Lunch was a sweaty, sticky, fly-laden affair. A storm would be coming in, we were promised by the old lady who had cooked. Communication was a challenge in this place where English was a luxury. As were toilet paper, Internet access, and non spicy curry.
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We did not need too much language though; our oohs and aahs sufficed to rave to our host about the spectacular meal we had just had. A rice and curry classic, where coconut had been king, picked fresh a few hours before. The children had run out the back door, ahead of me, barefoot and nimble across the rice field, knocked a few bright orange ones off the tree and sliced the top parts off. One for them, one for me, cheers, and we had drunk the coconut water out. They had then chopped open the receptacles and we had scraped the white meat inside.
Rich, plump, and sweet. Exquisite. The rest would be pressed into oil and milk. Those went into the simmering pot, under which dry coconut was lit. Coconut shavings were tossed in for seasoning. There was rice, mellum, some roti. We ate together, well, with our hands.
Five hungry strangers shared a home cooked meal that cost less than a dollar a head,
Bohoma stutiyi. Thank you.
Our host beamed with pride, and I was in love with Sri Lanka.
The grass is greener in America. The air is cooler too. Automatic sprinklers and air conditioning and tap water you can just let run. Water here is saved for irrigation and cooking; drinking it is a luxury. Ice cubes are a horrid waste and no glass is left half empty.
Resource scarcity and human creativity dictate an abundance of juice: papaya, mango, watermelon, avocado, coconut and passion fruit. Apples are a delicacy here while exotic fruits grow on trees. Children and monkeys climb those and laugh, dangling upside down from skinny legs.
Skinny legs, skinny arms. Skinny cows, rare in the fields. Their meat is just as rare, and expensive. Dairy is more sustainable. Milk and yogurt can be drawn daily, stored in fridges where fridges exist. Where they do not milk is stirred into tea, powdered, and children chase colored carts for ice cream.
The Sri Lankan life is one of hard work by day and evenings flying kites on the shore. Collarbones protruding, but hands clapping, voices singing over the sound of stomachs grumbling.
Colorful saris washed by hand in the river, backs bent into curves over time. Hard feet and soft hearts, hard times and warm welcomes. Wrinkles earned with smiles and sun.
The grass is greener in America and Coke Zero is everywhere. Food is fast and cheap, so are clothes and shoes. Water is served iced and on ice and for free. Entertainment is lavish and service is cheerful. Everything is disposable, returnable, exchangeable. But everything comes at a price and money does not value everything.
Disequilibrium. All men are not born equal, all men do not live equally. The grass may be greener on one end of a spectrum but not everyone needs grass to be happy. Here in a village whose name has too many vowels for me to pronounce, resource wealth is measured in good rainfall, ripe coconuts, and numbers of harvests of rice. As for individual wealth and the value of a life well lived, those are defined by a small house, small kitchen, two pots - one of rice and one curry – and the friends and family gathered around with whom to share it all.
Lunch was a sweaty, sticky, fly-laden, very, very happy affair. The old lady was right; a few clouds in the sky. A small breeze had already picked up. It tousled the eleven-year old’s silky black hair. There would be rain that night. It would be good for the crops. We would not sleep hot and thirsty. The grass would be so green.