Today was my first real day of “ernstes Geschäft” (serious business) in Sri Lanka. However, being a Saturday, no business is that serious – the OfERR head office has a thankfully later-than-usual 9:30 am start on Saturdays.
So, having ridiculous jet lag (waking up at 4:00 am), I had quite a lot of time to kill in the morning. I must admit, it is a little bit my fault that I have jet lag like this – an amazing dinner of potato curry and coconut sambal with a rice-flour pita-bread type thing (a roti or not? I’m not sure), the heat and humidity of the place and the lullaby of hindu prayers from the devout of the neighbourhood sent me to sleep at something like 7 at night. 4 in the morning is a bit of an ungodly hour, and I was scared that leaving the room would scare the hell out of the people I was staying with (thanks so much Abarna, by the way, for organising me such an awesome place to stay). So reading and tweeting ’till normal-person breakfast time it is!
And the breakfast was amazing too! Ceylon milk tea (bitter, but with enough sugar to cut through it), toast with home-made jam (it takes me a while to get used to curry for breakfast) and these amazing “cereal and milk, all in a ball” thingy, so sweet that I am sure it is made with condensed milk.
The Temple in the morning
After breakfast, with it being only 7:30, I had two hours to kill. In Sri Lanka, though, there is always something to do. I jumped into a trishaw and headed to visit my old friend Ganga, the baby elephant at the temple in central Colombo. I had also made friends with his handler Dahrmaseelan, a buddhist monk who is my age (22 years old) and I was excited to see them both again!
When I got to the temple, I was surprised to see that there was a festival on, and the president of Lion’s Club International was there to open a Sri Lankan “Disaster Relief Fund”. Although this was cool, and there were Kandyan dancers and young buddhist disciples in traditional clothes, I was a little worried that I would not be able to see Ganga and Dahrmaseelan. When Dahrmaseelan spotted me waiting outside the temple in a queue, he must have recognised me, because he instantly, in his saffron yellow robes, barged through the assembled Lionesses who were covered in garlands and ushered me in to the main hall of the temple. Before he said a word to me, covered my head in this gold pyramid thing and blessed me, cutting off the bracelet he had blessed me with in July, and tying another dozen white strands around my wrist.
He told me about his new student (his first student) and how excited he was to be a teacher, and that he was very happy that I returned to see him and Ganga (who had grown at least a hundred kilos heavier since I was last there). He gave me blessings for my mum, my dad and my sister (they are in my bag, I promise!) and a talisman for me to put on my bag. I went to greet Ganga, and had to get past the groups there for the Lion’s festival who were there to see him. I swear he recognised me, since he looked straight at me with his giant eyes and touched my head with his trunk. It was awesome to see him again!
Heading off to serious business, away from the cutest clumsy toddler elephant in the world is a bit difficult, but there were things to be done, people to greet and questions to ask. It is always a fun being able to direct a local taxi driver to where you have to go (“turn left on Hill Street at Dehiwala junction, continue straight up the hill until the creepy toy store, then left again”). Walking into the office felt like coming home, after how much time I had spent there in July. Seeing the kids again (and them taking my iPhone out of my pocket to play Fruit Ninja and Plants v Zombies), seeing my old colleagues, and sitting at my old desk, it was awesome.
Since it was Saturday, and the Colombo boss, Ms. Navamahona wasn’t in, today’s work was limited to burrowing through the rice mill project’s files and budgets, drafting questions for Monday’s meetings, organising the trip to the field and catching up with the Colombo crew. Fun, but not as productive as I had hoped, but, again, it was a Saturday, so I guess the progress was OK.
The only bad thing was that it left me a lot of things to do on Monday, which is shaping up to be a busy day indeed (Indian embassy, OfERR, bus to Mannar …).
After an amazing lunch of (you guessed it) curry and rice, and pappadams too, I was off for an afternoon of errands and fun – printing business cards (the printing guy corrected my Tamil), walking what seemed like a million miles to the centre of the city and just randomly exploring. And when I was so tired that I couldn’t walk anymore, a trishaw home, collapsing on the bed and sleeping something like 10 hours.
I am loving this place.