All planes from Hong Kong to Sri Lanka land at midnight. I emailed Frawzia: "It's probably easier if I check into a nearby hotel and meet up with you the next day. " She'd have none of it. " No ! We'll pick you up at the airport. We're used to these midnight pick-ups ! " The Braine's house was 45 minutes' drive from Colombo, it was built by George's grandfather on land the family owned. Fawzia put me in the master bedroom. " But where're you and George going to sleep ? " I protested. " Don't worry, we've another room." And No, Fawzia was adamant, I could not use the other room.
All classic Braine hospitality.
Our first port of call was to be Kandy . " We've a home there too," Fawzia said " so we've a place to stay for the stop-over ". Kandy's the second largest city and an ancient highland capital of Sri Lanka . It's 115 Km ( 73 miles) from Colombo but the normal 3 hour journey was longer for us because of the multiple stops, as I wanted to take pictures of the local markets and roadside stores. I visit market places wherever I go because nowhere else can one get a better sense of how life really is with the locals.
The Tea Museum was closed but as a Union Representative I was more interested in the tea workers than the mechanism of tea-manufacturing. Sri Lanka is the world's fourth biggest tea producer after China, India and Kenya. Today, directly and indirectly, one and a half million Sri Lankans (out of a population of 21 million ) are employed in the tea industry .Christian Aid reported that the living quarters for most of the tea-pickers are the same dilapidated, ancient row houses built for them long ago by the British; male and female workers are housed together with no regard to privacy, which places the females at a higher risk for sexual harrassment. There's no electricity or plumbing. Tea maybe Sri Lanka's biggest cash crops,but because of severely low wages, poverty levels on plantations are not only consistently higher than the national average, but has been increasing significantly in the last thirty years while overall poverty in Sri Lanka has declined. This led to an industrial action in 2006, after which wages were increased somewhat.
The tea plantation is structured in a social hierarchy and the women, who represent 75%-85% of the work force, are at the lowest strata. The female Indian Tamil workers being particularly at risk from discrimination and victimization .Young girls typically follow their mothers, grandmothers and older sisters on the plantations, and the women are also expected to perform most of the domestic duties . The minimum working age is 12 . On the plantation, men are typically employed to cut down trees or operate machinery, and although they work much less hours, are paid more than the women. The daily target of 15 to 20 kg (33 to 44 lb) weight of tea leaves picked might fetch just $ 2 US for the women. To add insult to injury, given the social stratification, the pay had to be collected by a husband or father! Happily the tide of change is coming. The plight of the tea pickers has aroused attention across the country, and 85 neighborhood women's right groups have been formed to educate these women on issues of gender, leadership and prevention of violence against women. WUSC ( World University Service of Canada ), funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, together with local community-based development organizations, has set up workshops and training programs to help youngsters who want to gain new skills and further education, in a bid to break the inter-generational cycle of economic dependence on tea plantation .
and independence. Sri Lanka's premiers and presidents traditionally deliver their post- election speeches from its balcony.The famous Kandy annual procession known as Esala Perahera falls in the months of July/August, hence there were even more pilgrims at the Temple than usual. To enter the Temple we had to pass through a security check point, this was necessary because in 1998 Tamil Tigers drove a truck bomb to the Temple and caused considerable damage. Temple etiquettee also requires clothing must cover the legs and shoulders. Leaving our shoes at the entrance, we joined the long queue of devotees, all bearing gifts and flowers, to enter the relic chamber, the Temple's holy of holies. It was a long wait for a fleeting glimpse of the
gold reliquary wherein the Tooth lies (no mortal eyes are allowed to see the actual dentistry) before being SHOO- ed off by the monks to make way for others, fortunately a game of peek-a-boo with the little Indian baby and chit-chats with the mother, who were behind me in the line relieved the tedium .
I love shopping, but Fawzia turned out to be an even more manic shopper than I. She told me she used to hide all her shoppings in boxes in the garage, but one day the Salvation Army people came and George gave all her precious boxes to them, thinking they were old clothes! We went first to the Kandyan Art Association which was a government-sponsored center for traditional hand made arts and crafts, but it was not much fun as the prices were fixed.Then we went to the City Centre to hunt for saris and earrings. Fawzia haggled expertly for a bargain, while I looked on in awe. Sadly bargaining is a skill I've never mastered." You know that famous girls school in Kandy?" She asked the store-assistant attending on us "I used to teach there so you must give me a good bargain, I could have taught your daughters "The store assistant was very impressed and spread the information to the rest of the staff, by the time we left the word circulating round the shop was: Fawzia not only taught in the school but was in fact the Headmistress, and not just any headmistress but the best Headmistress the school ever had! Needless to say we got a very good price for the saris we bought. Sri Lanka is most famous for its gems, befitting its fame as the"Jewel Box of the Indian Ocean "Every jeweler I met tempted me with:" The blue sapphire on Princess Diana's engagement ring came from Sri Lanka " All of them were to be disappointed, not only was I no princess I was so cheap I found US$ 300 for a pair of silver earrings too pricey! " That's as much a secondary school teacher makes in a month here "Fawzia said, and I exclaimed "I'm glad then I didn't get them, I hate to think I'd be wearing a whole month's wage of some teacher on my head "Fawzia tried to educate me on the traditional Kandyan (osaria) style of sari wrap, which is considered the national dress of Sinhalese women and is the uniform of the air hostesses of Sri Lankan Airlines, but had to give up because of my limited imagination. Luckily a mannequin came to the rescue.
All is not well in Paradise .
even trade with China and the Middle East could not cover the expenditure, and taxes had to be raised .
We checked into the Nilaveli Beach Hotel which has its own private beach. Nilaveli beach is considered one of the purest white sand beaches in Asia but the tourist beach was practically empty. Tourism's obviously still not arrived in any big way.
On the last day Fawzia took me round Columbo. We went to the famous Khan Clock Tower which was built in the early 20th century by a Parsi family from Bombay. Today it's a landmark of Columbo. We then visited the historical building of the Cargills, a Sri Lankan corporate established in 1844 as a general warehouse, import and wholesale business. Today it's the largest retailer in all categories of the food industry in Sri Lanka .
The Chinese from ancient times already knew about Sri Lanka .The earliest visitor from China to Sri Lanka was Faxian, a 5th-century Buddhist pilgrim from Shanxi who travelled overland from his home through Nepal and India before coming to Abhayagiri Dagaba, where he stayed from 410 to 414. In the 17 century the Dutch brought Chinese labourers from Jakarta and later the British brought the Malayan Chinese workers to the island. Independent economic migrants from Hubei arrived in the late 1920s, who mainly worked in dentistry. Shandong migrants came in the 1940s, most of them entered the textile and hospitality industries. Because of the Sino-Japanese War and then the political unrest in China, these migrants stayed on, and the Chinese community once numbered in the thousands. The relationship between the sri Lankans and the Chinese had not always been cordial. Sri Lankan children would chant demeaning rhymes about Chinese door-to-door salesmen, while parents would scare their children that Chinese boggyman would kidnap them if they misbehaved and Chinese children might sometimes suffer racial taunts from their classmates. The hostility escalated somewhat during the Sino-Indian War of 1962, so the Chinese left for Europe and North America.Today the descendants of early Chinese migrants in Sri Lanka number only around 200, but many were stateless until the "Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Chinese Origin"Act was passed into law in 2008 .
Fawzia would have made an excellent tourism ambassador for her country. It was easy to see the love she had for her country and the compassion for her fellow countrymen; she's enthusiastic and seemingly to have boundless energy, a vibrant dynamite that would be a wonderful feel-good image for any country. She wanted to be in on everything. At the Nilaveli Beach Hotel one evening, everyone from our group disappeared into their rooms after dinner. Indee and I were bored silly. A band was playing music and a few people were dancing at the patio. I said to Indee"Come on, let's join the dance"Indee opened her eyes wide as saucers"Do you dance?" "Well, not really,"I had to confess,"but it beats sitting here feeding the mosquitos" Fawzia spotted us at the dance floor and jumped right in, and caught for herself the most attractive dance partner. "All my brothers and sisters love music and dance,"she said"We've regular family gatherings, we'll prepare lots of food, my brother would bring his guitar and we'll all sing and dance and eat.We have the best time "Her capacity of bountiful joy in all the good things life offers was exactly what her friends in CUWO would remember, and then of course the "Fawzia Smile". Indeed when I looked back on the trip, out of the multitudinous images I collected the most vivid and enduring was that of the smiling faces of Fawzia and George at the airport the first midnight.