Thursday, March 17, 2016

I try to fade out

Just putting some thoughts on paper now mate no time for your natter and chatter. You liked the surfing? Great. The food you ate was abundant and you never got sick? Surprise. Great. Check. Now can you please go away?

Buddhist chanting is happening in the ponsala on the island. Thank you they are reminding us they're still here. Sounds like a mosque. Yes they are still here. The ponsala is attached to the police station God bless them for their peacekeeping and they are attached to a long line of former checkpoints and confiscated homes and barbed wire and military installations where you're still pulled over from traffic so just watch out and carry some bills with you for a "little something" for the men in brown. 

The humid air of morning is lightly scented. A rooster in the village and a rhythmic insect set a tone in contradistinction to the noise from the ponsala. Some leaves or small fruits drop. There are Areca nuts ripening and every day the accelerated heavy plop of a coconut somewhere reminds you there is gravity. Maybe even danger as well looked after as you are. 

But all is not gravity. The bus from Kadurawela was raucous with old Tamil movie music and the dancing eyes of passengers, all turned to see an elephant just off the road. They must be starting to be maddened by thirst. There has been no rain for weeks so they are on the move and searching for the things elephants need. We will see more. A fish was bought from a lone seller in front of a mosque. There was so much good natured yelling and pointing. A bevy of boys got on all in one piece like a loose ball laughing and entwining and laughing and entwining and high fiving and playing with the conductor and telling secrets with eyes as wide and energetic as a fourteen year old. 

There is a far off motor on the Kallady  Bridge and now the kovil music picks up quietly at first an unusual tune today. 5:20 is the start time today. Sometimes it's earlier. The sky is just one shade lighter than black and this music helps lighten it with a presence of dawnish consciousness. Clouds lighten and stars fade. The ponsala keeps going a bat flickers home the first bus blares its horn. The bat skittles nearby, behind?

Shadeesh sits at home. His accident more than a month ago broke his leg in three places. Five pieces. He was in the Batticaloa teaching hospital, ward 14 bed 2 and they kept him there for the weeks first consulting and then deciding to put in the two plates. He would have to pay for the plates but the surgery, like the hospital bed and the kovil music in the morning, is free. The leg is splayed to the right as he sits in bed and proper pain meds are on board. His wife and son bedside and occasional visitors who would stick a packet under his leg with some cash. Then the day of surgery was planned, Tuesday is orthopedics, he was to be the second surgery of the day, and the three-day countrywide power blackout came. Surgery delayed again and his surgeon friend had a scheduled holiday so Shadeesh was sent home and ordered to report back March 27 for a new surgery date on the 29th. I was out of town for the one day so I don't know how he reacted but I watched his forced positive smile the days before when I visited. I feel for his disappointment and maybe fear. He wants to be back at work or says he does. 

How did I visit? I visited by bike. How did I park? I parked in the parking area, next to the bikes. How were the bikes arranged? Perpendicular to a wall with a running ditch of swill parallel to the wall just behind the front wheel so, steady there with the lock and key. If they go into the swill they are a goners. How much did I pay? Five rupees a day. How far was the hospital? 100 meters from the bicycle parking. Was I the only foreigner? Yes! How to get to ward 14? Follow the signs. Go up some stairs. Stay in the shade. Ward 14 is men's non-emergency orthopedics. It is sponsored by an electronics store in Kattankudy so on the wall is a faded framed photo of Mecca. There are about ten beds. The windows are open and the fans are going. There is always a breeze. There is no discernible odor. No medicine smell and no body smell and no filth smell not covered up by anything. The beds are from Australia Shadeesh tells me. They are adjustable but the bed is half the bulk of an American hospital bed. There is a triangular ring for him to pull himself up. Shadeesh is unshaven but he looks good, like he's had a good rest and though he reports pain he doesn't wince or show pain in any way. The room is much cooler than outside with the fans going and there is a sense of openness that we can't possibly have in our sealed up hospital rooms in America. Food is brought in large metal tins but his wife brings him food and clean sheets. There are a couple of two-liter bottles of Sprite by his bed. In the ward there are two or three other people the first couple of days I visit. A couple of beds to his left there's a tuktuk driver from Ampara, arm in a cast. Younger than Shadeesh and flabbier around the stomach as you would expect of a tuktuk driver from Ampara. His enormous black eye tells you he was in some kind of accident. When he leaves in s couple of days with his wife and mother and baby girls Shadeesh wishes him well as heartily as he can all smiles and sparkle, that's Shadeesh. In a bed across from him there's a very thin very dark man whose wife has been in. He's silent and everyone is pretty quiet, except for the next ward where Shadeesh says there are "bad people," later one of them or one of their family members is fighting in the hall outside. There's really no inside or outside. Halls are separated by half or three-quarter tiled walls. There is breeze everywhere. I want to stay but I don't want to tax shaders to have to speak English for the better part of an hour. So I try to fade out and let the family speak and discuss and not take the visitor's seat of honor, just fade out just let things roll along. 

(The noise from the ponsala goes on. The kovil music is louder with percussion and flute and vocals. The rooster keeps it up and new birds join. The sky is not yet luminous, the last star just faded out. It's been 25 minutes.)

The two men in the Ward with him are from Sinhalese parts of Sri Lanka, Ampara and Polonowurra. How does it feel for them to be here with a different language? Maybe like it feels to me? Or am I more comfortable? 

In one corner there's an older bearded gent from Kattankudy. Family visits him and surrounds him. Later I am told the Muslims need their own hospitals in addition to the government hospitals. They're sick more often. I never thought of this. What is sickness here? You go to the hospital. To check for fever you put your hand to someone's throat. Maybe that works better than a forehead. You can detect breathing and obstructions and moisture. But it's more intimate than a palm to the forehead. 

(The Areca palms and coconuts make a black silhouette now against the sky. The kovil is the only music but there are a dozen species of birds. There are trucks to be heard on the bridge. It's been half an hour now. The instrumentals and pace of the kovil pick up. It's tunes I don't know. This wakeup music is the number one top thing I'll miss here when I go away in exactly three months). 

At 6 am it's light but there are no shadows. The kovil music keeps on. Soon sweepers will begin collecting the night's leaves from the sandy grounds. Did Thavaraja get home from Trinco last night? Maybe after we went to sleep? Did he want to go? He said no. Was it an important meeting? More about tourism to the East. He was president. He's secretary now so it's less work. But maybe it's still trouble. Or maybe not. Maybe he likes going. My friends the East, or parts of it anyway, are the last lovely place of this island. Where they are undeveloped or underdeveloped they are the last undeveloped or underdeveloped places. They are sad reminders of war and thanks to their being cut off for those decades they are more or less preserved in their plainness. Their attractive slim plainness. They will not be that way for long as more cars are added to the roads and people can afford to move less and buy more of the convenience foods we love as a species. This has to happen. 

Such a cool breeze sweeps up from the lagoon! A few days ago crossing the Kallady Bridge I saw a cloud bank just over the ocean. The ocean water is very warm but cooler than the hot hot land. Fishermen haven't been going out the past week or so. At least I haven't seen them in the regular places, just north of the bridge. Now this morning some are heading into the lagoon. One of them coughed. The kovil on this side of the village plays a different music than the other. They are not in harmony any more than the motors chirping across the bridge. The speed of those buses becomes remarkable and their horn blowing, when you're on them is an encouragement plain and simple. We will get you home! Soon maybe!

But where home is is another question. Will I be happy to leave here? No. Will I be happy to get back to work? No. Will I be happy to be home? Sure. But it's not like I'm missing home. Janet's more fed up and would like to count how many days she has to go to fulfill her "80%" of the Fulbright quota. Go I say if it will make you happy. 

We went to the Shanti Cinema a short walk away for yesterday's 2:30 movie. Last day of a zombie movie I saw a couple of weeks ago. The gate was part open and the guys were, what else? lying on the floor just inside the door. "No fillem today! No power! You only ones! Tomorrow new movie. Come better 6:30." The Tamil movies are utterly enjoyable. I think they're catalogued as "Bollywood" back home and I'll have to check that with the librarian. Their subtitles are flawless, their song lyrics are poetic, their love stories are uncomplicated, their settings are real, their conundrums thoughtworthy. These are professional movies that balance action and dialogue and color and bromance and romance. They are sparing in special effects and they celebrate the human. They are so different from our movies and so positively happy to watch. So the guys yesterday were positively happy to see us and we were positively happy to see them and then walk home in the dead heat of the hottest part of afternoon and just the walk was some entertainment and provided a real lift. Didn't need to buy anything or see anything or try anything. Here we were and here we are. 

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