Category Archives: Foods

Last Days in Lanka

I’ve been back in the US for one month, adjusting to a different, less hectic but more busy, pace of life, and now finally have the time to write about my last week in Sri Lanka.

After my trip with my dad and stepmother I had five days to pack up and say goodbye to my friends and the people who’d helped me with my research. Sunday afternoon I had lunch with my friends Abeera and Tharshiya, the two women who’d worked for me doing Tamil translation during my research. We had a fun lunch at the Royal Mall Restaurant, which was very busy. We talked about the tentative results of my research, work they were doing at the university, and more everyday stuff like our boyfriends and families.

Tuesday I went to say goodbye to my advisor at the University of Peradeniya, and to the staff at the Kadugannawa MOH who’d helped me so much. I wanted to bring a present to say thank you, and my friend/ driver Sangeeth suggested I bring a fruit basket from the Kandy Market. Well, what a basket. Each basket weighed about twenty pounds and was filled  to the brim with fruit.

IMG_2878

Traveling down the road in a three wheeler with two large fruit baskets was a challenge; I had to keep my hand on both baskets to keep them from tipping and spilling, but my advisor and the MOH doctor were both impressed by the gigantic fruit basket, and it seemed like the perfect gift.

My last day in Kandy was one of the best of my whole  stay. I spent the morning packing, and in the afternoon went to Child Action Lanka, http://www.childactionlanka.org/ where I’d been volunteering a few hours a week teaching English to street kids. Debs, the director, and the children threw me a small party that included cake, and a present of a very nice necklace. Since it was my last afternoon, I decided to skip the English tutoring and play some of the kids’ favorite games, including hide and go seek, and red light, green light, which the children had renamed ‘red and green.’  I also took pictures of the kids, and they took some good ones of me.

Kids and me at Child Action Lanka

Kids and me at Child Action Lanka

IMG_2901

Achini, Harshani, Dinushka, and Lasantha

That evening Sangeeth had me over for dinner with his family, and I got to meet his kids for the first time. His sons were three and seven, and were lively and funny. Sangeeth and his wife had prepared me a meal of rice and ten curries.

Rice and ten curries

Rice and ten curries

I did my best to be a good guest and eat as much as possible, but the amount of food was overwhelming. As a thank you present I gave Sangeeth a set of photos of places we’d visited with my family. His sons were very impressed with the pictures of him with elephants. They also liked my camera, and wanted to see every picture I took of them right after it was taken, including this one of them pretending to sleep.

Sangeeth's kids, pretending to sleep

Sangeeth's kids, pretending to sleep

After dinner, Sangeeth and his older son drove me home down his hill, and up mine, and I stayed up into the night to finish my packing.

In the morning I took a van to Colombo to visit my friends there before my flight Friday morning. I had lunch with Ramya, one of the staff from the Fulbright office, and then spent the afternoon doing some last minute bargain hunting at House of Fashions, basically a four story clearance for Sri Lankan made garments. My last night in Sri Lanka I went out to dinner at the Mango Tree, an excellent Indian Restaurant, with the other Fulbrighters who were still in the country.

Next morning I took a cab to the airport, went through a Sri Lankan military checkpoint one last time, and got on my flight home to America.

Tea and the World’s End

The past few weeks Kandy has been very hot, daytime temperatures in the nineties, and sticky evenings where it is hard to sleep. I recently learned how to say “It is hot today” in Sinhala, “Ada rasnei,” and have been using that phrase a lot. Because of the heat Brian and I decided to take a weekend trip up-country to Nuwara Eliya, a city in the mountains that sits at 6000 ft and is at the center of the tea industry in Sri Lanka.

Saturday morning we took the bumpy train ride up into the mountains. The train car was filled with families, many of them heading to Adam’s Peak for the pilgrimage to see the Buddha’s footprint. The trip took five hours, traveling through green hills covered with tea plants, but by the end of it we were ready to get out of the train and away from its smoke, and out into the fresh air. To save some money we decided to take the bus into town instead of a tuk-tuk. This was not the best idea. The bus was tiny, Brian and I couldn’t stand up all the way, and very very crowded. There weren’t any seats left by the time we got on, so we had to stand for the ride. This would have been fine, except that Brian got stuck next to an old man, who was nice, but sweaty and had trouble keeping his balance and kept pushing his butt into Brian for balance.

Our first afternoon in Nuwara Eliya we hiked up Single Tree Mountain, through the tea plants of part of the Pedro Tea Estate. Parts of the road up the mountain were steep, and we saw a tuk tuk being pushed up an especially difficult hill. We also spotted a young couple on a motorcycle heading up the hill, and later saw the motorcycle parked by a secluded make-out spot. The view from the top was amazing, tea plants, and Adam’s Peak.

 

View from Single Tree Mountain

View from Single Tree Mountain

The next day we  got up early and adventured to Horton Plains National Park in a van over bumpy country roads. The park is a mix of cloudforest and grassland. At the entrance were two tame sambaru deer, one of them came right up to the window searching for a snack.

 

Deer

Deer

The hike through the park was 9 km and led to the World’s End, where the plains drop off for a kilometer. 

 

World's End

World's End

After our hike the van driver took us to a strawberry farm. The road was so steep and so bad that he waited at the top while I bought strawberries because the van couldn’t manage the road. Nuwara Eliya and the towns around it are known for its produce and its the only place in Sri Lanka where strawberries are grown, so I was very happy to stop and buy some.

Monday morning we took a quick trip to the Pedro Tea Factory and learned about the many steps involved in making tea. Apparently there are 12, and although the factory was very clean and modern, it didn’t look like the process of turning fresh leaves into tea had changed much in the last hundred years. When the British introduced tea they brought over Tamil workers from South India who are still the backbone of the industry today. Tea has to be picked by hand, and it is still mostly Indian Tamil workers doing this. 

The train back to Kandy was eventful. Brian and I were happily situated in our second class seats when an announcement came on saying something in Sinhala I could not understand. Everyone else in our car got out and moved into the third class compartments. I was able to talk to someone semi-official who explained there was a tree on the tracks and that we should get into third class and the train would leave soon. We waited for an hour before the train started moving. In the car next to us young men were singing, dancing and drumming, which sounded pretty good. At least until another group of young men started singing and banging against the wall of the traincar. They sang a Backstreet Boys song, and another one about “malu” which means fish in Sinhala. They were awful. The train went about 5 km before stopping for the tree. Everyone had to get off the train, no easy task without a platform. I helped a short, round woman by picking her up and placing her down on the ground. 

 

Train switch

Train switch

After that little adventure, I made my way to the train waiting on the other side of the downed tree. We didn’t have to wait long before it got moving and we were on our way back through the tea fields to Kandy.

Crackers, curtains, and curries

My new year’s was relatively quiet, aside from the loud fireworks, or crackers, as the local call them. These crackers do not create beautiful sparks, but instead just explode and sound like gunfire, and echo across the little valley where I live. The crackers continued for two more nights, and at first I thought it was only because Sri Lankans really love  New Year’s. Instead the crackers were to celebrate the fall of Kilinochchi, the Tamil Tiger’s headquarters up north. 

I celebrated New Year’s without crackers, but by ordering a curtain for my gigantic window, and learning to cook a Sri Lankan curry. My attempts to cook the foods I love from America have not turned out right. The ingredients I’m used to at home are either too expensive, unavailable, or just not the same. My first try at a curry was very tasty, a carrot and eggplant curry.  I had to grind my own spices to make garam masala.

 

Carrot and eggplant curry

Carrot and eggplant curry

The curtain was also a success, and an easy one. There is a curtain store in Kandy with hundreds of fabrics, some of them beautiful, and some of them not as beautiful. The fabric I selected was 250/yard, less than $2.50/yard, and is printed with galaxies and stars.

 

Curtain

Curtain

At the curtain store this print was on sale because, as the salesman pointed out, “most people here prefer flowers.”

Big City

This weekend I went to Colombo to pick up my visa, shop for my new apartment, and eat real cheese. Kandy is a lovely city with many fine qualities, but there is a serious lack of delicious cheeses. There are three types of food in Kandy, Sri Lankan, Indian, and Chinese. None of these are cheese-based. Colombo is a huge city and fairly cosmopolitan so there are restaurants that serve Italian food, bagels, and other non-Asian foodstuffs.

On Monday night I went out to dinner with two of the other Fulbrighters, Lea and John, to an Italian resataurant in Colombo called the Bayleaf. It had been raining for about two hours when we decided to walk from their house to the restaurant. Their street was flooded and by the time we got to the main road the water was up to our knees. Cars going by created waves that rippled down the street. We braved a few blocks of deep water before  making it onto dry sidewalks and finally the restaurant. The Bayleaf Restaurant is in a big old Colombo house with a big garden out front. The inside of the restaurant smells like cloves. We sat out on the porch and watched the birds and gigantic bats fly by. The food, pumpkin ravioli, tasted especially good after our trek through flooded streets and my one month without cheese.

My other Colombo adventure was visiting House of Fashions, a store that is like a gigantic TJ Maxx. The store is stocked with leftovers from Sri Lanka’s garment industry from brands like Gap and Calvin Klein. I spent about an hour there, in awe of all the clothes and stuff. There are no changing rooms, so I had to sneak behind a rack and try on pants underneath my skirt like the Sri Lankan ladies were doing. In the end. after an hour of searching, I found two nice button down shirts and a good pair of lightweight pants and paid about $10 for all of this.

Now I am back in Kandy where it is much quieter, much cooler, and tomorrow I will move into my new apartment.