Sunday, September 09, 2012

Faces of Sri Lanka

East meets West, my friends and I, drivers, security and plantation superintendent all take in the view
 Sri Lanka is a country that has faced much hardship in recent years, struck first by civil war and then the devastating tsunami, but this does not seem to show on the faces of its people. We were stuck by the warmth and optimism of the people there. From the smiling face of the man who met us at the airport onwards we ...

Everywhere we went we took photos of Anoura so he would be able to show his wife and children

Perhaps the strongest character I met was Anoura, our driver for the first half of the trip, who took on a role that went beyond the role of driver and tour guide to the point where he felt almost like a surrogate uncle as he swam at the beach with us, took our photo with elephants and enquired after their likelihood of our matrimony (although the country seems quite permissive it's values are still old fashioned). When leaving the car his protectiveness would always manifest as he instructed us not to talk to strangers. He taught us our few words of Sinhalese, in particular 'Anoura hondai (good)' which he wanted us to say to his boss. When we went to an Ayurvedic spice garden he told us about the strength of Sri Lankan Ganga, which apparently can do wonders for a person's sex life. He even took us to his home in Columbo and introduced us to his wife, child and sisters who all live together in the small house. Incomprehensibly his greatest desire seems to be to live the isle to live in the west which he imagines as a place of huge opportunity as a result of the years he spent working as a driver in Greece.

Dropping us off at the airport to return to England
Always alert keeping his eyes on the road; good when they're as treacherous as these
Caught relaxing and enjoying the view

Shanta was our second driver (excluding our initial meeting when he collected us at the airport) and an entirely different character. He clearly held a very senior role as my friend's Father's driver and was very obviously ex-army (we found out towards the end of the trip that he was also armed). However as time went on this professional demeanour would sometimes slip such as when I would come across him during my early-morning strolls (I had an unfortunate habit of coming across him when he was just dressed in a towel!), when our friend would tell him to drive faster on the perilous mountain roads and he would laugh 'yes buba' before putting his foot down or on safari where everyone let their guard down at the magic of the experience.

 Our security (yes we travelled with security - my friend Senaka said that his father normally has a convoy with security in a separate vehicle) was an almost silent man although this could have partly been because of his lack of English but he was always quick to smile even as he sat packed up in the boot of the land cruiser with the luggage. We had a very surreal experience when we were in a shopping mall with him tailing us,we would stop and turn to see him feigning interest in a display of sunglasses or something similar.

The first face we saw in Sri Lanka, holding our card at the airport, was Raymond, Senaka's father's cook who prepared absolutely wonderful meals for us when we were staying in Columbo. even showing me how to make hoppers, a kind of pancake made with coconut milt that are served at breakfast. I felt a real warmth towards him and on some level I hope this was reciprocated as when I asked to take a photo of him before leaving he produced his phone to take a photograph of me as well.

TSHIRT Vintage - JEANS Motel - TRAINERS Nike
 The superintendents of the tea plantations we visited showed us a person in a very different part of society. Although they are not highly paid they are greatly respected To the level that a lawyer or architect might be as they are highly educated, speaking Sinhalese, Tamil and English and taking responsibility not only for the tea but for all the workers on the plantation and their family (numbering up to 5000).

Krishna and his son cooked for us at Citrus Bungalow
 At each place we stayed there were always 'Apus', usually a father ans son team who prepared food and did other household tasks, as well as gardeners and other people in charge of maintaining the property.
I love how this portrait of the gardener at the bungalow near Kandy came out, he only seemed to know enough English to say hello and that he was the gardener but he was lovely and polite, showing me where the fish pond was and getting out some food for me to feed them.
The majority of the tea plantation workers are Tamils, although I never got to meet any (we wouldn't have really been able to communicate) I did get images of some of them at work. It is a hard job but they are strongly unionised and this, combined with the government's desire to prevent more unrest in the country means that their wage is kept up although it is still extremely low to us. For the few Tamils I did meet (such as the Apu Krishna and his son) the introduction was always prefaced by "he is Tamil but he is a good man".


No comments:

Post a Comment