Fifteen years to the day after the terrible Tsunami swept across Sri Lanka, another powerful natural phenomenon struck awe and even fear for some of the rural people. The morning sky turned dark.
We had travelled upcountry to a place called Naula, close to the line taken by the total eclipse of the sun. Our friends packed a welder’s visor in their overnight bag. I thought David, an engineer, was planning to do some welding when we reached our destination, but it was his wife who had the foresight. She follows events in the heavens and told us of the eclipse.
When the time came there was cloud cover which was fortunate for me as I managed to take photographs of the eclipse through the clouds. In between the clouds, we observed the eclipse through the visor.
The cook and some of the staff where we stayed thought it was an intervention of the gods and wanted to go to the temple. Many people did visit temples, churches, kovils and mosques but it was the schoolteachers who could tell them what was happening. We collected the staff and let them all have a look through the visor. One of our Sri Lankan friends explained what was happening, but I am not sure we convinced them all.
As the sky began to lighten, we sat on our veranda for breakfast; a plate of fresh fruit, banana, mango, melon, pineapple, papaya and a squeeze of lime. Then came the bacon, eggs and home-made sausages and, to add to the burden, a piece of Christmas cake that we had been unable to eat the day before. After breakfast I went back to bed, but the others swam in the pool.
What does one do on Christmas day in Sri Lanka? A group of us gathered at an hotel for a convivial breakfast – I had string hoppers and seafood curry. Then four of us travelled to Naula to our friend’s boutique hotel in the jungle. There we swam in the pool, watched a troop of macaque monkeys feed on the tamarind trees. The more energetic ones went to see where an elephant had slipped down a bank and knocked over a few trees the previous week. Somehow, our friends had prepared a traditional Christmas dinner with turkey and Brussel sprouts; Christmas pudding and brandy butter. Afterwards we had fireworks the old-fashioned way. We lit them, waited until they fizzed and then threw them down the garden. There is no health and safety here!
We travelled home during what Indians call Cow-Dust time. The day’s work is done, the oxen are led back from the paddy field, some people as well as oxen go to the tanks (reservoirs) to wash, others to fish. Cooking fires are lit, and men sit around chewing betel. The dust of the day begins to settle as the sun goes down and birds raucously quarrel over perches in the trees. As they settle, the fruit bats take wing.
Beware, there are snakes
On my way home one afternoon, my wife called.
‘Don’t put your hand on the rail as you come in through the gate, there is a snake sunning itself there.’
There it was, about one and a half metres long. We are now blasé enough about snakes to recognise it as a rat snake and non-venomous. I disturbed it and it made off into the air-conditioning unit. With some cunning, our tuk-tuk driver persuaded it to come out and go down the garden. Guess what rat snakes eat, and mice, frogs, crickets. They are considered good to have around. This one seems friendly enough; it slides away if we get too close. I hope it doesn’t meet the mongoose who lives about 50 metres further down the hill.
Life is different here compared with Chandler’s Ford, but we like to read what is happening on Chandler’s Ford Today. We managed to contact all the family through Skype and keep an eye on them.