We had known Banuka for three years as he had been working as a waiter at the most beautiful (or better) hotel on the west coast. He was always a bit faster, a bit friendlier and a bit more attentive than his colleagues.
During my previous visit in September 2004, we had gotten the sad news that his father had suddenly passed away of a heart attack. At the age of 21, he had become the “man of the house” being left responsible for his Mother, his 15 year old brother and 6 year old sister. His older sister moved back to her Mother’s house along with her husband and baby after their Father passed away to help support her Mother and siblings. Her husband had a job in Colombo which required a two and a half hour trip to go to work.
A Buddhist funeral is a very big and expensive affair and it’s not uncommon for families to get themselves into debts in order to give a decent burial to their loved ones.
We gave him (for the first time) some money and he later showed us very proudly the photographs from the funeral.
His father had made bricks, Sri Lankan style. With a very old press he formed concrete into bricks, one by one and they were dried in the sun. Banuka helped when not working at the hotel and his brother when not at school. Together, they made a good living compared to many others.
It is very normal in Sri Lanka to get laid off from work without any compensation and be called back if and when there is work.
With the tourists gone Banuka was laid off, only five months after his Father’s death. We knew it would be sometime until Bhanuka would get a call to return to work.
To support his family, Banuka returned to making bricks that were selling easily for the re-building following the devastation. The sand was very expensive and it would have been so much easier for him if they did not have to haul water in canisters from a public fountain, for the brick production and the household.
for the brick production and the household in canisters from a public fountain.
Shortly before his Father passed, they had started to dig a well in their backyard. The underground is very rocky, so they had only got six feet deep. They had hoped to find water after six to seven more blasts which would cost about 900 rupees each. A lot of money, if you don’t have any.
We could not possibly wait for a blast master or do anything ourselves, so we handed 8,000 Rupees to Banuka.
We left, with him looking forward to our next visit and with us hoping that we would be able to tell you that he found water!!