LOCKDOWN in SRI LANKA
Caught out during Covid, I became a happy resident!
For 18 monthsI lived on the lagoon in Negombo, on the south west coast of Sri Lanka, having been caught out there since Covid began.
Over the first 18 months of Covid I moved around to live in four very diverse areas: Kalutara, a predominantly Buddhist area, the hills of Victoria Dam in Digana, near Kandy, with a Tamil population (from tea-picking history), and since August, here on the lagoon in Negombo, a predominantly Catholic community.
The divisions based on faith reflect the way Sri Lankan society tends to define itself - for better or worse - but each experience has afforded me insights into a country which I've really come to love.
THE GALLE FORT
The old Dutch Fort of Galle, the best preserved of the island's 7 remaining colonial forts, is a place to fall in love with. Here I've experienced yet another aspect to this kaleidescopoic culture, befriended by many of the so-callled Ceylon Moor community, Muslims who've been in Sri Lanka for centuries of generations.
Of Sri Lanka's six UNESCO sites, the Galle Fort is one in which you can easily spend more than a few hours exploring. Not only is it a complete town preserved and restored from its earliest days, but its intact walls surround a vibrant community whose diverse ancestral roots reflect the history of Sri Lanka's heritage as a trading destination since Classical times, and a place of mythological mystery in medieval times, when it came to be known as 'Serendip'.
Today the fort is a world of its own. Many residents continue to live in ancestral homes, like Moranna here, whilst others can trace their family back seven generations. It's a friendly place: for a month, I was the only 'foreigner' living in the fort, a rare opportunity to get to know the residents in a relaxed way, often being invited in for tea, sweets and conversation and even the first meal after the fast of Ramadan began ...
LIVING in NEGOMBO
... I even have a little boat for adventures!
Travel writer John Gimlette in his 2015 travel memoir Elephant Complex described the island as "the most beautiful island I've ever visited". I've heard it also described as a 'lite' version of India.
Whilst that might seem the case at first glance, there's no doubt for me now that this phrase does both countries, and cultures, a great disservice.
After more than two years here, mainly based in a small fishing community about 35 km from the capital Colombo, I feel as if I'm only just beginning to catch the nuances of the country ...