We flew to Colombo on February 26th after an unusually long break of 15 months. With that in mind, we were in great anticipation.
We had been in contact with our friends in Colombo all the time and Roy had kept us informed about the ongoing events in Hambantota.
Having not travelled to that beautiful country, meeting our friends and visiting “our” widows and orphans, we had missed a lot.
It seemed that our friends were also looking forward to our visit. Humaid had even postponed a business trip to Singapore, in order to be able to accompany us on the trip to Hambantota. We had given very short notice, as it was not clear whether and when we would be able to fly.
Because of the Cricket World Championships, it was very hard to find a room. (Sri Lanka became the Runner-Up as they were defeated by India in the final.) Thanks to Roy`s brother, the GM of the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel (former Trans Asia), we got a room; only the rate had doubled since our last stay.
This caused a funny misunderstanding when Anura was asking in the evening about Humaid. Instead of “Humaid”, I understood “room rate” and my answer that it had doubled since our last stay, caused quite some amazement at first. Then later on, once the misunderstanding had been cleared, we cracked up with laughter!
Anura was “de facto” out of work. After 24 years of being a soldier, he was able to retire at the rank of a Major Colonel with a nice retirement check, but still not enough to support a five headed family. He was looking for a job in a private security firm.
Young soldiers have only a small income and since the end of the war their “extra income” had become less. When Roy told us that the Army was selling vegetables, we thought that he was making a joke, until we saw the first army lorry where people had lined up to buy vegetables. Due to severe floods, a lot of the rice and vegetable harvest had been destroyed and the prices had gone up. The Army was buying vegetables upcountry and resold them in Colombo. It was clear that it was not a humanitarian action, but very unclear where the profit went.
We had asked our friends what we should bring along, other than the requisite chocolate. Humaid asked us to watch for a used laptop for an informatics student. It was not possible to find one on that short notice and the prices for used ones were very unrealistic. A promotion from Migros (a big Swiss food chain) came in very handy and the student was very happy with his new shiny laptop.
For most students, a laptop is out of reach. In case some used ones find their way to us, we would happily take them on our next trip.
After we finished all the shopping (Michel had traveled once more without any clothes in his suitcase!), we traveled with Roy and Humaid to Hambantota.
Usually we tell about little changes in Hambantota. This time there was a humongous change and the site of a Convention Center for 1,500 participants almost knocked us out!
The gigantic complex had been sponsored from Korea and was almost completed.
We only can say: it took us seven hours to get there from Colombo; there was only one Hotel with 200 rooms in town; the planned international airport close by was still in planning; and I can’t think of anything else to say!
We also got to have a look at the new deep sea harbor. There was a building under construction for the Port Authorities that will be by far, higher than the harbor is deep. At the 16 meter depth they had “unexpectedly” hit solid rock. All insurance companies refused coverage for ships going to this harbor; and thus, no ship will be ever be going into that harbor. But they were working at the problem: they were constructing oil refineries and behind (?) the 16 meter dock, they were planning deeper ones. The area had to be plowed for square miles and dotted with huge cranes.
All the work was done by Chinese and their living quarters did not look very comfortable, to say the least. According to the locals, most of them were prisoners and did not get to mingle with the local people. Nobody could confirm or deny that.
One more highlight was the Mahinda Rajapakse (The President of Sri Lanka) Film Studio, some 25 kilometers east of Hambantota. Also covering a huge area and with an impressive memorial to the “Constructor” (The President). As in American film studios, they had replicated some prominent streets from throughout the country and we recognized all of them. But everything was built rather close together and shooting a film about Colombo might get difficult by having some of Kandy in the background. The entrance fee for two long noses was $20; to invite Roy, Humaid and five children, added another $2. Taking care of the premises was, not surprisingly, the Army and they were growing vegetables all over the place. It was explained to us that this had the purpose to make outdoor scenes more realistic! Therefore, it must have been necessary to plant cauliflower in the flowerbeds?
Further, the guide told us that a German film team had been shooting there only days ago (remember the seven hours drive from Colombo, another one and a half from Colombo to the airport) and that they had used also a big ship model in one of the halls. We would have loved to see that in action. On all four corners there was a big log sticking out and in order to imitate the movement of a ship in the sea, several soldiers had to hang on them and move the ship up and down……..
Mahinda Rajapakse originates from the Hambantota province and prior to his election he had promised to develop that area. He did this with big efforts and in a country specific way.
You only can fall in love with Sri Lanka but you will never be able to understand.
This time we got to stay in the house of another sister-in-law of Roy’s. It had the advantage that one was able to go the bathroom from inside, but there was no real mattress on the bed, only some kind of coconut mat. Next to the cacophony of two snoring men (the rooms did not have a ceiling and opened to the roof) and the sounds of the neighborhood (our neighbors had a very loud argument half of the night) and the sounds of animals which I could not identify, I hardly got some sleep.
There was still no pavement on the streets and half of the time, there was no tub water. We again catered to ourselves. To buy fresh fish at the market and get the eggs wrapped in straw was again a pleasant experience.
The cooking on only one cooking plate was a challenge, especially with an Executive Chef like Humaid who wanted to know whether I had cooked rice before!
In the evening, we sat on the front porch with a tea (Michel with a chilled beer) and Humaid entertained us with anecdotes of his widespread family. As marriages between cousins are not unusual, it was easily possible to be someone’s uncle, cousin and brother-in-law, all at the same time!
He also talked very frankly about politics and difficulties in his country; and we had a great time. He is the only person we know who was able to fall asleep in the middle of a sentence. It was fine with me to stay up as long as possible because of the uncomfortable bed.
The people had received the titles for their houses and therefore the ownership; and now many of those houses were abandoned or up for sale. At first, it had been said that they would have to inhabit them for at least ten years to get the ownership.
There is also a 100% government tax to foreigners buying property in Sri Lanka. Humaid explained to us how that could be avoided. To buy a house in Hambantota is also one of our half-cocked ideas.