It’s been grey, foggy and overcast today, with a few short-lived showers. The locals have been complaining about the cold: it’s been pleasantly balmy from my point of view, though the humidity is higher than ever. I’m told tomorrow’s forecast is for more of the same. Perhaps the gods are preparing me for my return to Auld Scotia in a fortnight’s time: if so, they’ll need to knock at least 20°C off as we’re in the mid twenties today.
I took a tuk-tuk to the town – that sounds like the start of a nursery rhyme – after school because of the weather. The driver had the gall to quote LKR500 for the journey and I laughed dismissively at his nerve. What would I offer, was his comeback. LKR150, I said, knowing that was too low. He rejected it and I waved him away, saying I’d wait for the bus. As he turned round, he revised his offer downward to LKR400, then LKR300 and I offered LKR250, at which point a deal was struck. A couple of hundred yards along the road I asked him to stop and I think he suspected I was going to renege, but I offered a lift to Poonanthi, a lady of about my age who has been at TGS since it started 10 years ago.
Poonanthi is a combination of bum-wiper, nurse, staff tea maker, hand bell ringer, messenger and a host of other small but vital jobs in the running of a school. We hardly spoke at all last year for some reason, but we’ve got on like a house on fire this year and my early suspicion that she had very little English turned out to be unfounded. It was interesting to chat, albeit at a fairly shallow level, and the driver was clearly surprised I knew a Sri Lankan, having taken me for a lost tourist.
I think I’ve been remarkably restrained: almost two months here and I’ve not had a good rant about the standard of driving, though I admit to the odd negative passing comment about bus drivers. Whether it was due to chagrin on his part or what, I don’t know, but our driver was one of the worst I’ve had this year. A combination of the weather and schools just having come out meant the roads were getting on for grid-locked at points, but our guy clearly had a deathwish or was ready to leap out and leave Poonanthi and me to our fate.
I don’t know what the engine-power of a tuk-tuk is or even how it’s measured, but I’m sure it’s in single figures. At one point we started to try to pass another three-wheeler (their less “atmospheric” name), which was itself trying to pass a lorry weaving round a cyclist as a bus came hurtling headlong towards us, horn blaring – justifiably on this occasion. At the last moment, our guy blinked and hauled the vehicle into an apparently impossibly small gap and Poonanthi and I lived to face another day. At right hand turns he would just barge his – our – way through the on-coming traffic and – if it was stopped – he would weave through minute gaps you’d hardly get a pushbike through in the UK. None of this look, signal, manoeuvre stuff: simply thread your way through all and sundry. Indicators seem to be used more for decoration than their conventional use: I defy you to stand at the ide of the road for more than a minute and not see several drivers of all types of vehicle blithely going along with indicators twinkling gaily. Thrills and spills weren’t in it today: I suggested to Poonanthi that he was practising for the next Tuk-Tuk Polo competition.
The other day one of the teachers, whose husband was collecting her in their car, offered me and a couple of other folk a lift into town. The husband – who was an exemplary driver – commented that Sri Lankans were very selfish drivers and didn’t care how much inconvenience they put other road users to as long as they could barge their way through. I mentioned bus drivers using their mobile phones whilst working and we all agreed that might lead to an accident. Hubby went on to say that he had worked in Saudi at one point and that a Bus Inspector stopped a bus driver on the inward journey, saying he had seen him using his phone on the outward leg. The driver was fined on the spot by the Inspector: we agreed that sounded like a good thing, though I reckon it could be open to abuse.
I got my TGS contribution to my accommodation yesterday and, along with a bundle of notes I gave Sera the other day, I’ve now paid the lot. I must admit that I would have thought it would be a nice gesture on his part if he had given me some sort of rebate for the approximate 3 hours a week I’ve spent with Venushka. I’ve not been doing it with rebates in mind, and I realise he’s running a business, but some small acknowledgement of my commitment to V and the preparation time would have been appreciated.
Lest I sound mercenary, I should say that Poornima generally produces food for me when I go in: not always, but usually. I’m often not hungry, but it’s a kind and hospitable gesture and I always make the effort to eat some of it, and very good it is too. Last night’s marathon hour and three quarters French and then English lesson was brought to a welcome end by Poornima producing Kottu Roti. This is a chopped mixture of vegetables, flat bread and the inevitable spices.
You can always tell if a street café is selling Kottu Roti because of the flamboyant and extravagant metallic chopping noises that emanate from the kitchen, rather like a percussionist using pots and pans with metal drumsticks rather than more conventional instruments. I said to Poornima that I’d not heard any of the culinary rhythm section – I’m paraphrasing – and she laughed, admitting that she’d bought it as a ready-chopped mix. The guidebooks are rather ambivalent about Kottu Roti, suggesting that while it’s a quintessential SL street-food dish, the cooks often make it as a excuse to use up stale and sub-standard ingredients which are frequently not sufficiently cooked into the bargain and can give Montezuma a run for his money, if you get my drift. Last night’s was of course a cut above the average.
Tomorrow Rick, Kris and I are going to walk the Treasure Hunt route after school: I’m keen to get a second opinion as it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s all perfect when there may be mistakes and flaws.
I don’t know about the other 93, but in good Private Eye style here is Number 94 in a series of useful Hints and Tips. This one details how to stop ants stealing your sugar and seems to be the way recommended by Sri Lankans. On the grounds of good taste, my diagram omits the dead ants usually to be found in the water.