Meandering

From something I wrote..two years ago

 

I grew up in Tasmania and Sri Lanka. I lived in my father’s village for six months during one of the most violent times in Sri Lankan history.We were isolated in a rural, remote idyll where the whisper of what was going on outside barely reached us.We knew the schools were closed.That was all. There was no electricity.We had a TV that ran off a car battery and a hurricane lamp for evenings.

 

It was an amazing time though, for a ten year old, swinging from tedium to fascination. Everything was new and novel and something to get used to. I didn’t go to school for about three months and I think I’ve felt like I spent the rest of my teenage years catching up.

 

It was a small white house, with three bedrooms, two of which were apparently an extension tacked on in the years my father was in Tasmania. An unpaved drive led to the house. Two coconut trees had a swing strung up between them by my father for the two of us. Behind it were two smaller trees with pepper vines.

 

In the morning, before the heat sets in, we walked down the steep hill to the granite-lined well to bathe.I’ve never had such crystal-clear, sweet water since. The hill was  a rubber estate in perpetual twilight.

 

Breakfast was usually some sweet bread from the small shop up the road: buns and plaits with raw sugar sprinkled on top.It was the first thing I ate for breakfast on my first morning in Sri Lanka, when I awoke to the cacophony of birds and a dead huntsman swinging in the breeze of a thread on the roof.

 

Later my father, aunt or mother would walk me to Mr A’s house to my tutoring session. The road was hardly paved, the monsoon rains had washed away all the tar to leave the jagged, rocky base.

 

There was only one road. We would walk past the school where my father and his siblings studied, past the Principal’s house. They were UNP people, and it was whispered around in the strongly SLFP village.  Their tiny white-washed house was set against a dark copse of trees, eerie. In time, as the JVP troubles increased, they would leave their house, with a defensive placard out the front. It was a time when you dared declare no allegiance, to neither government nor rebel.  

 

Past my father’s relatives, the house with a white cockerel and the monkey-tail trees downt he precarisouly path of stones.  There was a small rubber-rolling hut on the natural stone amphitheatre where people brought their set and smoked rubber to roll.  A turquioise house that has stuckl in my memory and invokes severe deja vu. There was a man growing a vanilla vine nearby.  Past houses and rice fields. Houses cling to the sides of the hills.  In the distance are the limestone cliffs.

 

Past the Tamil church and the house with tea bushes out the front, a faded turquoise. Further down are some graves with water lilies.

 

A turn off and we were at Mr A’s house. It was a quaint, classically Sri Lankan house, with wooden fretwork and carvings. The garden was semi-formal with a multi-grafted hibiscus tree that I used to walk around during my breaks. The ante-chamber/covered verandah led onto the sitting area. Here, at the cane table, i sat with Mr A, who formally regaled to me the content I had just read from my reader. Reading and comprehension. Then there was a mathematics lesson.Then a break, where Mrs A would bring me something to eat, usually a a sweetmeat, with strong, hot sweet tea, and a bowl for washing my hands, all daintily laid out on a tray.There was even a dishcloth.I would sit on my own and eat, eyes wandering around the room, to the fretwork, to the framed picture of Lord Buddha meditating in a cave above the curtained door that led to the rest of the house.

 

Mr A would tutor me three times a week.Someone was always sent with me to take me and fetch me. On the last day he ever tutored me, before we headed south to my mother’s family home, he served us coffee from beans from his own coffee trees.  The last time I ever saw him, he had an almighty piss-up with my father another six months later. He was an alcoholic.

 

After lunch, which my grandmother spent the morning preparing, we would sit on the porch and watch the scenes unfolding across the way. Across the way was a massive monolith rising from the ground, a dark brown massive with clusters of leaves.  It looked closer than it was, a good 5km of winding road away. At its feet were terraced rice fields and coconut trees.We would sit and watch the sunlight glistening off the waving fronds of the trees.Every afternoon it was the same.

 

As the year wore on,the colour of the rice field would change from electric, unmatched green of young rice to green-gold to gold.The grain was harvested in traditional fashion,we watched from a distance like tourists. The sheafs- and English word for a form of wheat, what would be the rice equivalent? – were laid on the stone ground, and bullocks were tied to a harness and walked around on the rice to remove them from the husk. I never understood how they collected the rice afterwards. I never saw it close up.

 

Sometimes we would go for a walk in the later afternoon, if we were lucky we went out to the rock.Once a black snake with green markings crossed the road quickly in front of us. Once we stumbled upon a clearing, a green clearing with tendrils falling from trees and a perfect turf, mowed by goats. Once we walked out after rain on an exploring mission through bush, picked fresh oleander seeds. Once we visited distant cousins, clambering over rocks to the distant hillside their house clung to and ate green-skinned, whiskey-sour oranges. Once, we took a picnic and finally walked up the rock with tis 45o inclines. It was like walking a rather wide razor’s edge and I couldn’t bear to look down.The white markings I always thought were waterfalls were not. Scrubby trees grew in patches. We reached a relatively flat spot. We ate bread dipped in sugar. Around us was a perfect 360o view of teh surrounding hill country in all shades of green and gold against a hazily pink sky. It was perfect.

 

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