Monday, May 31, 2010

The People of Sri Lanka

So as you can see, Sri Lanka rubbed off on us.  We really didn't blend in with the population at all there, even if we had been wearing traditional clothing.  I thought the people of Sri Lanka were some of the nicest, most welcoming people I have ever met.  The hospitality people were well . . . hospitable, of course, but the people in the markets, on the street, in the villages, and even on the water had big smiles and waves for us. 
Our tour guide Erickson is well-suited for his job.  He knew when to offer suggestions and information and then when to drive quietly and let us recover from the humidity and heat.  He was full of stories and facts and knew all the best places to take us.  He seemed well respected everywhere and we felt like we were getting all kinds of perks.  Erickson lived in Doha and worked as a house driver in the 90s.  His wife worked in the same house as a maid.  It was really nice to meet someone who spent time as a "second class citizen" in Qatar, saved the money he earned, and then went back to his home country to make a very nice life for himself and his family.  He now has two sons (one of which is in a lottery to go to the U.S. to study computer engineering) and two businesses.  He has several tour vans and drivers and has a small business of growing orchids.  I guess orchids are in demand in Sri Lanka because they use them in the most important celebrations like weddings.  I was just fascinated by this kind man Erickson.  He is a Christian, attends the Catholic church, and has a Virgin Mary attached to his dashboard for extra blessings as he drives, and boy does he need them!  He is an excellent driver, but we often wondered how we came through a tight squeeze of cars, trucks, and motorcycles without crashing.  If you are thinking of going to Sri Lanka, make sure and contact our friend Erickson

When we were staying in the Ahungalla area the beach was very inviting in spite of the fact that it had been ravaged by the tsunami in 2004.  But we had to REALLY want to go in order to overcome our aversion for the HIGH PRESSURE salesmen and women who would stand just outside the hotel property and then assault everyone who walked over the line.  They were relentless and so persuasive, probably because that is their living and a very poor one at that.  Abbey and Brett had a very helpful, tenacious man on the beach the first day who would not accept Brett's continuous nos.  He ended up helping them find shells and eventually found a live crab stuck in the rocks.  Brett and Abbey watched it in awe and when they were done admiring it, the man quickly caught the crab for his dinner.  The ladies in the picture below tried to become my best friend so I would buy some of their wraps or sarees.  One lady wrapped me in one before I even knew what was happening.  When they realized I couldn't be persuaded, one of the girls stood with me by the waves, admired my skirt, and asked if I had any more like it.  When I told her no, she asked if I would give her mine.  I wonder if that is their custom or if she was just being very impolite.  Another woman in the Galle area by the lighthouse tried to tell me about her poor circumstances.  Luckily Brett didn't give me many rupees for my purse so I couldn't hand over all my money.

The hotel employees were always dressed in exotic clothing and would bow to us with their palms together whenever they served us.  I guess we were paying for all that, but it certainly was nice.

The cinnamon farmer was one of the most memorable people we met.  He lived on an island in the middle of a lake and entertained river safari tourists with his demonstration of how to harvest cinnamon, make rope out of coconut husks, and make hut roofs out of coconut tree leaves.  His home was made out of the clay from the lake and his little grandson charmed us with his smiles as we passed through the home.  It was a very primitive life that they were revealing to us, and I wondered if we could even camp for a week in those conditions, but they seemed happy.  When I saw their idea of a kitchen in the house though I knew there was no way I wanted Brett to take up cinnamon farming.  The funniest part of the demonstration was when he asked Abbey to come up to the front to hold the coconut leaf roof he made he said, "Baby, come!" When she stood up there she was taller than he was.  Even though Abbey was embarrassed to be called a baby by many of the people there, we tried to explain to her that it is their way of showing respect.  It is impolite in their culture to say, "Girl, come." Baby is a term like Honey or Sweetie.

What would Martha Stewart have to say about this gormet kitchen?

While we were in Kandy we attended a cultural night and saw some beautiful dancing and impressive fire walking.  The costumes were brilliantly colored and the women so graceful.  The men were interesting - especially one guy who was Tracy Morgan's chubby Sri Lankan cousin, right down to the grin.  The male dancers had this little head bobble they did that was similar to the head bob of the Indian people when they are giving an affirmative answer.  We could see a lot of similarities to the Indian culture in Sri Lanka.  The dances featured interesting props, including the traditional masks and fire sticks.  The finale was a group of men walking on hot coals.  I can't even take the heat of the country let alone the burning coals of a fire pit on my feet!

Tracy Morgan's Sri Lankan look alike

Don't you agree?

The religious people we met were a very interesting group.  We saw many Buddist temples (too many if you ask me) and the people there were curious as we toured their everyday sanctuary.  We met a monk at the Kotdoowa Rajamaha Viharaya Temple on an island who showed us a 600 year old book written in sanscrit and his student monks.  He also gave us a blessing as he tied a string around each of our wrists.  At another temple we stopped at there was a self-appointed tour guide who insisted we see the temple through his eyes.  We politely went through the tour, but were very uncomfortable with his Buddist zeal.  You can actually see the discomfort on Abbey's face as she went through the motions of trying to appreciate Buddism.  The gentle, quiet worshippers were the ones I wanted to talk to about their faith, their beliefs.  We were told over and over that Buddist do no worship Budda, but then we watched as they prayed to him, bowed to him, knelt before him, gave water offerings to his fountain, left food and flower offerings in glass cases before his statue, etc.  It seems more than a philosophy of living when you see Buddism in action. 

After eating in the Bountiful Temple cafeteria, this doesn't quite match my image of a temple kitchen.

These cute boys are monks in training.  They often come from poor families who cannot afford to take care of them.  It is a rule that they must eat with their fingers.

My favorite people of Sri Lanka were the ones by the side of the road selling the coconuts and the five different kinds of bananas (the lemon banana is the best), the people who were bravely stacked three or four deep on a motorcycle zipping through the traffic, the people who were gathering clay from the bottom of the lake to build their home but had time to wave at us, the farmers working in their rice paddies, the people who appreciated their beautiful country and the visitors who came to see it.  Thank you to the generously friendly citizens of Sri Lanka.  You will not be forgotten.


Marinda said...

Wow. Seriously wow. What beautiful pictures and what an experience. I have a friend here from Sri Lanka, she doesn't talk a lot about it, even when we ask. But she has said she really doesn't want to go back when she is done at the university. The beauty is amazing, but she feels she has little chance for financial growth there.

Amy said...

My goodness, what an experience! I know I keep saying that, but it's just amazing. Abbey's face is so funny. I'm sure Jane would have vocally expressed her discomfort! The fruit looks so tasty. I'd love to try some!