Time and I have been moving along while this blog has lagged behind. There are still tales to tell from my wanderings through Argentina’s northern territories and my final farewell to BsAs, but for now I’m just going to bring you back into my present.
My return to London was brief, a three week stint. Full to the brim with mulled wine, minces pies and the various people that I’d missed. The social whirlwind welcomed me home. A whirlwind that ultimately whisked me up, up and away again, to another far away land. This time journeying en famille – a genre of kidnapping: a way for my parents to pin down their two elusive daughters for two unadulterated weeks together.
The chosen location: Mirissa beach. A sandy bay idyllically framed by coconut palms on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. We all agreed that it wasn’t a bad idea. So the tickets were booked. Fresh grilled fish replaced the traditional roast turkey and a tropical 30*C for London’s minus six.
There was fine sleet falling on Heathrow as we sat patiently in departures, we prayed it wouldn’t thicken. Fortunately long haul proved lucky (while short-hauls flashed *Cancelled*). We waded through the aftermath of the pre-Christmas blizzards, a backlog of havoc as freezing runways continued to freeze flights.
For us it was a mere nine hours in Terminal 4 browsing Boots and Burberry, WH Smiths and Harrods. Then eleven hours in the air with a Drew Barrymore chick-flick and a contorted snooze. Finally, we arrived five and a half hours ahead of ourselves on a Tuesday afternoon in Colombo. It was raining, as if we’d brought London’s snow-cloud with us. Its sleet now melted in Sri Lanka’s heat, having travelled half way around world.
We opened our umbrellas and bargained a taxi down to 6,500 rupees – meaningless money, foreign to our sense of currency, which has been warped by our journey through time. Caught in the conversion of value, we begun questioning what was reasonable in a country where reason is negotiable – where people ask what they want, but often accept what you offer.
The tiresome travelling finally relented as we arrived in Kandy (the hill country) to spend three very damp nights being serenaded by inexorable raindrops thundering down on our roof. This unseasonable weather front persisted as we moved to the coast for Christmas. Grey afternoons and heavy skies hung ominously over the beach, occasionally breaking and shattering into the sea. It wasn’t the flooding of the eastern coast, where millions were displaced, nor anything near Australia or Brazil’s new year inundations, but it dampened our spirits all the same. The unseasonable weather played against our expectations of endless blue sky days. This expectation had, in fact, determined my fate. When my parents disclosed their Christmas plan to me earlier in the year I couldn’t see a good reason to return to the British winter at the end of the three-week holiday. Quite content living the seasons backwards after my year in the southern hemisphere I asked for a one-way ticket.
And so it is that I’m still here, whittling down the last of my savings on roti and dhal whilst acclimatising to the tropics and the attention that comes with being a white foreigner.
Meanwhile my family have had to return to their other lives, an other that I seem to have misplaced, with no university or work to return to. I’m lost in the school of life, detached from the career ladder. I’m still following my whims, as each day poses its challenges as only each day can.
Essentially I’ve been abandoned on holiday, avoiding a return or creating my own reality, I’m not sure? Either way, I’m now alone in Sri Lanka, fending for myself.
For the moment I’ve made my home in a friendly family-run guesthouse, of the family Amarasinghe. It’s set in a leafy garden tucked neatly into the jungle. From the beach you follow the river, where water follows stagnantly towards the sea until you get to the bridge. On the way, if you raise your eyes to the rustling palms overhead you’ll spot the resident family of monkeys that leap precariously between the fronds, then perhaps pass a monitor lizard, which waddles away threateningly poking out a long purple-forked tongue or a peacock wandering between the banana plants. After the bridge, 20 metres on, you’ll find Amarainghe’s garden dotted with little residences, centred round the large main house. This is where I have my room, with a private shower that dribbles, a smelly toilet that gushes and strangely silent mosquitos that bite without warning.
I rise while the palm leaves are still shading the beach. Under this shade I lay down my sarong and practise a series of yogic bendings and stretchings, saluting the sun, (which has, of late, reassumed its position, blazing in the Sri Lankan sky). I breakfast en route to the monastery, which is also hidden in the jungle, down a newly laid concrete lane that leads to the 300-year-old temple. I greet the orange-robed monks and other passers-by as I cross a wobbly plank balanced over a shallow ditch to enter the nursery building where I’ve volunteered to play teacher.
The dozen or so pre-schoolers have each begun to reveal their own unique characters: Dopey, sleepy, happy, grumpy, bashful and … I’ve been named their fair aunty because I’m (snow!) white, apparently (despite my tan).
We communicate in mime, making evocative noises and silly faces. Heads shoulders knees and toes knees and toes … One two three four five … occasionally I get my meaning across, but I mustn’t push too hard – a lesson I learnt on the swings: I pushed the seats from under two little bottoms with my over-enthusiasm to make them fly. I dusted them off and kissed their bruises better. Luckily small children have a tendency to bounce. So no real harm done!
Two others have vomited, probably the result of combining swings with string hoppers (a kind of fine rice noodle eaten with dhal, egg or coconut sambol), which they devour with their tiny fingers, scooping it up into their mouths from bright plastic lunchboxes.
And so this lull on the ladder goes on.