Journeying Sri Lanka Episode 2: My host mom in Colombo
If you haven’t read Journeying Sri Lanka Episode 1, this won’t make sense.
These articles are raw as they are written in journal form. Everything happened the way the writer experienced Sri Lanka. You might find brutally honest remarks in this post (and the posts to come). If you find it inappropriate, please email trisha[at]psimonmyway[dot]com.
Still, 11 January 2017 - Colombo[us_separator style=”dashed”]
Even if we did agree to a conclusion, we still don’t have the same opinion about his driving skills – it sucks. We arrived the the crazy streets of Panipitiya Station Road. The streets were stretched with the train railways I felt like the town was divided between East and West. People are casually walking (running actually) across the rail while the train is just inches away from them. Like traffic, there seemed to be no pedestrian rules in Sri Lanka.
I feared the guy was trying to lead me somewhere else and pretending he didn’t know the place. We asked 4 people where it is and I started to lose hope. I have my portable WiFi fully charged so I checked Google maps. God, how do we survive without Internet? Without technology?!
I put the address that Pancake gave me and found out that we were in an opposite direction.
“We’re going the wrong way.”
“No, no, this is correct.” Hmmm. Correct.
It was broad daylight. There was no way this young lad can do something horrible to me. If he did, well, I have my own survival ways that I plan in my head if ever shit goes down: (1) I would open the door and jump out; or (2) my world comes grey and I will stab that dude from behind.
The former seems more doable because the latter requires me to have a tool that I actually don’t have. Plus, I don’t think I can stab someone but fear makes us do unfortunate things.
I didn’t have to do anything hapless. The driver asked me for my host’s phone number. I fortunately have it but then I kept wondering why I never thought of it in the first place. He dialled the number, start speaking their language and when he hung up, he seemed to have a more clear idea on where we were going.
We entered this very narrow street and I have no idea how taxis can fit in there. At the dead end, there stood my host mom whom Pancake calls Amy. I immediately went down feeling the relief. The driver started putting my things inside the gate while I hugged Amy with joy.
“Thank you for having me!”
I was aware of her shortage of English language skills so I wasn’t really expecting her to say anything. She just gave me a very warm hug. Like a mother’s hug. From this, all the bordered-by-language-life-events that occurred in South America flashed: there is no other clear language in the world than love and kindness. I felt that in Amy’s veins.
I handed 4,000 rupees to the taxi driver with a wheres-my-tip face: “Madam, it’s 4,500.”
“No. Lal (your boss) said 4,000.”
“No madam. It’s 4,500.”
Hoping he was still awake, I called Lal on Viber. This is where his number came handy. I told him his boy was asking for extra 500 when our original deal is 4,000. He asked me to pass the phone to the boy and after a second, he hung up.
“Have a good journey, Madam.”
Huh. We win.
The water pot was boiling. There were shitloads of vegetables laying on the dining table. The Asian rice’s aroma which I can strongly smell is flying with flavours all over the ceiling. I wasn’t curious about what she was cooking because what I was looking forward to was the rice.
She showed me to my bedroom – wooden bed with a thin mattress and an off blue “princess” mosquito net above it. She then invited me to go to the kitchen to have breakfast.
Pancake told me to call her because she hasn’t talked to Amy in a while. They didn’t have WiFi in the house and mine was ridiculously slow. I still tried to call Pancake via Facetime.
From their broken English conversation with a mix of some Sri Lankan words, I found out that Amy is not her name. In Sinhala (the official language of Sri Lanka), ammā (sounds like Amy, Ame) means mom. I just kept calling her that because everyone was doing the same.
I started indulging in the food. Rice first. Sri Lankans (those who are religiously practicing Budaism which is the whole country I suppose) are non-meat eaters. There was a feast of vegetables on the table and I honestly think vegetables are the hardest thing to cook.
Sri Lanka is known as the land of the spicy. The kind of spicy that feels like Ser Gregor Clegane is crushing your skull. I do appreciate this kind of spicy so I did what an Asian girl who has been craving for rice had to do: the more I ate the spicy dish, the more I had to eat rice. Win-win.
From my travels and staying with local families, what I learned to be true is that there are different dynamics in every household. You, me and everyone else wash the dishes differently but in this house, I wasn’t sure of many things.
There seems to be no running water in the tap. The only thing in sight was the stagnant water in a small blue pail by the sink. Inside, there was a glass.
“Leave it. I’ll do it.” A manly voice said from behind.
He spoke English very clearly. Who is this young lad? Amy (let’s use this spelling) came in and said, “my nephew.”
I shook the dude’s hand and introduced myself. He looked very young and I can feel all the love his aunt showers him. This unidentified man (I have yet to know his name) is from another town in Sri Lanka and was in Colombo to try his luck. Like many countries, the capital was the only place where people can find decent employment – such a shame.
He was all dressed up and was ready to go to work. He went to the porch and started shining his black shoes. I haven’t seen or used a shoe polisher in a while (back home, it’s called Kiwi) so I sat on the floor across him, Indian style. I watched how this thing work. I’ve been out of Asia in a long time and on the other part of the globe, it’s not a trend anymore.
I lit my cigarette and offered him a stick. He gladly received it and put it in his pocket.
“See you later. Get some rest and enjoy your stay!”
He took off and I never had the chance to ask his name. And probably, I never will. I mean, what’s wrong with asking?! Was I afraid they wouldn’t understand me? Was I afraid I wouldn’t understand how their names are pronounced properly?
Why, Trisha. Why.
I was so exhausted I shut down. I left Amy in the living room, praying. I excused myself and immediately headed to bed. I wanted to catch up with work but I thought I can be excused. I own my own ‘business’ so no one will punish me from sleeping. But first, I need to charge all the gadgets that I need in order to do my job when I wake up.
Fuck. There’s only one outlet.
I don’t have any idea how to correct my body clock but this happens often. My head felt heavy because of the jetlag and the super long flight so I got up to brush my teeth – in the kitchen.
Amy started preparing food the moment I entered. I wasn’t very hungry. I wanted to wake up and get to my senses first. Waking in the afternoon makes me feel so disoriented, so much that I don’t know what to do first.
She pulled a chair, pointed to it and said, “Eat.”
Who am I to refuse this goodness? Who am I to say no to this hospitality?
I quickly ran to the room and placed my toothbrush in the bag. When I got back, Amy was sitting on the living room, watching TV. I asked if she wants to eat with me (you know, with my hands looking like holding a spoon). She said no.
I went to the kitchen, sat down and looked at all the food she prepared. Do they really eat like this? Is it an everyday thing to sit on a table full of food in Sri Lanka?
Even if they were all vegetables, I didn’t feel incomplete. I think this was the Universe telling me to make up for all the khachapuri I ate in Georgia.
I noticed I haven’t had water all day so I asked Amy where I can get water. She said they drink on the tap. This, I have to be honest, wasn’t something very comfortable to me. I had a nightmare in Africa from drinking tap water so I have to be careful with liquid intake.
I saw a pot by the sink, filled it with water and put it on the stove. I didn’t want Amy to think I was being snobbish and picky about water so I did it discreetly. There were matches on the right side so I figured this is one of those things where you need a match or a lighter to light it. I tried figuring it out but I failed.
Amy walked in, took the matches from me and said, “you want tea?”
Whew! She thought I was boiling it for tea.
“Yes! Thank you!” I said. Tea, in my mind, is equivalent to water. That would be enough. Plus, Sri Lanka (more than their British conquerors) have a rich tea culture. All the rich and vast tea lands are in this country.
She poured the water in a mug, put some weird looking greens, put a spoonful of powdered milk and started stirring. She handed it to me but I was looking closely at the white powdered milk. It looked like the texture of Nido but it wasn’t Nido.
I sipped a little tea, afraid it was hot. It was too sweet but I liked that the taste felt like home (Nido-ishly speaking).
As soon as I finished the cup, I grabbed my laptop and started working. My WiFi device wasn’t cooperating so I placed it on top of the television. Satisficing, I thought. You know how we all restart the modem as soon as the WiFi starts acting up? How we blow CDs and cassette tapes when they’re jammed? How we wait 30 minutes before sharing after a workout? I believed the higher I put my WiFi device, the better it will transmit signal.
It didn’t work.
I closed my laptop and thought of starting a conversation with my host mom. I wasn’t sure how to, really. But it just came out of my mouth:
“Amy, how do you know Pancake?”