Monday, December 15, 2008

Back to the Beach

Friday was another Poya (full moon) holiday, so my cousin Shalini, my aunt, uncle, and I went to The Beach Hotel in Negombo for the night. Negombo is north of Colombo, same direction as the no-dolphins place, but much closer to town – only a 90 minute drive (the other place took over 3 hours to get to). We left late in the morning and got there in time for lunch. After lunch, the relatives all went for a lie-down in their beautiful rooms. I think the quality of a hotel room can be judged by its bathroom; the room Shalini and I were sharing had a giant oval tub with a built-in vinyl pillow and the shower had sandstone tiles and was about the size of a walk-in closet, but I digress. I didn’t feel like napping so I put my swimsuit on and went to read the New Yorker on one of the lounge chairs which were laid out in a small grove of coconut trees. Or I should say I tried to read; the issue I had was from mid-November so there was a lot of interesting post-election analysis, but I also had my iPod with me and the music, the breeze, and the view of the blue, blue Indian Ocean* right in front of me proved to be mighty distractions.

*Short geography lesson-interlude: It has been brought to my attention that the body of water to the west of Sri Lanka is more technically the Arabian Sea, not the Indian Ocean. Upon further research, I learned that the Arabian Sea is a region of the Indian Ocean so you can decide for yourself which is more correct. Due east of Sri Lanka is the Bay of Bengal, also part of the Indian Ocean; only to the south are the open waters of the Indian Ocean itself.
I don't know how long I was out on my lounge chair but when I headed back up to the room, Shalini and my uncle were heading down for a walk on the beach so I dumped my stuff and went back out with them. There is a place for local-access to the beach near the hotel so there were a lot of non-tourists out although it was far from crowded. It was nice to see people from the small town out enjoying the beautiful beach and their own beautiful country. People seemed happy to be out on such a nice evening – children were playing in the sand, kids were playing in the surf (the water was super-warm), a few teenaged couples were sitting on the sand in the shade of fishing boats with their arms around each other, talking quietly and looking vaguely uncomfortable to be seen together, but making the most of the best and cheapest date-venue anyone could hope for.

When we got back to the hotel, Shalini and I went for a swim in the pool or rather, she went for a swim, I did half a lap then floated around on my back and wondered how I’d gotten so lucky. Then dinner, a DVD in our room, bed, breakfast, and back to Colombo the next morning.

Saturday night I went out to dinner with Anthea, a colleague of Nilan’s who is also the Asia Foundation director in Kuala Lumpur, and Melanie, Nilan’s new deputy director in Colombo who has just transferred from the Foundation’s office in Kabul. Anthea is Sri Lankan-Canadian, grew up in Toronto but has lived in various places in Southeast Asia over the last ten years; Melanie is an American from Vermont who lived in Kabul for the last five years, but who has also spent most of her career doing NGO work in Asia. It turns out that she was working for the Asia Foundation in Nepal in 1996 when I happened to be in Kathmandu and was a guest at her boss’s house for dinner. She wasn’t at that dinner-party, but she had been to other dinner parties at that house – an almost “small-world” connection to add to my list, along with 1) running into my half-sister whom I’d only met once before, seven years prior to the incident of running into her randomly in a hostel in London (this happened over ten years ago); 2) meeting people in Anchorage where I was spending a few months in 1989 who knew my brother in Berkeley; 3) my brother working with someone in Bangladesh who was the sister of someone I worked with at that same time at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle… the world is a small place. Anyway, I got to tell Anthea and Melanie my story of being a guest at that terribly fancy dinner party at Melanie’s former boss’s house in Kathmandu (Nilan had told me to call the director of the Asia Foundation’s office in Nepal when I got to Kathmandu, I did and he invited me to dinner). Before that evening was over, the degree of sickness I experienced after excusing myself to one of the guest bathrooms was like no other I’ve had before or since; I told my hosts I was ill and they suggested I crash in one of the guest rooms for about an hour while the other guests arrived; eventually I pulled myself together and tried to go down to dinner but ended up nearly passing out at the dining table. I managed to get myself back to the guest room where I remember literally falling onto the bed and staying there until the party was over. The next morning I was due to get on a helicopter bound for the Himalaya, which I did, but that’s a whole different story (and in case you’re wondering, it was food poisoning not a dreaded parasite, so I was fine in about a week). That story is a real crowd-pleaser. I told it to the other two ladies while we were dining (maybe not the best timing… I cleaned the story up quite a bit for the blog) at an Italian restaurant where we had a terrific wood-fired pizza, some decent house red, pasta, and salad. We then moved to the Colombo Swimming Club (not as posh as it sounds; it’s been under renovations forever and has the aura of a bombed-out hotel) where we were joined by Nilan and Riyaz and Nisreen and a giant pitcher of margaritas. Melanie told us about her life over the past five years in Afghanistan, where she couldn’t walk on the street without a male escort but where she was also present at a forum with the Afghan president and 500 women from the various provinces, many of whom felt free to stand up and interrupt the president with questions and concerns during his presentation on women’s issues. Nilan told a story he’d heard, which Melanie confirmed as being true, about a certain Afghan warlord’s crime against another governing minister… which now that I think of it, is too brutal to recount here. She also described what a missile flying over your house sounds like (long, loud whistling noise before impact).

This week is going to be all about the Galle Literary Festival for me. It’s half coming together, half imploding. I’ve been corresponding with writers all over the world trying to nail down their travel needs and this week I will start booking their flights – I hope; I think Nisreen might still be finalizing the sponsorship deals with the airlines. Some of the most prestigious writers who are coming have been the most friendly and easy to work with, other younger folks new on the scene have come across as a little full of themselves. Eventually I think all the issues will get worked out and it will be a very cool event.

No comments:

Post a Comment