Category Archives: Kandy

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.

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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

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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.

Tooth Mayhem

Kandy is a small dense city, a warren of narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants that sits on an artificial lake. On one side of the city is the Temple of the Tooth, built to house the Buddha’s tooth. The Tooth sits in a series of elaborate boxes and is an important symbol for Sri Lankan Buddhists, and represents Sri Lankan sovereignty. 

A few weeks ago there was an exhibition of the Tooth Relic, something that happens every five years or so. Visitors don’t view the Tooth itself, but instead one of the boxes holding the tooth. One of our friends likened it to seeing the Tooth in its pajamas.  The country had been experiencing a drought and whenever they bring out the Tooth it rains. And on the first day the Tooth was displayed it did rain.

The first few days of the exhibition 150,000-200,000 people dressed all in white came each day to see the Tooth.  All cars, buses, tuktuks, oxcarts, etc. passing through Kandy have to go along the two lane road running around the lake, and the increase in people and vehicles caused the traffic to become more snarled than before. The lines to see the Tooth Relic were unlike anything I’ve seen. People came from all over the country and spent the night sleeping in line. During the day the people in line were pressed tight up against each other waiting for the brief window of time in the afternoon when they would see the Tooth, or at least the box it’s held in.

After a few days the crowds really ramped up, and Brian and I decided to take a break from the Tooth Mayhem and visit the beach. It’s a good thing we did because the last few days of the Exhibition there were over 500,000 people visiting. The government ended the Exhibition a few days early. According to the rumors they did this because they couldn’t handle the crowds, there had been terrorist threats, or some combination of those two. Whatever the reason, when we returned to Kandy after the exhibition ended, things had returned to normal.

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.”

Settling in

After my first month in Kandy I’m starting to feel settled in my new life here. I have an apartment, I know how to take the bus into town and the university, I’m going to sign up for the gym near my house, and I know where to go grocery shopping. A new mall just opened in downtown Kandy after several years, and it has been the talk of the town. Right now the only place open in the mall is the Keell’s Grocery Store, but it is wonderful and worth all the buzz it has been generating. They have products I haven’t seen anywhere else in Kandy, including Oreos. The most interesting part of visiting the new mall is watching people try to use the escalator, the first one in Kandy. There are two mall employees whose job it is to greet people and explain to them how to use the escalator. People seem hesitant and nervous to step on the moving steps and it can take a minute or so before they work up the confidence. I have a feeling that the escalator is part of the draw for the new mall.

The other nice thing about settling in is I’ve started to explore my neighborhood and some of the windy streets around it. My friend Paula showed me a different way into town along Rajaphilla Mawatha which runs up the hills around the lake. There are views of Kandy and the mountain ranges outside the valley.

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And great views of the Temple of the Tooth.

 

Temple of the Tooth.

Temple of the Tooth.

Every Day is a Holiday in Sri Lanka

Really, there are so many holidays here. Today was a Muslim holiday, the Hadj festival, and Friday is a Poya (full moon) Day which is a Buddhist holiday. The Sri Lankans I’ve talked to say there are so many holidays because the country has several religious communities, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. However, a recent business article cited the number of holidays as a problem for growth in the economy. Christmas here seems to be a big deal, but only the commercial aspects, such as the songs and the decorations. At the Lake Bungalow, the guesthouse where I was staying when I first arrived, there was a Montessori school downstairs, and every morning I would wake up to the sound of children singing Christmas songs, and ABBA. Mamma Mia just came out here and is very popular. It was strange to hear songs about sleigh rides and snow in a tropical climate.

So today I took my holiday and worked to clean up and arrange my new home a little more. On Friday I moved in to my new 2 bedroom apartment in Ampitiya, just outside of Kandy up a windy road. The view from up here is amazing, and a big part of what I like about my new place.

 

View from my apartment.

View from my apartment.

It is also quiet and peaceful up here, and not too far from town. However, housekeeping in Sri Lanka is much more time consuming than in the US. For one thing, there are many more insects here. The past few mornings I have had to sweep hundreds of dead flies off the floor. A Sri Lankan friend told me that these flies come for a few weeks when it is rainy, and that they arrived after the 2004 tsunami, so people call them tsunami flies. Luckily tsunami flies are only around for a few weeks at a time, so after Christmas I should be free of this problem.

 

My room after I swept up the tsunami flies.

My room after I swept up the tsunami flies.

The other challenge in housekeeping is water purification. In order to have drinking water I have to boil it and then pour it into my very very slow water purifier that takes about a day to filter anything. 

Similar to the Lake Bungalow guesthouse, there are monkeys around. My first night here I woke up to a loud crash on the roof from a monkey. There seems to be a troop that runs around my neighborhood, and they are very loud.

 

Neighborhood monkey troop

Neighborhood monkey troop

Even with monkeys, Ampitiya is still quieter than downtown Kandy, where there are loud buses and hundreds of people. Even on a holiday the traffic is intimidating. There are stop-lights, but they aren’t turned on, probably because no one paid attention to them.

 

Downtown Kandy on a holiday

Downtown Kandy on a holiday