We have arrived in Sri Lanka. We have finally done it. We thought we had stumbled at the first hurdle as we sprinted to the gate at the airport which had just been announced closed, but we soon realised we were mistaken. We have now been here for two weeks and I have learnt an awful lot besides Sinhala, which is actually quite essential if you want to survive on the budget we have been given. I have learnt that insects are called 'harmless' if they are poisonous but not enough so to cause an immediate death. Haley and I have also furiously been learning how to cook Sri Lankan curries- rice and vegetables are all we can afford so if you don't know your spices, then meal times can be very bland and disheartening. Rice is also eaten by the bucket load as it is their staple food. I also never thought I would end up trying not to cry because I couldn't hack open a baby coconut with a huge machete on the kitchen floor. As Haley and I arrived at our new house we were greeted by an array of cockroaches (big, small, flying-take your pick) and a spider the size of your palm straddling our bathroom door. Initially, the house did remind of me of a haunted hostel with failing lights and stone floors. However three 5 am starts later, we had killed a bucket of cockroaches and dusted the place to a degree which meant we could sleep soundly (with our mosquito nets firmly tucked under our beds) until frightened into the next cleaning purge. This happened fairly speedily as we approached the out of use toilet downstairs and flying cockroaches sent us both swearing and screaming to our bedroom.
Another delight is the train and the very loud obtrusive sound it emits late at night and then again at 5 in the morning, right next to our bedroom. The sound it produces alarmingly resembles an aeroplane flying too low and has lead Haley and myself to instinctively drop to the floor in the brace position during the first couple of days. It's a brilliant pre alarm warning in the morning. We struggled with the Sri Lankan currency at first, ending up completely over blowing our budget, apologising to the shopkeeper and having to return over half of our purchased goods. Things like ice cream, chocolate and above bog standard cleaning products are now a luxury we will do without. It's all about the curry leaves in bulk, avoiding shops that would think we are tourists and washing powder which makes your clothes smell like mildew.
One of the good things about Sri Lanka is the way that everything, apart from shorteats which is the only food available if you have been caught unprepared, is natural. One of the bad things is that everything takes so very long to make and even longer still if you live in the hills. We experienced this first hand as we went on an expedition to Lakshmi's house, a woman of the earth (literally) who teaches at Mahavidyalia Unawatuna, the school where mine and Haley's house is situated. It was a good 45 minute trek up into the hill forestry, but once you were there, it was as if the rest of the world didn't exist. We all watched in confusion as she deftly (she's over 50 with skin better than mine) climbed up to the lime tree, whilst we followed, gasping and oh my Godding as we struggled on after her. It's a little different from a casual stroll to the fruit bowl at home. Her stove was outside and everything she cooked tasted slightly smoky because it's cooked on wood. She explained to us that when it's too wet, she simply can't cook because the wood won't light. We then all clambered down to Jungle beach which was beautiful, although when it came to crossing to the other side, there was a choice between wading through a swamp and climbing over the rocks. Both would have had a 'no access' sign across them had they been in England. In the end we tried the rocks, however after some stumbles, a few potentially fatal, we took a right turn and tried the swamp. After seeing a ten foot snake the second day in and Lakshmi yelling back what sounded like a warning in Singhalese, I found the experience rather stressful. I could just hear Tom, who having already lived in Indonesia for a time is someone somewhat hardened to crises like this, pausing to comment on a bird and Jamie screeching TOM DON'T STOP, shirt flapping and Scottish flag flip flops making him to slide about- so entertaining.
By day 5, the rice belly had fully made its appearance. Just about all Sri Lankan's have them. Your belly goes swollen and hard and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, unless you are a rich westerner and can afford to buy something other than rice with your vegetables. The Sari I have found successfully masks this so I can breathe in peace, but it's something the Sri Lankan's don't seem to be affected by as the women wear their belly's loud and proud out above their saris. The sari itself is a different matter however. It takes a good ten minutes to put on, and once you have it on it is the most restrictive, sweaty garment I have ever had to wear. The humidity doesn't really help. You have to walk like a duck up the stairs because your underskirt stops you from taking too large steps. This is unfortunate, as after convincing the headmaster at Mihiripenna that netball is a suitable sport for girls and that I will create a cracking team, I may end up having to teach it in a Sari.
So far we have done a small amount of teaching. It's actually very daunting and something which I am hoping I will get better at. It is so important that you say exactly the same thing every time, no 'oh no one minute I've change my mind do that instead of this' because you will just confuse them and they will have no idea what you are saying. The stifling heat and pungent smell of the toilets is also sometimes overwhelming and makes it hard to stay focused. The Sri Lankan's however describe teaching as a service rather than a profession which helps me to push on through when I want to yell WHY CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND ME??!! Patience is a virtue that I am definitely practicing out here.
We haven't had too much trouble from the Sri Lankan men. There was an episode where one followed Haley and I on the bus, but when we thought we had lost him we saw him in the corner of the store we were in, staring at us whilst sifting rice through his hand. The shopkeeper however came to our rescue and after a deal of glaring at our stalker from the shopkeeper and his staff, he decided he'd had enough and got on the next bus back to Galle. What surprises me is that the dress code is so strict here, no shoulders or knees, but the waist is fine. It's therefore okay to go out in a tiny little top showing your tummy and your whole back-which some of the women do.
Although there are a great deal of positives about Sri Lanka, it is absolutely exhausting adapting to a completely different culture. The cleaning and hand washing of clothes can seem relentless especially when our relief from the sweat of it all is a little cold trickle from our shower. It's also very difficult to only be able to buy certain foods and to have to traipse around the town to get fruit and veg from different stalls, only to go back and cook it all from scratch. As time is passing though it is becoming more manageable and there is absolutely no time to be bored with our lifestyle. The weekend also seems all the more rewarding and is spent on the beach reading, swimming and running for cover too often for my liking from the monsoon rain. In my next blog I should be able to tell you more about how teaching is going and hopefully the monsoon weather will have calmed down a little, so our washing can dry and I can begin to get a tan.
Feel free to send me lots of photographs and letters through the post, the internet isn't reliable here and when it works it's not too cheap.
Love to friends and familyxxx