Each country has it’s own unique mix of sights, sounds and smells. It’s part of the fun of travel…discovering a culture through one’s senses. The way a mountain air caresses the skin in the wee hours of the morning and way the sun dips below the horizon on the coast.
The scent of incense hangs heavy in the air early in the evening and each morning is punctuated by the preparation of a variety of curries. Passing through the market on the way to work one smells the fish and the fresh produce. The produce so fresh that one can still the earth from which it has been removed mingling with the aroma of spices.
Without doubt however, I’d say that I’ve experienced Sri Lanka as an auditory adventure. Badulla is awake at the crack of dawn…the neighbour begins welding around 5.45 each morning and the sound of metal on metal fills my bedroom and I am jolted out of sleep. Around the same time the garbage truck comes around the strains of “It’s a small world” and it is clear that the day has begun.
As I complete my morning rituals and light beings to stream in the windows the house is also filled with the sound of women chattering and planning for the day.
Walking through the market each day I am greeted by the vendors hawking their fare. You have never heard a more cheery greeting than a Sinhalese street vendor saying “Good morning, Madam” – one gets the feeling that they genuinely want you to have a good day. The greetings seem to come out of thin air as you walk the through the market but they are always there and in the same breath they return to advertising their vegetables in Sinhala.
Throughout the day the sounds of various birds and wildlife can be heard. The buzz of large insects seeking refuge from the sweltering heat and the low of cattle in the field adjacent to the office.
Suddenly, one hears the sound of drums and singing…a firecracker goes off in the distance then another – maybe nearer, maybe farther – and music, a voice on a loud speaker speaking in Sinhala. In most cases it’s a pera hera (festival) a religious celebration of some sort…a parade on the road just passing through. It may be an electoral campaign – the firecrackers in celebration of someone from the district receiving a nomination.
As the day winds to a close and the shadows lengthen in the town of Badulla the soundtrack takes on a different quality. It’s the sound of dogs howling in concert and a variety of bird songs. Women’s voices can be heard recounting the day’s activities mixed with the sound of clanging pots as dinner is prepared over a fire in the yard. The tink-tink of metal on metal continues with an annoyingly steady cadence until it doesn’t.
Some nights one can hear the exuberant singing of groups of men…the exuberance that can only come from one too many glasses of Arrack (Sri Lankan liquor). Last night was punctuated by the sound of fire crackers – I did not get to watch the World Cup finals but was able to ascertain the performance of Sri Lanka as they sounded to celebrate the heights of the team’s performance and shouts of elation air.
When silence comes in the sleepy hill town of Badulla it is deafening. It hangs in the air in such stark contrast to the symphony of sounds that characterised the previous hours. But silence is such a rarity in Badulla.