been a trial and error system put in place by thousands of concerned citizens. There have been overflows everywhere – in our rivers, in our lakes and in our hearts, as laid out in the observations below.
I might spend time on it but I’m actually not a fan of Facebook. Until last week.
Today is a full moon day (poya) and in the Sinhala Buddhist calendar it celebrates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC. It is a festival of great historical and religious significance and is celebrated island-wide, second only to Vesak. I like poya days for many reasons, written about here. So, as I often do on a poya day when less busy than usually, I ponder on things. It’s my form of meditation and for some reason a full moon helps. Feel free to call me as mad as a hatter but there are many that agree that a full moon has a special significance. There is even a wiki page on this phenomenon ‘Lunar effect‘. Far from going a bit nuts, though, I feel calmer.
I find it is a time to put the things of the month gone by in perspective and Poson is particularly relevant to what is to me just a very personal thing: “On the day, pilgrims gather at Buddhist temples across the country to Observe Sil (“Atamasthanaya”) – A practice where followers wear the most simplest of white clothes, and take time out for a period of reflection, on both the self, and on the teachings of the Buddha. This period of self reflection is said to bring one closer to detaching from worldly pleasures and coming closer to attaining Nirvana. Devotees also gather to listen and understand the teachings of the Buddha or “Dhamma”, through sermons and preachings by senior Buddhist monks.” (taken from amazingasia.com). I did none of this but the mention of self reflection hit a nerve. So, it is not all mysticism and talk of werewolves? The moon has an effect on tides, that’s pretty big is it not? So, why should it not affect our moods? Food for thought if ever there was any.
It is a lovely peaceful day. The girls and women in the village dressed in white walking to the temple and whole families enjoying themselves on the beach with picnics. Along the Galle Road other families are crammed into pick-up trucks or singing on a rented bus. Distant chanting of monks from the village temple ebbs and flows with the wind in my breadfruit tree. Yet, something is bugging me today. It is the light. Something about the light, something about the weather. And it’s not the moon bathing the garden in ethereal light these last few nights, it’s different.
It is no secret that India is in the midst of a pre-monsoon heatwave. The Times of India has proclaimed it the world’s 5th deadliest heatwave ever. That is quite scary in general. All the more so here because Sri Lanka is not a million miles away. I have been hot, my fan is on higher, colder and I am complaining more. It’s humid, sticky and hot. Uncomfortable.
So yes it is very hot, we have established that, but I have noticed the light is off, it’s different. I have been observing this for a while but it was especially noticeable after having left the country for 6 days a fortnight ago. Now, when we have the cross-over from season to off-season this happens, but this year it is extreme. In Hikkaduwa where I live the sunset has moved quite considerably in position. Sadly I do not have good photos to compare but let’s just say it no longer sets where it usually does (or should do at this time of year, however, given our proximity to the equator it should not deviate much at all). The strength of the sun has also increased as I can testify by getting sunburnt in half the time I would have done in December, just a few days ago.
The sun shines when it doesn’t, it buckets down when it shouldn’t (or when you are least expecting it to). The BBC weather centre tells me the rains are coming, yet it told me this last week and we are still waiting, sweating. It’s different.
On this Poson day, this leads me to consider global warming, then suddenly remembering how the light was off in the weeks following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when the weather turned weird and different. I was here then too, suddenly the memory is razor sharp and I remember nuances, which I had pushed to the back of my head. Could it be Nepal, the earth’s axis adjusting once again? Shivers suddenly rush down my spine in this heat, and humidity. The earth changes, as do the seasons, the sun and moon are in a constant state of flux. The only constant thing is change.
I had a flutter of panic in my chest until I realised that. The only constant thing is change. Now I watch the moon and am at peace once again.
Now unless you live in a mainly Buddhist country like Sri Lanka or are a devout follower of Buddhism, you’re probably wondering “what is she on about now?” when I happily wish you and your family a happy and peaceful vesak. Today is Vesak Poya (full moon) Day. It is probably the most important festival of the year in the Buddhist calendar. Buddhists commemorate the three most important events that took place in the life of Lord Buddha on this Vesak Poya Day (always the first full moon in the month of May). First comes the birth of Siddhartha Gautama which took place under the arbour of Sat trees in in Lumbini Park on the Nepalese border where Queen Mahamaya gave birth to him. The second event was Siddharta Gautam’s supreme enlightenment as the Buddha, under the Bodhi tree in Gaya. The third event was Lord Buddha’s Parinibbana (passing away)
This post is in response to a photo I saw today. One that has gone viral, one of a little girl putting her hands up to a journo with a DSLR. She thought it was a weapon. A Syrian girl. The BBC is calling this “the photo that broke the internet’s heart” What a load of codswallop. It breaks peoples hearts. YES. It does. LOOK LOOK at this girls eyes and then ask yourself why you as a good person can’t get together with other billions of good people on this planet and do something about this.
Anyway I blog about my life – this photo has affected me. If you don’t like it don’t read it. It has also highlighted some issues of life here in wonderful Sri Lanka. “Real issues”:
There maybe issues in lots of countries…I have friends globally from the UK, Germany, Russia (yep even those buggers) to Nigeria to Fiji (and obviously Holland). Most complain. Nowhere is perfect. Holland may seem idyllic – oh except for the fact that Pim Fortuyn was assassinated during the 2002 Dutch national election campaign for being a racist asshole basically. And good riddance. At least we have a cute Royal family. And orange rocks and cheese and heaps more.
Sri Lanka is of course paradise, only it had a bloody 30 year civil war, with possible war crimes still pending – one will see. And while one waits the presidents brother dies in an axe attack. A local politician was shot in my home town days ago.
People are nervous, I am. Not just for my beautiful life here but for the world at large.
The Legend of These Roadside Boutiques AKA The Local Tea Shop
Kades, the traditional Sri Lankan shops or booths, sell an overwhelming variety of goods. Mostly gone from urban areas they are still common in rural areas.
If you happen to be travelling in Sri Lanka by road and require refreshment, desist from stopping at that modern establishment with its plastic tables and soft drinks. Rather, seek out a traditional kade (shop) with a simple wooden seat in front and a bunch of thambili (king coconut) lying inevitably beside it. With several deft cuts of a large knife (which look disconcertingly like a rusty machete) the thambili will be prepared for you to drink straight from the nut. It is more refreshing than any kind of mass produced aerated beverage. A cup of hot steaming plain or tea is also usually available, along with “short eats” – pastries and buns filled with spicy fish or vegetable concoctions.
The kade was formerly known as boutique (not from French origin but a corruption of the Portuguese word butica or boteca), has all but disappeared in Colombo and the other large Sri Lankan towns, although some examples are still found in rural areas. The most basic ones are constructed of wooden boarding with a window counter through which the proprietor conducts business. Bigger kades are built of brick but are open at the front in order to hang fruit, display rows of vegetables on trestles, and store sacks of rice, dhal and gram on the floor.
The proprietor of a kade is called a mudalali. Almost invariably he wears a banian (vest) and sarong. In earlier days he would wear a jacket over the banian and sport a konde (knot of long hair at the back of the head). The mudalali is one of the key persons in the village, because most of his customers, being poor and without cash for most of the month, have to rely on the credit he is prepared to give them. You won’t find any cash registers or other commercial paraphernalia in a typical kade, just a pair of scales and perhaps a pocket calculator.
Historical Literary References to Kades
That kades and other traditional mercantile establishments have changed little in the past 100 years is demonstrated by the following passage from Bella Woolf’s How to See Ceylon (1914): “The native shops – boutiques they are called in Ceylon, a relic of Portuguese days – are open to the winds of heaven. Here the seller sits cross-legged or on his haunches on the floor, while all the day and far into the night the purchasers swarm around. Strange to European eyes are the sacks and baskets full of curry stuffs, chillies, Maldive fish, and grains unknown to the West, kurakkan, gingelly, paddy and gram. The fruit shops brim with plantains (bananas to most people), pineapples, rambuttans (red and green round fruits covered with prickles), mangoes, custard apples, papaws, breadfruit, brinjals (purple and white), and pumpkins.”
“’Candles for sale’ is the device outside one boutique and attenuated specimens of the candle tribe dangle on strings. There are boutiques displaying gay-coloured clothes and hankerchiefs, there are betel leaves impaled on sticks, sold together with arecanut and lime for chewing purposes. In some places tailors are sewing for dear life – a tiresome touch of the West. In another doorway a woman sits at work on pillow lace. Here is a barber shaving his victim coram populo, or an astrologer casting a horoscope.”
In a further reference, Woolf writes of the boutiques peculiar to Jaffna (at the very northern tip of Sri Lanka): “Even the cadjan houses, it will be noticed, are built up against the fence and if they serve the purpose of boutiques as well as dwellings, the goods are not displayed for sale. The buyer pokes his head through a hole in the fence and calls out for what he wants.”
There are many other references to the humble boutique from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka. For example, William Skeen relates in Adam’s Peak (1870): “We were overtaken by a smart shower, and gladly availed ourselves of the shelter of a boutique on the wayside.”
Henry W. Cave comments in The Ceylon Government Railway, also known as Ceylon along the Rail Track (1910): “Chatham Street is composed of a strange medley of restaurants, native jewellers, curiousity shops and provision boutiques.”
Clare Rettie remarks in Things Seen in Ceylon (1929): “The boutiques – or small shops – are piled high with vivid coloured cloths, all sorts of ingredients for curry making, betel for chewing, etc.”
Brooke Elliot advises in The Real Ceylon (1938): “The village boutiques (shops) are worth quiet inspection, including the Toddy-Shop or village ‘Pub’”
While such scenes can still be witnessed in rural areas, the average Sri Lankan shop at the beginning of the 21st century is a more prosaic affair. Nevertheless, the colourful arrays of vegetables, and sacks of rice and other commodities will arrest visitors. Even displays of mundane items such as biscuit packets have a distinct dimension of their own. Furthermore, innovative methods are employed. Circular nappy-driers with dangling clips, for instance, are used to hang a variety of small items from crisp packets to sachets of detergent.
This video was released yesterday (11th of September, 2014 – actual party was August 2013) by my friends at HikkaduwaNET.com . I’m giving this a really big like and have decided to share this….
Because it’s really good and produced well
Because Funky de Bar is awesome – it’s not just a bar, it’s also a great place on the beach during the day with a surf school and a good restaurant. The staff are lovely…I have known most of them for around 10 years 🙂 . This year also saw the addition of a Funky de Bar in Arugam Bay on the East Coast, which I have yet to visit – it’s on my list for next year!
Not one to follow the hordes, always a little different but tourists can be annoying and I rejoice when they all leave.
I can hear you now – this white woman loves our Sri Lanka but she is constantly complaining about our habits and other Governmental inadequacies and unfairness….now this. APO!
This country needs tourism to survive. FACT. The Government is actively promoting tourism on a huge scale. FACT. The problem, however lies in the manner in which they are doing this. I am not going into detail here – This is my personal blog and my journalist hat has been disposed of a while ago. Just two words – Hambantota & fail. Maybe in time but too much borrowed money on non-profitable enterprises is going to hurt the average Sri Lankan in the long run with run-away inflation. Actually we are already seeing this in the dropping exchange rate. I still have no idea how the really poor survive. I hope it is on goodwill from family, friends, neighbours, some friendly tourists and self-grown crops. I have heard stories of families living on one meal a day – rice, dhal and pol sambol – ok you have your carbs in the rice, protein in the dhal, taste in the pol sambol but each day, every day and only once a day?
Anyway back to the point, the season has ended in my home town. The mass influx of tourists have left. The hordes of bikini-clad girls and women and men in board shorts or rather unattractive speedos have gone. There are a few left….mainly Russians who obviously didn’t do their homework on seasons, culture etc. The beach once again is the beauty I fell in love with 10 years ago. Almost empty, no more fully occupied sunbeds and hundreds of people on the beach, bar a few lost tourists looking for a bar that is still open. There are not many as a lot have moved on to Arugam Bay on the East coast for a few months (where the season is just starting) or close up to rejuvenate themselves, their staff and renovate for next season (beach-side properties here take a hell of a battering during the off season with the wet salt wind gusts).
The old and trusted places, however stay open; Top Secret, Spaghetti & Co, Refresh, JLH, the 4 and 5 star hotels for those folks with a bit more cash to spend and a handful of others. The true troopers – the Hikkaduwa regulars. Love them.
This is what what our beach looks like now:
Peace and quiet for a few months, enjoy! Don’t let it stop you visiting this beautiful area. There is still lots to explore. You can still eat and drink and the weather is generally good from mid-June until September (May, October & November are generally rainy as the seasons change). Bliss. This area without the thousands of tourists will give you a more memorable holiday and more opportunities to mingle with the local people during festivals such as Vesak and Poson.