Just as promised T was waiting for us at the exit lounge of the airport in Colombo. We had had a little extra hassle coming through immigration with our consular visas but other than an extra wait on line and a stamp from the chief immigration officer it was nothing much.
Full of good cheer we found plenty to talk about and laugh over. T is a former Fulbrighter so things got clubby fast and it made more sense why he had decided to pick us up. But our mutual affiliation, it turns out, wasn't the only reason for our meeting.
His driver stuffed our bags into the van and we took the new highway toward Colombo. Smoggy and murky as usual, all the way in and up to the understated door of our guesthouse on a quiet lane off Cotta Road. T told me his dream, to rehabilitate a whole valley of tanks. Meanwhile there is the ongoing project as Alisthana and a new UNDP project near Kuneragala that he's consulting on, "mostly telling them what not to do." It's that project that he wants to involve me in, which promises lots of field time and maybe some conference work. The distance from Anuradhapura, where we'll be staying the first few weeks, and Kuneragala isn't that great so getting back and forth shouldn't be that much of a hassle.
T had promised to pick us up Thursday and we were supposed to meet Friday. But he quickly informed me that he was off to Kuneragala starting Friday for the whole weekend into Monday. What was I planning for, say, Tuesday? It took a lot of back and forth to convince him that I am really going to Anuradhapura to work with colleagues there and teach a class, and that I was booked all next week, which would make this airport-to-Colombo ride our only meeting.
Now I understood, I think, why he didn't return Abeysingha's calls. His own schedule was up in the air and so "coordinating" my time was a problem.
None of this was mentioned during our ride though, which was filled with discussions of water table, local ecology, and tank anatomy and morphology. Our common interests, based on a broad interpretation of how tanks work, took up most of the time.
Also promises that he would "be a pest" and take me into the field in Alisthana and Kuneragala were proffered. Otherwise no concrete plans were made. He asked that I call him from Anuradhapura and this cinched the fact that we have to buy a phone as soon as possible. Our guesthouse may have wifi-- I still haven't been able to connect and solidify plans with friends and colleagues here in Colombo. But it's clear now to me that everyone depends on mobile phones for calls.
So our enigmatic meeting. Jolly, lots of sharing, lots of discussion. But not a concrete word on any aspect of our plans. I said to Janet the meeting felt more like an oyster, something that slips through your mouth, than the wood or metal box i had expected...a meeting that would set a firm groundwork for things to come. But. Maybe it was a meeting structured but not structured according to my expectations. A great intro to how things may well be this whole time in Sri Lanka. Hurry up and wait. Cordiality. Much talk. Hard to pin down.