The Global Village

The guidebook says that it’s best to think of Colombo as a set of villages or small towns, rather than one city. I think the same could be said of Galle and my move has taken me into another district, almost adjoining the Hillside area. So I’m now learning to find my way around a new bit of the conurbation. I can walk to or from school in about 40 minutes and it’s all on the flat, so that’s good as it’s pretty hot even at 6:45 when I start my commute. The bus fare from here into town – just say “Galle” or “bus stance” – seems to vary according to the whim of the conductor. I’ve been charged anything from 12/- (6p) to twice that. Sometimes there’s a ticket, sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes the seats are covered in thick, sweat-inducing plastic covers, sometimes they’re not. There’s generally a big poster of Buddha or another Buddhist figure (a sitting woman with a pointy metal hat and a pot overflowing with coins, is popular) on the panel behind the driver, directly in front of the two seats reserved for monks. More often than not, there’s an LCD tv playing loud pop videos. The bulkhead above the front windscreen is generally filled with mini-buddhas surrounded by garish, flashing coloured lights that pulse and rotate like a halo on LSD. My ex-colleague and fellow-adventurer, Tosh, has been known to classify buses in Africa as a: “chicken buses” (wooden seats, people carrying squawking hens; b: “Jesus buses” (softer seats, happy clappy music) or c: “luxury Jesus buses” (as b, but with video). The system here is similar, but with cultural variations.

Today I sent Hans at the Diving Centre a snotty text, requesting a time and date for my first dive or… I’m glad to say he replied and says he’s has been trying to contact me. The upshot is: first lesson is on Thursday at 8:30am! I don’t know how many sessions there are. I can’t wait to take the plunge.

Once again, school was curtailed today: this time by an Inter House cricket match. I didn’t stay to watch. There’s something endearingly old-fashioned about SL – and that’s not necessarily a criticism. There’s an old fashioned politeness – except whilst driving!, the variety of English used seems at least 50 years out of date and I don’t know what to think of the school calling its three Houses “Hermes”, “Zeus” and “Ares”. I’d have expected something a bit more local, but what do I know? Maybe that’s what they’re called in Eton.

My social life looks to be picking up. Sera (my landlord) has asked me to join him and two friends for the evening tomorrow. One of the guests is Malaysian Ben, my next-door neighbour in the Hillside, who has finished auditing the garment factory where Sera is packing manager and who is responsible for introducing me to Sera. For some reason I don’t follow, we’re starting by drinking beer in my room, then Poormina (Sera’s wife) is providing us all with food. One of the teachers at school – Mr Vinnie, an English teacher and therefore an all round good egg – has indicated his intention of issuing an invitation to his house. I gather his wife is at least partly Italian and he has promised me a “European” meal. He even asked if I liked wine. I said yes, but that in these temperatures a bottle of cold beer is even better. (It’ll also be a heck of a lot cheaper, I think.) Mr V is an interesting chap: he likes political and social discussions and speaks English well enough that I can understand him without having to concentrate too much. We’ve already touched on nationalism (something the SLs are naturally wary of, given their recent history), ID cards, political corruption and the problems with democracy in an uneducated society easily swayed by populist propaganda and nepotism. I should say: he started all these! A group of his senior pupils arrived in the staffroom today. They are about to go to Bristol for a fortnight on some University-related jaunt. The Muslim members of the group shook his hand as he wished them well, but the remaining five knelt one at a time, he put his hand on their heads and gave them his (Buddhist) blessing. It was a rather charming and unexpected little ceremony. In Scotland, I’d have said something mildly facetious, wished them well, then told them not to get drunk and that I would have liked to go with them. That’s cultural differences for you.

Generally, I feel the inevitable barrier between me and the staff is beginning to fall: we share jokes and wisecracks from time to time, we’re slowly getting attuned to each others’ accents and my over-many free periods pass more quickly if there is conversation to be had.

I still miss much of what is going on: in a torrent of Sinhala, I heard one guy mention “Madagascar”, so I enquired what he was saying. Everyone laughed and said it was a joke: I’m sure it was quite decent, but they weren’t able to elucidate. I, at least, was able to confirm where Madagascar is and also its status as an island, which seemed to be in doubt. We didn’t get round to lemurs.

Don’t suppose I’ll write much if anything tomorrow (Wed.) due to my burgeoning social life, so the next blog will probably feature some diving! Whoopee!


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