Sunday, October 17, 2010

This Is How we Do It


It’s strange the first time you do it. It goes against pretty much everything we’ve been taught. Eating with your hands is by definition playing with your food and some part of you expects the scolding eyes of a parent to set upon you at any time but they never come.

There’s a special category of foods, for which this practice is reserved on our side of the Atlantic. Finger foods of course – various h’ors douevres, tacos, rotis (unless you buy them from Chefette, in which case it doesn’t really count) and the like. Other than that we are taught to eat with a variety of appropriate cutlery. At a fancy dinner, the sheer number of different forks can be overwhelming - one for each course eat from the outside in, don’t slurp the soup and tuck in your elbows in. It seems more like an exercise in mental acuity than the meeting of a biological imperative.

Here however, there’s a simple beauty in the tactile experience that is eating with your hands. Sure, if the food’s hot it can be a nuisance on your fingers, not to mention having rice under your nails and the fact that curry can and will stain anything (Tip of the day: a little toothpaste on your fingers after a curry meal will clean it right up).

But when you eat with your hands you experience food in a whole new way. You get to explore the textures and experiment with mixing them even before you begin to actually eat. And once you do begin to eat there’s something organic about the whole process. Something that part of your western upbringing tells you is wrong but which nevertheless feels terribly natural.

And besides experiencing food in a new way, we all know that when you wash dishes after any meal the worst part is having to wash the cutlery…so why not take them out of the equation all together…but that’s just an added bonus.

When first I arrived, I was always happy to be served with cutlery (which means a spoon and a fork, no knife) but this week as I had lunch with my co workers, I was a) the only person served with cutlery but I more importantly had no inclination to use it.

I think Sri Lanka got it right on this one, there’s just something about eating with your hands and the way in which it changes the way in which we share and experience food. Getting seconds is always tricky cause your right hand is dirty and if you’re like me your left serves more an aesthetic purpose and keeps you balanced than actual function but everyone is serving everyone and helping each other out. And if you’re particularly close eating off each other’s plates which looks completely different when you are actually reaching your hand into someone’s plate rather than just stealing their potatoes with your fork.

There’s just something homey about eating with your hands even if you’re thousands of miles away from home.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Past the Point of No Return


Last week an office wide email was issued indicating that the next staff meeting scheduled for Tuesday, October 12th would be taking place in Hambantota (a four hour drive away) and the two vehicles would depart Badulla at 7am on that day. Several days later, one of the regional supervisors comes to collect my passport information for ID purposes as we would be visiting the new port being built in the region - tres exciting.

Anywhoosie, the rest of the week passes without event and suddenly it’s Monday the day before the staff meeting and in passing the accounts manager reminds me to collect a travel advance. Travel advance??? Why? Oh we’re staying there and coming back Wednesday…oh ho, thanks for the notice. Imagine I had turned up with just my pen and paper – I’d have been quite distressed. Well at least now I knew.

After work, packed my overnight bag including linens, mosquito repellent and crashed early in preparation for the next day’s trip. I truly dislike the long drives – yes the scenery is gorgeous but it’s difficult to appreciate as we navigate dizzying turn at break neck speeds – apparently all Sri Lanka drivers are at all times on the most important mission of life.

We made several stops on the way to Hambantota – in addition to a staff meeting it was also kind of a study trip so we visited several Vocational Training  centres and were even given a presentation re: the centre’s performance at on location (I’d give you a summary if I had a clue as to what was being said – but given that everyone was smiling I’ll go out on a limb and say that it was all good Thumbs up). The staff meeting would go similarly where I sat for 2 hours testing my limited Sinhala and the limits of my patience as plans were made for the last quarter of the year.

On this day we would visit the the construction site of the new harbour presently being built in Hambantota. it is the largest of it’s type in the southern region of the country and will when complete be able to accommodate international shipping containers of any size.




In the evening, after ordering dinner at the hotel we headed to Katuragama – one of the most sacred temples in the country. It features not only a Buddhist temple or Kovil, but also a Hindu temple and a Mosque.



Day II – The return to Badulla. The previous night I had enjoyed my first hot shower in two months and rose early this morning to do likewise. In the packing for this trip there was no talk of anything but a staff meeting so I packed a 2nd undershirt for my black ensemble (as pictured above) and on my feet I was wearing my flat sandals.

After settling the bills, around 8am we boarded the two vehicles and set off. After approximately one hour we pulled into a natural reserve…I figured we’d see some cute animals, take a couple pictures and it’d be a great story to write home. Oooh, I got a story to write about indeed but not the one I thought it’d be (although there were some cute animals involved).







I call your attention to what I indicated I was wearing in preparation for the next part of this tale. In addition to the cute monkeys there was a Kovil at this location on top of a hill. My supervisor explained to me that most Kovils are built atop hills because of how calming that location is and how you can forget your worries there and focus on worship.

The hill was actually more of a gentle slope and it was actually not that big a deal and the view was indeed breathtaking. So perhaps I’d begun to worry prematurely.


Now if only the story had ended there…if only the hiking had ended there because as we came down the other side of the hill where the Kovil was located someone pointed to another in the distance. Also we had scaled the rock face to get up when there stairs conveniently carved into the rock on the other side but oh wells.

We began our trek up the second hill in the sweltering Sri Lankan heat.


While I suspect my friends at the No Plans Plan may have enjoyed the allure of a surprise hike, I was slightly less than amused – though from the way in which I attacked the challenge that may not have been immediately evident.

It was only as the path narrowed and became less stable looking it occurred to me that it was all fun and games going up, I could brute force my way up but I’d eventually have to come back down…whoops. I was at this point long past the point of no return. A location I’ve recently heard described as beyond where Jesus lost his sandals. Whichever terminology you use I was way off the ground and there was no convenient elevator for the way back down. 

Once at the summit, it was undeniable the beauty of the surrounding vista.

 DSC04368At that altitude, the view is amazing and the breeze almost makes you forget all the work it took to get to where you are. The breeze also has a tendency to move anything not bolted down so I’m holding on tightly to the rail.

As we prepared to descend everyone removed their shoes so they could negotiate the rocks on the way back down (to be fair no one was actually prepared for a hike) except that I never go barefoot…it hurts Sad smile so there I was preparing for the descent in my sandals. My sandals that almost caused me to slide almost immediately as I started heading back down and all I could think was “Please don’t pop, please, please, please don’t pop!”

Perhaps, I should explain the story of these sandals. They are the flattest shoes I have ever owned and when I purchased them it prompted my mom and best friend to consider taking out a full page ad. I am vertically challenged and despise flat shoes with every fibre of my being but these are the shoes that I wear to work every day. I brought work shoes with me but a) I am not promising anyone to walk twenty minutes to work up hill and through the market in heels and b) no one else wears shoes to work as in everyone else is wearing rubber slippers so I’m blending.

So I start to descend and as my slippers betray me almost immediately one of my co-workers says “Your slippers…not fit”. The very Western part of me wanted to retort “No shock!” but rather I let it pass with uncomfortable laughter and began to feel my way down the hill.

As I fumbled my way down with only a fraction of the confidence that had made me third to the summit I thought only of ensuring that my sandals didn’t pop. Every step taken carefully calculated…yes avoiding death was considered as well but I have another 8 1/2 months left I really need my shoes to survive.

I made it down in one piece eventually and even better news so did my shoes Open-mouthed smile. This was my first official sight seeing since having gotten to Badulla in August so it was a welcomed outing though a touch of warning would have been greatly appreciated.