Saturday, 21 July 2012

Lost in translation's murky waters

I spent last weekend with a friendly support worker from the hospital. She's a little bit cheeky, rarely stops smiling and has rather taken me under her wing. So when she invited me to spend a couple of days visiting her family in the south, I was happy to oblige despite the 4-5 hour bone shaking bus journey each way. She speaks only a few words of English, as do the extended family we were visiting. But that needn't be a problem. I am making good progress in my language learning and can now hold a half decent conversation with her. Or so I thought. 

She had put me in the picture about the overall schedule prior to our departure. It seemed clear that we were going to be staying in Matara, a town on the south coast I was yet to visit. I was also fairly clear that we were visiting a variety of younger sisters and older brothers, along with perhaps the daughter of a older sister's son, and almost certainly, her father's cousin's mother's elder sister's friend's youngest daughter! What I knew for sure was that there was at least 48 hours worth of activity crammed into the 36 hour trip; it was going to be a pretty full on experience. So when she told me that there was a "swimming pool" at our destination, and that there might even be a whole hour allocated for this purpose, I had happily added the appropriate items to my packing list. Costume, goggles and my rather fetching bright yellow swimming cap; not forgetting some shorts and a T-shirt to wear over my costume whilst swimming, and some long trousers in case I wanted to be a little more Sri Lankan about it. 

So, you can imagine my surprise when late on Saturday afternoon, as we took second hour-long car journey of the day away from Matara down some winding country roads (to where I did not know), and shortly after hitting a cow (very gently), we pulled up beside the banks of a muddy river and I was handed a bar of soap. Just in case I was in any doubt, my friend gestured to the water and announced our arrival at the "swimming pool"!
The swimming pool

This was not quite what I was expecting! Now, it's not that I'm unwilling to embrace such experiences. There was a part of me that wanted to slide down that bank, soap in hand, and join the locals in their daily ablutions. However, the city girl in me was protesting. I was not prepared like the locals with their cleverly secured sarongs and, I imagined, quick dry pants. I was fully clothed with nowhere to change and no idea how far the onward journey would take us; not to mention the rather murky quality of the water. Who knew what creatures were lurking about in there! Luckily for me, my fellow passengers decided the water was a little too muddy even for their liking, and so we piled back into the car and continued our magical mystery tour. 

I'm pleased to report that no more cows were struck on route to our final destination. I'm sure you will also be relieved to learn that the soap was not wasted. Our hosts were keen to ensure that I was bundled into the bathroom as soon as I set foot in their home. (I'm gradually learning not to take this very Sri Lankan interest in my personal hygiene as a direct reflection of how much I smell, although on this occasion, after 12 hours of non-stop sweating, it's quite possible it was). 

Yes, it certainly was quite a weekend! After all, I haven't even mentioned our stay with the Rajapaksas (relatives of President Mahinda himself)! Nor did I tell you of our visit to the cave temples, or our Blue Peter style tour of the coconut factory and rice milling hut. Yes, it was certainly very educational. Not only did I learn that swimming pools can come in many shapes and sizes; I learnt also that cows are surprisingly sturdy creatures, and that a truly Sri Lankan weekend is utterly exhausting, but well worth the effort. 

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