Coconut Kin

by Ant Stone on February 7, 2008

in Sri Lanka

Driving down the road on your Scooty Pep (scooter), a guy flags you down and declares ‘coconut‘. Who are you to argue. Ten minutes later you’re surrounded by his kith and kin; his wife and seven month old son, his twin brothers, twin nieces, two young nephews, a neighbour or two and his spritely, toothless mother. The bright yellow king coconut emerges, tastes more fermented than usual but you smile politely and suck through the narrow straw he’d sent a now panting nephew to fetch from a neighbour. First comes the wedding photo, then the family holiday photo, a newspaper clipping or two and the obligatory line of questions; what’s my job, am I married, where am I staying, what’s my salary, is it my first time here, who-what-where-when-why? Food is sometimes offered, usually you politely decline on a variety of grounds, to which you receive a smile, an ‘arrrr‘ and a ‘maybe tomorrow?‘ Your stomach starts to belch from the thambili (coconut milk) prompting a festival of goodbyes, photos and address requests and you spark up the scooter feeling slightly enlightened, yet everso slightly bewildered. This Sri Lankan example extends far beyond the coasts of Serendib, it’s the South Asian way. For a wonderful moment, you’re one of the family.

Reb and I were supposed to leave Sri Lanka (coined Serendib by early Arab traders) three days ago, briefly flying high back to southern India. But for a multitude of reasons – above all, we love it – we’ve extended for a further six weeks. Life in the Sea Turtle Farm has come to an end, if you visit you’ll be wowed by our information boards, though I suspect the tanks and turtles won’t be quite so shiny. The only thing stopping our onward journey from Hikkaduwa is the completion of the man named John Hatt’s Rescue Diving course and another John’s (John the Swede) recovery from an unfortunate accident; Returning along the coastal road from some secluded beaches (with beauty so powerful, so pure, it speared me with a surreal amazement) we spotted an island, with the sun hinting at it’s dazzling dawn display, we decided to swim for it. Thirty minutes later we were screaming along the coastal road again, before we screeched to a halt at a dubious looking medical centre. John the Swede lifted his foot to the counter (automatically leapfrogging any potential language barrier) ‘sea urchin!‘ he stammered, in typical Swedish-accented English. The doctor arrived with an air of nonchalance, which soon dispersed when he produced a tub full of needles and drugs when he adopted an air of sadistic glee. He plunged one needle after another into the Swede and just as I was about to hoist a white flag and declare ‘enough!‘ he withdrew a scalpel from his holster and plunged it into the sole of John the Swede’s splintered foot. The anesthetic failed to kick in for the first three expulsions, the agony I saw in his eyes was unforgettable. I clenched, there were twenty seven more to go. If only he’d listened to my initial suggestion, ‘we must urinate on it!’

I tried to cheer him up at his bedside, with a story Nimal (founder of the Sea Turtle Farm) had told me while I gobbled my daily rice and curry with my fingertips a few days previous; a live TV show was doing a report by a big bridge in the jungle side of Hikkaduwa, when an old man of ninety-five unexpectedly jumped off into the murky river. The reporters rushed to the river bank, proclaiming him to be a good Buddhist, displaying a ‘pure heart’ and ‘strong mind’ to have done something so brave at his tender age. They rewarded him with a donation and asked him to comment, he drew a breath and focused his eyes on the reporter, ‘track down the boy who pushed me off the bridge, as it was his foresight that resulted in my bravery’ the reporter looked shocked as the old man explained he’d like to share the prize with the boy, though to Nimal and fellow viewers it was clear the ‘brave’ man had revenge rather than reward, in his pure Buddhist heart!

Another howler came after I truthfully informed my friend, Mim that the deceased monkeys of India are honoured with a respectful ceremony due to the fact that they represent Hindu monkey god, Hanuman. Five minutes later, and half a bottle of Lion lager she pipes back up and admits, in her thick Yorkshire accent ‘I’ve just realised, it’s the Indian people who perform the monkey funeral, not the dead monkey’s relatives!’ Thus we see how the myths of time snowball innocent tales into the magnificent fables retold by straightfaced tellers around the globe today – long may it continue, I decree. I’m looking forward to exploring more than the strip of southwest coast we’ve managed so far (Colombo to near Matara). True, there’s a dangerous war going on, with bombs and all sorts exploding almost daily, but as long as I hear ‘coconut!‘ being hollered from the roadside, I’ll know not to worry too much.

*******

Site News: Thanks for the emails this month, some interesting plans and points. For all those debating whether travelling solo is a lonely practice consider my realisation when sat in a bar with seven new friends – every one of them had left their home shore alone. Also, photos are coming! Uploading high res shots on a Sri Lankan connection takes some time, plus a gremlin in the site ate through some vital scaffolding which caused a slight collapse, I’m on it : )


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John February 21, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Yeah, fuck that hurt

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Ross sutton April 1, 2008 at 8:49 pm

HELLO ANTHS MISS YA MATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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