Tuesday, December 29, 2015

An aroma that didn't register

You see the shapely pink bloom of the moon flower and you know it has a smell. It's a nocturnal smell evolved to attract moths. You've read this. I've seen a fly inside and ants too. But where don't they go?

I'm attracted and I want to find the aroma. I walk over slowly so as not to diffuse the airborne chemicals. I take a deep smell. It's not weak and it's not strong. It's not sweet and it's not rancid. It's not sharp or hard. It's curved and softened. It's invisible, unregisterable. I must try it again. 

I hold the ovary in my open palm gently and I concentrate, or try to, on the aroma. My concentration is broken by sensation. Sensation takes over and removes cognition. I can't find the smell. That is, I can find it (smell it) but I can't place it. Where does it belong and with what? I can't make sense of it. I can't place it in my endless encyclopedia of smells. I walk away. 

I must try more because I know that smell is brand new to me and unique. Were I a moth I could register it immediately. Attractive. Intoxicating. Motivating. My human brain is equipped to smell the flower, but not to connect it to anything. The smell is there but it doesn't do anything to me because I can't do anything with it. I'm not intoxicated. I'm not motivated to release my tongue, unroll it, and drink deeply of nectar, accidentally becoming attached to pollen grains or a sticky stigma. I am motivated in one way though. To explore further. To smell more deeply. 

Registering the aroma means classifying it, providing it with a context, finding the senses it awakens. It is an abstract smell, one that I struggle to interpret. Again I leave it. 

But again I walk back. If this were an abstract painting it might become interpretable through study. Or I might find unintended figures or faces in its diffuse image. Were it a piece of music and I concentrated, I could, with work, distinguish rhythms, cadences, inflections, tonalities. This aroma, distinct as it is, cannot be distinguished, catalogued, compared. It leaves me floating or swimming or wafting in a wave of sensation, but it leaves me uncomprehending. And like a wave, not really moving. 

This puzzle is puzzling. By defying recognition this aroma breaks boundaries, takes me out of my comfort zone, slightly astounds. I must go back to it. 

"Smell this other one," Janet suggests, "it's stronger." But I get less. Untroubled, unruffled, untrammeled, the moonflower glows lightly in the warm damp air. This chemical producing organism, heavy and lush, bobs gently. It presents a question. But it doesn't provide an answer. 

I try the aroma again and it seems to be picked up somewhere between the bridge of my nose and the top of my nose, almost right between the eyes. A strange place for an aroma I think, a place that's hidden, a place where the olfactory nerves sip and swerve and quiver in trying to define. 

There is something slightly edible to the smell, something that is reproduced on my upper palette right behind my eye teeth. If you could bite down on a piece of air. The sinuses activated, I come in for a landing. This packet of air sending weak but steady impulses may become conquerable if I apply willpower and discipline and don't give up. Strange to be drawn like this and strange to be driven. Why decipher a mystery?

Clicking my tongue against the roof of my mouth for confirmation I assemble the conformation of this air-abstraction. I let my brain do the work, synthesizing, recreating, mixing. It comes close to a verdict but the decision is not fully satisfactory. The best place I can take this smell is somewhere close to a petunia. 

But petunia is rank. This is refined. Petunia is common. This is rare.  Petunia is made in the temperate zone. This is tropical. 

Two or three days ago I was challenged with the knot of another aroma, just as hard to unravel. An aroma I never knew of and never suspected. A bit of agar wood oil was touched to my skin. I was intoxicated. The next morning a stick was lit as my host made his morning offering. He drew the smoking stick in front of me and the intoxication returned. There in Batapola at an essential oil maker's place, I knew what to do with the agar wood aroma. Hold onto it and never let it go. Find it, store it, live in it. 

The moonflower didn't allow this. In its way it turned me into something mindlessly mindful, something like an insect that has to return and return, a slave to pheromonic molecules dripping from the flower. If I could understand the language of this flower it would tell me, "welcome to Sri Lanka. Submit."

A challenging week and some notes to friends.

It's been an unusual, challenging, and strangely rewarding week for me. If anything I've had the immersion into Sri Lankan life that I've craved for this project. I do what I can to post my experiences each day but above and beyond that I've reported to a few people back home about the intensity of experience during these days. Here are excerpts written without regard to style or punctuation to friends and family in the states and here in Sri Lanka. 

Dear V,

Thought you would be interested in this British era map of Hambantota, in the far SE of Sri Lanka where I've been for a few days. It was devastated by the tsunami & I'm at a Fdn here that does preschool & community outreach. My host actually asked me to strategize w him for a long range plan since he's 68 and in poor health. Strange job for a Fulbrighter looking at landscape intangibles! Janet's back in Colombo getting ready for Julia and Jose in a few days. I'll join her tomorrow and then we'll take them around by car for 10 days or so. Jan 13 a RISD prof who's doing urban planning in Batticaloa will meet me along w her students out there. She found my blog and we got in touch that way. Pretty crazy. I've connected her w my colleague at Moratuwa who will bring his urban planning students out there to work w the RISD students. Pretty amazing to have made this connection bc I was not able to get BU interested at all in Sri Lanka and the BAC just doesn't have the infrastructure. My colleague at Moratuwa has been underutilizing me even though he's a good guy and thinks out of the box. So this is the best of all worlds. Have participated in so many colorful and dramatic Buddhist rites here and on long walks w Janet discovered a village of potters who are doing pottery designs that are literally thousands of years old for everyday use...cooking and setting yogurt. With my host here in Hambantota we visited his native village where they do cinnamon industry. His family is super rich and they make cinnamon oil but the lady of the house cooks on a wood stove using those same clay pots we saw being made. Victor I try to write blog every day but the experiences of the morning are eaten up by the experiences of the afternoon and the night crushes it all like a pc of scrap metal so even though I spend like two hrs writing every day it's like just skimming what I can recall from the exhausting day before. So that's why I haven't written to you more. I miss you a lot and looking forward to getting back to you but not really looking forward to being back in America that much. OK enjoy the map. They actually make the place look tame where it's anything but! That's the british cartographers eh?ben was offered a job at Berkeley to do transp stuff but he turned it down even though it was a raise and I think a good professional growth step. Don't know the reason but I think it starts with an M. He is starting to  market brutalist building blocks on etsy. Pretty amazing young man. Lucy got a real job w a startup starting jan 6. I am so excited for her to finally be spreading her wings. Everyone here has had tragedy in large doses and of course as you know it keeps perpetuating sick behavior of so many varied sorts. It's like the human being is such fertile ground for taking experience and churning it and making it come out in such strange perverse ways. So nothing, absolutely nothing here is as it seems. And your only choice as someone immersed in it is to bobble along and remind that these are not your problems to solve and never expect anything ever and never say no and never try to be anywhere at a given time or believe anything you see. It is a real joy to be out of control and on top of that effectively a deaf-mute. But conversation I think is overrated. Everyone else has do much to say. My job as I told a Buddhist lady abbot from Korea the other day who I thought was an effeminate man (how dumb can you get?) is to listen listen listen. This in response to her quip that people just talk talk talk. Haha. Take a look at the blog if you get a chance. Take care victor and love to your girls. 


Thank you B. Now I am working with my friend who brought me to the village to revamp his website and his floundering foundation out here in remote Hambantota. It began as a tsunami response but a different set of problems evolved and he became 11 yrs older (68 now) so it seems can I say, language problems included, pretty daunting. Just took a break from intense brainstorming (after a day of utter lassitude--sarongs 24/7 and wives safely in Colombo and rain here but started "working" at 8 PM. 


B I would appreciate if you can think about this and brainstorm using your well developed understanding of marketing unusual products. 

I'm staying with a family in rural Sri Lanka who makes their own essential oil. The operation, the surroundings, and the ppl are amazing. 

They are very rich by Sri Lankan standards but they are very simple people and give a huge amount to their community. Their distillery truly is sustainable, using scrap wood for heating the stills, etc. they also provide employment directly or indirectly for maybe 50 people in the neighborhood. They actually mulch their cinnamon fields with "used" cinnamon bark and the difference is unbelievable when compared to un mulched fields. 

So. Bottom line is that they want to stop selling to third party exporters and reach out to an intl market. Any ideas?? I wrote this letter for them which they'll send out but I would really appreciate any ideas you have. Waiting to hear what you say!! 


Dear M, Nice to hear your climate comments. We are in distant Hambantota where I've been invited forever by this retired guy who runs an NGO here. Orphans and preschool. Like a lot of the ppl my age who are retired here he is doing his "merit" kind of an interesting way of looking at things. Shuldie and I slept with clouds of mosquitoes so I can't say it was delightful in that sense. But last night there was singing which was quite amazing. So. Another day. Gotta run cuz my host is up and it's 7 and my job is to listen. Bye grl!


Dear J--

 Well I missed you last night. A lot ! But only one mosquito!

We got a tour of the cinnamon plant, several cinn gardens, several random gardens, buffalo milking place, later, a waterfall.  We were asked to stay another day so now here we are. There's a nice breeze coming into the living room and the birds flying in and out and fish are swimming. Suraj gave me reload from his phone which was very nice. Karu got a leech bite so now we all had to check ourselves. Kiribat and onion curry for bkfst was amazing. Waking up in the cabin was amazing. Wish you were there! The log cake still hasn't shown up here but I wonder of it was put in the freezer? Saw cinnamon scrapers. Looks like  it might rain. Lots of literature about depression around in Sinhala. Karu was astounded by how well you did yesterday with Kumari. Like you said with the boys at the hotel ppl are on top of me every minute. So it's hard to "get anything done" but I got some good shots of me doing tasks like sorting cinnamon bark and raking stuff. Miss you a huge amt. today Karu says we 'll come back to town on the 29th. I love you. Hope you get everything done you want!!

Dear N,

my chat features etc disappeared but I can still email. This week finally deeply immersed in Sri Lanka life. Went to the countryside with a friend to his ancestral village and saw cinnamon forests and cinnamon peelers and cinnamon oil makers. They never stop eating and between meals that feature huge amts of rice or very thickly sliced white bread they are eating ice cream from the truck, soda, etcetera. Everyone has diabetes. No one walks even a block except for old men. Some skinny ppl still ride bikes but it is the poorest peasants. Janet and I have had amazing walks and experiences. Wound up one day in a village of potters. Another day, woodcarvers it's all in my blog which is all I can accomplish in a day. The experiences are so many that the afternoon swallows the morning and night obliterates the afternoon with impressions upon impressions that get crushed and compacted like so much scrap. In between heat and torpor and ppl who can't bear to be separate from each other or from you. Families stand at the corner together to send one person five miles into town or as Janet noted when they're not together they volley phone calls back and forth "I'm still waiting." "Now the bus is coming." " the bus just stopped" Etc. I'm sure you've seen this millions of times. K grl excited for all your life changes can't wait to hear. Glad to be giving you some space to have them. Yesterday we kidnapped a Buddhist nun. Haha I thought it was a fat effeminate man all day. What a dope!


Dear G,

Ain't no one nuanced enough to address what's going on here. This place is beautiful but isolated, and a model preschool as a way out of poverty and civil discord, which seemed a moral imperative in 2008 when he set up the place, is a vision that can't be sustained, especially by a director who's 68 and in bad health and has no car and lives 8 hours away. Sri Lanka has changed and it's good that it's no longer a place marked by disaster but people here in Hambantota are tough as nails and the vision my friend had just isn't real any more. Think kesher. Think alef bet     

Re Julie. There's barely a day that passes that we don't think of her. We found ourselves in a village of potters and there she was in our minds cuz she used to do ceramics. Did you know? Janet was frolicking in the ocean and she recalled that Julie and her grandfather would play around in the ocean and go for long swims. 

There are lots of remembrances of my parents too--too many to tell you. But I keep them private. Janet needs so much space to process her life. 

The other day I was just leaving the village (already a couple of hours late) when we met a Japanese-Korean Buddhist nun on the beach. Long story short you can read about it in my blog. Though the funny thing is I thought she was an effeminate older male priest. She had lady sandals on and was fat and outta breath and I thought about my mother a lot. Very similar in so many ways. Also today is dittos birthday and I've thought of him so much these months. Especially when I'm swimming which he loved to to and my mother would never ever join him. and though Janet will tell you she's been swimming a whole lot it actually took 2 months before she did anything but stand in the pool!

But I'm very happy she's doing so well now!!!! 

It will be amazing to see Julia and Jose. I am really happy they're taking the leap to come here and I hope the travel will be interesting and not too hard for them and that sightseeing will be balanced enough with relaxing and nature. Fingers crossed. Wish you were here too grl. BTW when do they leave your time? I want to start counting the hours. 

Yours truly and have a good night grl!!!!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Some impressions of Hambantota

Things are not as simple as they appear. It's a clear fact that we learn over and over again, usually the hard way. Yesterday was humid and overcast and exactly as I suspected would happen, my friend Karu Gamage, who invited me out here with colorful promises about everything we'd do and see, didn't feel like doing much of anything or going anyplace in particular. As the day passed it got more humid and light rain turned to an occasional heavy shower. The sounds of insects and birds kept up all day and the aroma of a thousand flowers hidden in the thorn scrub wafted up to my room. It was an exotic beautiful relaxing thing to experience in the dry zone, a sere place I had come to think might be the worst corner of Sri Lanka. I can't complain. 

Like every experience here the events of the day were unexpected, a lassitude that would be astounding if I hadn't already seen and experienced it in the village and elsewhere. The TV wailing with popular Hindi music all morning in the large main room where sound reverberates and is amplified. But no one is quiet anyway and there's not much quiet around. People make noise and shout and play the TV loud. The bread trucks scream their stanza of Beethoven (Für Elyse?) The lottery stands blast Sinhala music. Buses never quieten. No way to fight it. Go with it. Experiencing Sri Lanka with Sri Lankans is what I'm here for. 

Halfway through the day in the late morning things started to coalesce, Karu got out of his sarama (sarong), and it started to be time to go to town. When Karu's son Kasum had been here a few days ago there was a lot of coming and going. Kasum had brought guests and he had a car and so did they so it seemed people were taking short trips everywhere. Karu doesn't drive and neither does his younger brother by 12 years, who stays around the place, does some general maintenance, and prepares simple but complex, exquisitely balanced curries for our too-frequent meals, who will take over the foundation. But we are high and dry here without a vehicle. 

A tuk tuk into town and back is Rs 350, 300 if you're only going one way and Rs 400 if you have errands to run like we did. Trivial for a tourist maybe but a chunk of change if you're running a foundation on your retirement income. 

Karu started Janoda Foundation built on a piece of land granted to him by former president Rajapaksa. There was a bit of money from foreign donors too. It was 2008 and Hambantota, which had lost thousands of people in an instant, was still reeling from the tsunami. Karu was just 60 or so, recently retired and deeply imbued with community spirit, the will, the skills, and the tools to implement change. 

Community action was more than imperative. It was the moral thing to do and he did it. Hambantota is a tough place. He has lots of friends but he's not from here. The world changed. Sri Lanka shifted. A different world of needs and motivations evolved here and a model preschool for the community, conceptualized by Karu as a way out of destitution and communal strife, became a reality that was harder to sustain. Especially by an aging director with significant health problems who lives six hours away (on a good day) in Nugegoda. 

I was called here to address that. Another strange fate for a Fulbrighter studying intangibles in the human landscape. Way out of my comfort zone too, especially when we get down to work about 8 PM, just about my bedtime, with dinner still ahead of us and drinks nowhere in sight. 

But I wanted to write about some of the great things I've seen in Hambantota. Aside from the nighttime walk near the turtle hatchery on the scariest wildest beach I've ever seen in my life. A beach like you'd dream of in a nightmare. A beach where the waves are ten feet high and the drop to the sea a vertiginous 20 feet. 

Aside from the way people's voices are so loud here when they get up in the morning and I'm writing. The way they seem to yell at each other. Playful like they're tumbling together through the mud. 

Hambantota has an amazing well-preserved colonial section of town. A steep trip along a curved cobbled shaded roadway. The round prison-garrison-fortress that tops the hill, built in 1797, is just one highlight. 

Below is the weekend market, a kind of open air pettah that Karu brought me to to do his shopping. I was back with Bu, back with Mr. Thavurajah, as Karu made his way from stall to stall buying coconuts, tiny dried prawns, dry cambodge fruit, a large knife, twenty pounds of rice. 

We saw the fish market where he bought cubed pieces of tuna in the rain. 

We went to the old city where he stopped in the bank. 

We tried the newspaper stand to buy the weekend Mirror for his brother but it was closed. 

Hambantota has come back to life. It was brought to life for me in the gentle rain. Wish I could help breathe some life into the foundation. But a new morning is here. It's 6:15. Karu and his brother have been up since 5, like me, yell-talking in the main room. The TV will come on soon. The Korean monks are meant to come to town today and that will be a diversion. There are 24 hours left here before I have to get to Colombo. We'll see how it goes. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Kidnapping a monk and Do you have a small plastic bag?

The bus rides are so fast and furious and full of noise and commotion. And so few miles are covered over a given time. A signpost of 44.5 km, just over 20 miles, is a sentence of more than an hour. The toddler comes onto the bus in her mother's arms and I make as much room as I can for the lady's purse and bag. "Bada, bada," I hear the baby whimper. "My stomach." An hour later she cries to her mom and it's unmistakeable in any language, "I'm gonna throw up!" The mother positions a small blue paper bag and the child fills it. I write a short note to my friend Karu Gamage, who's sitting one seat back. "Do you have a small plastic bag?" When I offer it the mother declines. 

Earlier in the day we had set out for Hambantota. Karu's obliging great-nephew Suraj was driving us to the Hikkawadua bus stand. We were about an hour late after many farewells and blessings and exhortations, given by Karu, the elder of the family, one at a time to each member. First though we stopped at what seemed to be a random spot on the Galle road. Suraj waved to a friend who was waiting there for us and we walked 50 meters or so to a house with a gate. When we opened the gate I could see it was half a house, the other half washed away exactly eleven years ago in the tsunami. His family survived the first wave on their balcony and the second wave almost reached them on the roof. Only the grandparents were lost. This was our tsunami remembrance. 

Karu wanted to show me a guesthouse where other Fulbrighters could stay during a proposed visit to the cinnamon cultivators up in Batapola. Situated right on the beach, just kissing the highway, I thought it was nice but kind of exposed. Especially during the afternoon when the sun is streaming in. No matter. I didn't say anything. Because why? I'll tell my fellow Fulbrighters about the cinnamon oil factory but I wonder. Why would they care?

We were going slow, maybe that's needless to say. Chatting with the guesthouse manager, drinking a king coconut. Taking pictures of nothing. Enjoying views of the sea. We weren't getting any closer to the bus stand and Hambantota seemed pretty far away. But I've never heard anyone here say "time to get going" or "I think I'd better be leaving soon."  It's just not done. Even when there is a real time crunch. Because time crunches aren't real. I suppose. 

An orange orb on the beach far to the north gets closer. It's an apparition against the blue water and Karu suggests to Suraj, "there's your prize winning photo for today." The orange-clad monk gets closer and I suggest, "could be Japanese." Karu is activated and starts up a conversation with his Eminence, who's the director of a Japan-Korea foundation. Karu rightly prides himself in Japanese and an hour later we're sipping coffee in the guesthouse restaurant and soon we're headed back to Batapola with the monk. 

We stop at Karu's family temple where the Korean monk who speaks Japanese is introduced to the head monk I met the other night. We see the brass lamp Karu dedicated a few nights before. We see the image room filled with foods and flowers. The visiting monk chants. We bow. We help him down the stairs, holding an umbrella over him for the sun. We are back in the van headed for the cinnamon oil factory. 

In the spanking new air conditioned showroom with its vaporizer gently filling the air with the relaxing scents of essential oils the monk meets the family and drinks an ice water. He takes a long time to use the bathroom. Enough time to worry people, especially his handler, who works for the Korean embassy and speaks some Japanese but looks like a beach boy. 

The monk comes back and he reads palms. First Kumari's. She gets a verdict. "Money will keep pouring into your pockets." "Thank you," she manages in English, "I like money." "Smile," the monk commands. And keep smiling. It will make your troubles go away. You will forget them."

Then he reads Karu's palm. "You never keep money. Whatever you have goes out of your hands." Karu is well pleased. It means he keeps on doing his charity work. The conversation, in Japanese, a tiny bit of English, and a fountain of Sinhala, is animated and funny. I wish Janet were there so we could look each other in the eye and wonder "when will we get on the road?" But it's not about getting on the road. It's about being here right now. 

Kumari's husband'a palm is read. The monk mimes "You are a big man. You run the show. But you must treat your wife with lovingkindness. You must tell her she's beautiful and that you love her. You must take her in your arms and hug her. You must do this three times a day!"

Karu is overjoyed. The monk has found the key to this family's problems. This is the Reason we've come back to Batapola. There's no reason to be anywhere else. 

Karu mentions to me he's hungry. I'm not. Too much food and too much between meal food. Too much sweet stuff that I keep fending off but which keeps falling to me like treacle on curd. Even a banana seems too much. 

I sit with the monk while Karu's gone. Family members keep telling me to come to the kitchen to eat. It's one in the afternoon. We had planned to leave at 8:30. The ride to Hambantota is four to five hours if you're lucky. 

The monk asks me for my birthdate and Janet's. He tells me to send the dates to him along with photos. He will have us at his house in Korea and we'll eat at his table. Meanwhile I am all but forced to the table by Kumari. Now I must eat. I drink the purest water from their well. I have a bit of rice and gedera kessel (house banana) curry. My plate is taken instead of the usual ritual, where you carry your plate to the sink and rinse and stack it. I am nearly hurried out of the house. 

Outside the whole group is waiting for me. Their body language reads, "Time to get on the road!" But I don't know anymore what I'm reading. We get to Hambantota after eight. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

The cinnamon landscape of Batapola

Batapola is about an hour and a half southeast of Colombo, about half an hour inland from the coastal town of Amblagoda. If someone was working in Colombo he'd say he lived in "Galle." If you'd never heard of Batapola you could be forgiven. It is far off the beaten path. But it's not isolated. It is in every fiber part of the fabric of Sri Lanka. 

I came here with my friend Karu Gamage, whose ancestral village this is. He came to dedicate a brass lamp on the centenary of his father's birth. That nighttime Poya event, and the events that led up to it during the day made a deep impression on me. They are a story of their own, one that was accidentally erased from my phone before I could post it. I spent hours writing that account and I felt nothing this morning when I discovered it was gone. Partly that's my growing Sri Lankan outlook. Partly it's because the story of the cinnamon landscape is actually rarer than the incredible religious event I witnessed and participated in. I think a foreigner could slip into a monastery on Poya day and experience what I did. But seeing the landscape of the cinnamon culture close up is more challenging. You have to be guided to experience it. 

Karu has lots of family here and they were our guides. We stayed with some of his relations, the Somadasa family, who run a cinnamon oil distillery adjacent to their house. Actually the factory and the house are one and the same, the kitchen in back blending into one of the work rooms. We meant to stay overnight. We ended up staying an extra day. 

Mr. Somadasa started his business 25 years ago, delivering cinnamon leaves on his bicycle. I don't know the story of how his business grew. Now he produces thousands of liters of high grade cinnamon oil every year. He and his family also produce other essential oils--nutmeg, black pepper, citronella, and sandalwood. Part of my "job" here was to take it all in and help them strategize how to tap into direct trade with the international market. Right now they sell to exporters who take most of the profit. Somadasa told Karu he's taken the business as far as he can. He wants his kids, especially his son Suraj, to grow the business internationally. Does it strike you as weird that a Fulbrighter studying human landscapes would be brought in to consult on this? Maybe. Or maybe it's just part of the landscape of serendipity that characterizes Sri Lanka. 

Here at the factory I saw and participated in cinnamon bark drying, grading, and raking. I saw the distilling process, the vats of steamed bark being emptied and refilled (the "used" bark is bagged and returned to the fields as mulch--you wouldn't believe the difference between Somadasa's cinnamon grove, which has been carefully groomed and taken care of--and his neighbor's). I tried to take a picture of it but it was too dark I think once we got there. Somadasa's field is on the right in this picture. 

Even more interesting I think than the distillery, with its boilers and filters and cooling tanks and a dozen or so workers, was what I saw in the neighboring landscape. Cinnamon peelers at work in their dark hut, the skill they used to separate the bark from the stems, the way they packed the large bark pieces with smaller bits and hung them in the rafters to dry. 

The neighbor who distills cinnamon leaf oil in his ancient vat. The heat of his work shack, his red betel-stained mouth with no teeth. 

The women in Somadasa's new cinnamon fields--just 18 months since planting (3000 trees to the acre!)--who emptied the bags of "used" bark from his truck in less than ten minutes while we took a stroll. The women who spread the bark and weed the fields and keep the horticultural part of the operation going and who support their father who's been paralyzed for twelve years. 

Somadasa's own kids, especially his son Suraj. Suraj takes a real interest in the business, respects the operation and the workers, and who showed me around enthusiastically. 

This active, busy family, rich by Sri Lankan standards but as simple as country folk. They speak country Sinhala and keep their doors and windows open. A bird is hatching her nest in their living room chandelier. Relatives and friends come and go. There is a steady diet of sweets and soda and ice cream and cake that come between large meals that Mrs. Somadasa creates. 

The huge drama of Poya with its processions and chanting and incense and crowds is a bold part of the human landscape here. Buddhist faith is an everyday thing--Mr. Somadasa lights a shrine every day and burns incense. But the Poya is monthly. The everyday work environment here, the small jobs people do among the lush back roads, the dew on the smoky early morning rice fields. These are the stories most worth telling.