Daruwa in a SMILING LAND
Poitu varen — part I.
“I would take 3 months over it, and gave myself time to prepare, making contacts and reading whatever I could. I had no idea of the task ahead.” ( Elephant Complex, John Gimlette)
“Dirty feet, no shoes, no cutlery. I’m on the right place.”
“There is no better moment than making your own coconut milk.”
“The best thing that can happen in a tropical countries is even one second breeze.”
North West — Kalladdi, Puttalam district
I’ve never thought how sitting on the toilet can be amazing experience. But obviously it’s not everyday that you have a chance to sit on the toilet surrounded by tall coconut trees and through their pinnate leaves watch the full moon. Such a cliché but in Sri Lanka there is no word like cliché and everything is possible!
C1, A2, D15, 2:15, 19:07, scream, mass, yellow, black, chocolate, jewelry, clean, long hair, France, Spain, diversity, differences, relations, blonde, Life of Pi, calm, silence, dinner…. Negombo.
10:00 am — humidity is sister of locals. Despite of the fact that Indian ocean is just next to me and I’m 11 hours away from mama-land my first impression wasn’t really coming as physical me was giving signals to my eyelids, backpack was suddenly heavier, pouch slowly falling from my hips and camera on my sweating neck causing quite uncomfortable state.
“Are you Erika?” somebody interrupted me during my focusing of what I should sort out first. That’s how I first met Gideon — head taller weirdo dressed in sarong, with glasses and beard. I quickly realized that he is one of those funny guys so everything was fine. As soon as I arranged my Sri Lankan number and exchanged bit of money as you can do it only within the country we left Bandaranaike International Airport came to Puttalam which is about three hours by car and finally arrived to Kalladdi village where Gideon’s estate is located. I hadn’t even got my backpack out of the van and his hands were on the steering wheel again.
“We’re gonna drive around, I’ll show you our mangrove trees and surrounding.” That moment I realized sleeping during my next three months is gonna be just wasting of time. Especially in the country where the sunrise is at 6:00am and sunset 6:00pm
All of your head is just wow wow wow. Sri Lanka is probably our mother nature’s living room, the sceneries you see each kilometer keep your head moving from left to right, up down, 360 degrees. Life we live, smiles we share, animals we touch, sounds we hear, flavors we smell and taste. How many types of green we know and how many types of skin we touch? Everything is suddenly so simple. Sunrises and sunsets are everyday movies and sky is one huge canvas. Jumping monkeys chasing each other are local rebels, lizards and frogs shower mates and ants want you to share even the smallest piece of the last crumb.
We were driving alongside of the coast where locals during the dry season harvest salt. Their system of channels enables sea water to be pumped into salt pans. As we came back from the drive I finally got to know some people from the estate.
First person I had a chance to be introduced to was Dinesh. Dinesh, my Sri Lankan brother is the one who will pick up the phone if anything happen at the estate. Janahi, one of the cleanest souls I’ve ever met cooks, prepares, boils, steams, basically everything connected to food and kitchen, the best traditional and tasty meals, most of them containing coconut.
Her son deep-eyed Sudha, seems to be disinterested at the first glance but at the end he is one of those who is hard to say goodbye. Thevaraj, our usual meetings were during morning watering coconut trees. He welcomes days with the biggest smile. Nimal — finally I found adult Mowgli who gonna teach you how to climb the coconut tree and wake you up with his fireworks to scare monkeys.
As I was walking with my backpack like obedient doggy behind Dinesh who was about to show me where I’m gonna sleep I was noticing small details which make the place magical. 2 metres cactus fence almost along all the estate, peacocks, monkeys jumping and walking among the coconut trees, Tony the Pony please you with his sudden appearance and expectation of giving him banana. Paths with signs leading you to each of three houses with no doors or windows, only roof made of cadjan (coconut palm leaves), blinds, bed and baskets hanging from the ceiling. Simple, amazing. That’s where I spent my two weeks. I was amazed with the idea of sleeping in an open nature but on the other hand I couldn’t avoid my night imagination. As I didn’t want to show any fear and make an impression of being sissy, like a big and brave girl I went to so called Tarik’s house and hid under the mosquito net with all the noises of our mother nature after all day fell asleep.
Morning coffees with Gideon were every day habit. So let’s have a coffee and talk about him a bit more.
Gideon, Sri Lankan born in London, moved back to Colombo 35 years ago, started to work on the estate in Kalladdi. I’d call him worldwide father! His phone is being charged most of the day because of the calls he receives every day. At some point one could think he knows all the town and village and at the end all Sri Lanka due to the fact he talks to anybody in a way they know each other all their lives but they actually don’t.
“Do you want a coffee?”
“Take one of my sarongs.”
“Don’t forget to remind me…”
“She is from Slovakia and she is vegetarian.”
“I told Janahi to prepare roti for you.”
“Can you see? everybody came to say bye to you, monkeys, Tony, the dog…”
“Remind me to ask Nimal to repair your ipad”
“Don’t worry we all keep eyes on you, nothing bad can happen.”
“I printed these facts about Slovakia to know your country better.”
“Don’t forget to call your parents.”
“Why do you write about Sri Lanka and not about Erika?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“I think you’re having too much of a good time.”
“Should we buy some pineapple?”
“I will send you money on your number so you can call.”
“We can’t forget to top up your data.”
“You can use my phone to take pictures.”
That’s Gideon. Caring, giving, interested, respectful and respected, listening, peaceful and what is the best, makes you feel that you’re important. And that’s the reason why his phone rings all the time, that’s why all the community would gather to help at any time, that’s why the estate is full of peace.
“Are you analyzing me again?” And then without hiding any information which somebody can find private or intimate, tell you stories of his life which you have to think of another two days. Locals call him “mad master”. The reason, following the path of sheep is not really his way so he creates, thinks and does things in his own way.
North-west of Sri Lanka in general has been still nicely innocent and untouched so the main aim of Gideon’s project is to show people places which they wouldn’t probably see in a simple and most common visit. Mannar island was one of the places we went as well. To get there you have to come across the road that leads to Mannar through Wilpattu National Park. You can’t really see that many animals as they are all hidden inside of the park, so we just quickly passed through it and got to the first stop Marichchikudi to take something for breakfast. Small stand aside of the road with the owner called Zulficar who is really nice friend of Gideon, made us the best *Paratha with lentil curry and chili & onion sambol. We took it with us and ate it on the place called Doric House, which used to be the house of the first British governor of Ceylon but now it’s just ruins. Anyway the interesting thing about this place, it used to be the pearl fishery, even today under certain conditions — in the right light and with the sun at the low angle, the long shore apparently still glitters.
Mannar district — Mannar is the capital, we entered the town, stopped at the old fortifications quickly took some pictures and continued 40km ahead to the settlement called Talaimannar, which was really interesting as its peak of the north-western coast of Mannar Island. Only one road leads to and from there. 20 km through the ocean and you’re in India.
Long time ago there used to be Adam’s bridge connecting India and Sri Lanka, the only problem was high tide but that’s long past. Now you can wait for the ferry that loads the train and take you to India.
“Mad dogs and Englishmen” said Gideon — we came at the worse time, 12:00 in the hottest time when everybody were chilling. So we took some pics of fishermen and went back to Mannar. The little prince would be proud if he saw the baobab tree towering in the middle of the town. Gideon stayed in the car smoking his cigarette while I was shooting this massive beauty.
As the sun was high in the sky we went back to the Zulficar’s shop and all together went to the lake to refresh. My head was turning around all the time due to the fact in the same lake are usually crocodiles bathing. Fortunately it wasn’t time for them as they were probably somewhere basking on the sun. Everything at that time seemed to be amazing, the temperature of the water, place, feelings, company…. maybe the only. bit uncomfortable thing was my bathing suit — shirt and sarong as they are not really use to see bikini. So I spent most of the time pushing down my sarong which was all the time ballooning.
Getting back through Wilpattu again was a bit dark when suddenly Gideon stepped on the brake. saying “Look there” — huge elephant having a nice drinking time near the lake. Amazing and massive, not knowing somebody is watching him, finished his drinking and disappeared in the wildness. Because it was dark already we were trying to get to the estate as soon as possible. We came after all day had a black tea, talk about life and fell asleep like babies.
Community, I like the sound of this word and the meaning even more. Different country, different community. When it comes to the roles of women and men, it differs a bit according to the religion but most of the women play their roles of a mother, the one that make you nice meals, keeping the family together and take care of your inner peace. In about 21 you’re married so by 25 two small creatures are running around playing *carom, riding the bike, scrubbing coconuts and a lot of another things that probably other kids wouldn’t even think about in this age. Fishing is one of the usual jobs for men, estate works, some individuals have their own businesses — small stores with everything from bananas to the shampoos and coffees hanging from the ceiling in a small separate bags.
If you spend one or two days in Kalladdi, the village could give the impression of god forgotten place. so you could be leaving with confused and maybe bit unsatisfied feelings.
The best thing, which maybe we can’t really choose sometimes is to know a local person and then it’s a really fast waterfall. In my case Gideon plays this role. As a person that built his respect in the village with things he did, does and hopefully will continue to do for the community make people feel safe around him. They know they can call him any time to get advice, opinion or any other kind of help. So as a matter of fact 2 days after my arrival, there was an event of laying the foundation stone for the future sport centre.
I completely didn’t understand as it was in Sinhalese but the body language was more than enough. From 5 year old small boy till 80 were sitting and discussing. Considered to be the most experienced brain power was a local monk coming with young novice.
Anybody who felt like to say something, said it whether they were 18 or 50 and as sign of approval they nod their heads from side to side so for an outsider it could be a bit confusing as you don’t really know whether they agree or not. Anyway after laying the foundation stone and discussing the whole thing, the tradition in Sri Lanka ( maybe in another countries as well) everything finishes with the meal or at least some snacks, so few of these curious young helpers started to hand out bananas (which is very common) cakes and drinks (non alcoholic of course) and the crowd of men slowly started to leave.
“What young people do here during their free time? Aren’t they bored? They don’t wanna go to Colombo?” I ask Gideon.
“There is no word for bored in Sinhala”. People have a reason all the time to gather, meet up with relatives, which means almost whole village, have a nice meal together, chat, discuss, play some games or just be in a peace.”
You can really say nothing.
One afternoon after making some smoothie of banana and passion fruit I sat at the table, finally prepared to write down my “musings”, when Gideon is telling me “stop writing and go to watch guys picking coconuts”, so I took my camera and had another good material for shooting. Those 1,70 meter guys were picking coconuts from 30 meter trees, chatting and smiling to the camera at the same time.
There was all the time life around the estate and village. Whether it was lunch in Gideon’s Muslim friends family with 6 daughters or meeting local planters in a massive estate highlighted with torches made of coconuts, discussing their plans and future projects around the area. Bit boring for me as my Sinhalese is limited to one word but surrounding was amazing. On a windy sunny sunday Gideon arranged two seats in a jeep to Wilpattu National Park. So again our alarm clock was ringing at 5:00am. We paid the entrance and together with another Indian couple and their friend we entered this wild world. Akalanka, our experienced driver as probably one of few drivers who knew where and what time to go so as we entered the park in another 15 minutes had a chance to see leopard on the other side of the river drinking water. Later bathing baby elephant, chilling crocodile, mating snakes, chasing monkeys, all types of birds, eagles sitting so close that you could almost touch them. Sound of the nature, Jungle book.
As I had a sensation that I’m doing nothing on the estate just enjoying myself (partly because of Gideon’s fault as well) I wanted to do some work at the estate as well, and around, so we organized one of the houses, took away not necessary things and arranged those which looks considerably useful. Gideon left to Colombo for few days which was again opportunity for me to make some ideas on the estate real. So I spent days working on a chilling zone which I think worked successfully, fixing the lagoon path, helping Sudha and Dinesh around and them trying to teach me difference between coconut and coconut. Janahi with cooking and taking Tony the pony for a walk. In this spirit were my next days without Gideon. Simply absorbing the difference and beauty of everything. As for me everybody were culturally different I was exotic for them as well, so they were trying to know me by invitations to their humble abodes which were modest but magical. Making dodol from 4pm till the late evening in the family of Thevaraj or playing Carom and watching local TV series with Sudha and his brothers in Janahi’s house. Just living the present.
Imagine, if you forget all of the daily sounds of the cars, voices, tuk-tuks, people, it stays only sound of the trees dancing into the wind, talking of cicadas, sounds and singing of other known and unknown creatures. Your head is suddenly full of thoughts and ideas so you can hear them speak. Unfortunately all at the same time. So what you’re gonna do? Start to clean them up. First closet, shelves, cupboards and finally mopping the floor. Suddenly you realize that silence is amazing sound and your head’s clear.
As days were passing, there was Sunday, which means nobody works. There was a huge racing event (motorbikes, boats and bullocks) held near the village so everybody from around came. Massive. If you went to any village — completely empty. Everybody gathered again in such an event and local boys/men were racing, falling from the bikes and jumping back on them. Locals were selling various snacks, women with kids standing on one side of the racing field and man on the other. It reminded me school times when we used to have disco party and both sexes were sitting on each side being shy to dance together, so everyone was just sitting and waiting. So another productive, emotional and maybe bit mentally tiring day behind and day of leaving coming.
Last day in Kalladdi
5:00 am, “Erika, are you up? We have to go!” Gideon. “Take your swimming suit, camera and lets go.”
“Where are we going?”
“On the boat to see the sunrise from the lagoon.”
I was already emotionally so tired and it was only morning that i couldn’t even express my real emotions, so i just started to dress up.
And so Gideon was enjoying it a lot, making it even harder.
”So this is our last coffee.” with a smirk on his face.
We started to walk direction to the lagoon were was already waiting Nimal, our human monkey with the most beautiful smile on his face pointing on the boat to sit. They cranked up the engine and in few minutes we were on the lagoon watching the most beautiful sunrise above all the estate and drops of salt water were slowly waking us up. Too perfect. We were driving in the narrow lagoon among mangrove trees watching eagles hunting and sun slowly coming up on the sky. And at that moment I felt the enormous feeling of being free and being nobody in my relationship with nature.
We came back on the coast and had three last hours on the estate. I tried not to get emotional so I was doing anything just keep myself busy; packing, taking shower, finding Tony, making a coffee, but as soon as i bumped into somebody from the estate with them knowing I’m leaving, all the atmosphere got heavy and sad plus you were sweating twice as much as normally. At the same day we were invited to the puberty celebration of a girl, I don’t really know how exactly they were related with village people, but that’s not really issue as at the end all the village come to this kind of event. So we encouragingly said Poita Varen with Nimal and Janahi, glittered our eyes and left to celebrate puberty. It was indescribable, parents were welcoming you with blessing and marking your forehead with dot as its Tamil and Hindu tradition, depends whether you’re married or not and 200 eyes watching you. I got white and red as I’m unmarried and single, which till this moment I’ve never took as disadvantage, but fortunately my fringe perfectly covered it. Commercial indian music was loudly playing, bunch of guys dancing into it, people chatting with each other, standing in a queue for a food, taking photos with the girl that was dressed up and had a certain amount of make up on her face, probably hasn’t done anything else apart of that. But I’m sure she had a great time and for me it was amazing end of my never forgetting stay in a coconut wonderland.
And what happened after its already another story.
Facts and observations
- Cows and dogs everywhere! Main roads are for some reason really attracting to them so when the car’s coming you have the impression they don’t care about their lives anymore till the last second.
- Three-wheels tuk tuks, don’t know why but every time I see this super machine my cheeks suddenly goes from ear to ear and making smiling reflex, especially when you see big man entering this close-quartered vehicle with wheels almost as big as my toy car from childhood. Anyway there is no accounting for taste.
- Monkeys hate mirrors.
- Bins don’t really exist here.
- Sri Lankan coffee — all bad!
- Tasty vegetarian cuisine!
- Its impolite to say on a small baby that its beautiful, can be sign of evil eye.
*Paratha- similar to flatbread, famous in India.
*Sarong — large tube or length of fabric, often wrapped around the waist
*Dodol — sweet made of coconut, sugar and flower mixed 3 hours on the. fire
*Carom — table game, similar to billiard