Meet the Parents

Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
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Trip End Dec 15, 2007


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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Monday, November 19, 2007

I didn't sleep well.  Despite feeling shattered, and having sunk 3-4 lagers with a friendly Brummie couple the evening before, my body clock was still way out of sync with local time, and I felt quite troubled by the meeting with Anna.  With further sleep not possible, I rose early for a soon to become regular breakfast of pineapple, mango, plantain, and papaya fruits, before heading back to Anna's home (and felt quite buoyed by hearing Israel had beaten Russia 2-1 to give England undeserved hope of European Championship 2008 qualification - thanks for the timely text Michael F!)  After a brief chat and a wave goodbye, I thought I would feel uplifted and some sense of satisfaction, but instead felt quite dispirited as I realised how just how much more help would be required to provide her family with a 'good' life, and wondered how many more Anna Perera's I would meet on my travels.
Before temperatures climbed further, I walked 3 miles south along the resort area sprawl and into scruffy Negombo Town.  Even at 8.30am, I was quickly sweltering and considered getting one of the innumerable tuktuks into town.  They are the staple means of traveling short distances in Sri Lanka and it's impossible to walk for more than 2 minutes without being solicited for custom.  However, the walk afforded me more time to take in the unusual sights and sounds including:
- Shops adorned with strangely familiar names (Tesco and Asda), and faces
- The local school (kids wear the same basic uniforms across the country)
- Boys playing cricket on an area of rough waste land  
- Cows roaming loose on the roads - often aimlessly walking on the wrong side!
- And dozens of dogs which mostly appeared to be either poorly kept or wild
The Negombo area is also the heartland of Christian Sri Lanka, as borne out by the numerous  churches and florid wayside Catholic shrines scattered about the town and its environs.
Close to the peninsula enclosing the top of the lagoon lie the very modest remains of the old Dutch fort, mostly demolished to make way for the prison that still stands behind the gateway.  Rather disconcertingly the prison stood open, and a couple of prisoners attended to chores just inside the grounds, leaving me hoping their crimes hadn't been borne out of a helpless desire to severely injure passing tourists!
Continuing around the lagoon you're greeted with myriad multicoloured fibreglass and wooden boats tied up along the waterside, and a spent a while watching a clam fisherman cast his net a few times, and several fishermen repairing their nets.
Unfortunately, there is little activity in the town's fish markets on Sunday's whilst the Karavas visit the churches en-masse.  However, you could still see dozens of locals salting, gutting, cleaning and packing the many fish varieties.  Fish were laid out on the beach upon sacking or fishing nets to dry in the sun (for up to a week), whereupon they are packed and exported around the island - dried fish keeps for many months and is used in a wide variety of Sri Lankan dishes.
While the fish market was closed, the town's only Sunday market was in full throng with a massive array of weird, wonderful and sometimes familiar fruit and vegetables on display, along with brightly coloured and aromatic spices {PICs}
Two local types of booze come from the versatile coconut.  Toddy, tapped from the flower of the coconut, is non-alcoholic when fresh but ferments into a cloudy drink reminiscent of cider.  When fermented and refined, toddy produces arrack (33% proof), Sri Lanka's national beverage for the strong livered.  Toddy is only sold informally in villages around the island, and can be very difficult for tourists to track down.  However, on my way I'd seemingly become attached to a local Sinhalese fisherman called Limal who led me to a hidden outdoor Toddy bar, and ordered us a tall glass each.  I hadn't seen another tourist all morning, and sitting amongst a dozen unkept fishermen continually staring in my direction (several appeared pretty drunk, and they couldn't have had more than 30 dirty teeth in total between them!), I felt very wary and decided it would definitely be a good idea to drink the 1 glass only, keep the camera hidden, and avoid getting my wallet out to get a round in for 'the lads'!
Later that day, a driver collected me from the hotel as I moved onto Colombo.  I had intended to avoid the frenetic capital until the end of my trip, but had received a very kind and generous offer to stay overnight with the parents of my friend (and work colleague) Marina.  Emmanuel and Sarojini Joseph have a lovely family home, pleasantly located by the sea, where they raised their 4 daughters - two studied and subsequently settled in Melbourne, while similarly, the remaining two studied and settled in London.  With the girls all very well educated, and enjoying successful careers overseas, Emmanuel's elder sister Therese now lives in the family home.  It was very interesting to spend time talking about their Tamil background, and the struggles to rebuild a new life for their young family in Colombo having been forced out of the warring area of Jaffna (in the north) nearly three decades previously.  Emmanuel lost his entire business, and it is easy to feel huge respect for a man who has subsequently rebuilt an entirely new, successful business (in a different industry), and for a couple who have gone on to provide so much for their family.  Emmanuel's recent retirement is well deserved, and gives me more time to spend working with the 'Lions' - helping disadvantaged fellow countrymen through a network of connected, and big-hearted friends, ex-colleagues, and business associates.
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