House Hunters International

After our Sinhala lessons, while we went swimming, the students studied coursework with my father. They would be learning about Buddhism and Sri Lankan history and culture and decide on an independent project which they would research after we left Colombo and present by the end of their stay in Kandy.

While the students had a free weekend, my family took a quick trip to Kandy in the hopes of securing a place to stay when we moved there in a just a few weeks. Mom had placed an ad in the local paper and we were following up on the leads. The road to Kandy in the central mountainous region from seaside Colombo was always an adventure. Numerous hairpin turns and precipitous drops made the journey on the narrow roads unfit for the faint of heart.

Especially exciting were the times when large lorries struggling to ascend the hills and would impede our progress. Seemingly undeterred by the steep drop off to our right, the less than generous width of the road, or the blind turn around which we were hurtling, the driver would honk his horn and pass the truck with a sudden burst of speed. I wasn’t sure what good the tap of the horn would do if another car were already coming around the corner. Mom would look over the edge of the road with eyebrows raised, but didn’t indicate any nervousness to the driver. Dad also sat quietly, but I noticed he was holding tight to the passenger side handholds. Janelle perched smiling and oblivious to any danger on a small foothold gripping the headrests of the front seats. I was less concerned with careening over the edge than with losing the contents of my stomach to carsickness – it was a fight I would not win.

From the response to her advertisement, Mom had arranged for us to tour eight homes during our two day stay in Kandy. House hunting is not an enjoyable pastime for a ten-year old as I did not share my parent’s enthusiasm for discussing closet space and window coverings. However, during our stay we were guests at the home of an American couple and they had a laser disk player, a popcorn maker and somehow several episodes of The Greatest American Hero, so the daytime tedium was well worth it.

“We are up (1,500 feet) in Kandy looking for a house. We have a number of properties, some really beautiful. We are staying at the bungalow of an agricultural expert from America. Real luxury – coffee, ice cream, etc. Johanna is really enjoying herself and so are we. Tomorrow pancakes are promised. That will be nice.” –Lowell Sept 10, 1982

My parents fell in love with a home on Sri Pushpadana. There were questions about its practicality as twice a week a large truck called a bowser was needed to deliver water to the residents. This caused concern until the owner told us “You must be aware a main water line in Kandy ruptured just last week. Only several weeks and it will be repaired.” It turns out there was no water line to the home, so the owner’s statement, while truthful, was completely irrelevant. This fact we did not discover until after my parents settled on this home and negotiated the rental price of $300 a month.

Our Home in Kandy on Sri Pushpadana Mawatha

Final arrangements took another trip (and another sick bag) from Colombo to Kandy for contracts and signatures. We all sat at a bank near the lake in Kandy and waded through the bureaucracy of opening a checking account. I was given candies and soda while my sister was of course cooed over by all the employees.

“Opening our checking account only took an hour and about four people assisting us which we thought was quite an improvement over India.” – Judith September 18, 1982

After opening the account and receiving their checkbook which was more than three times the size of an American one, we delivered the deposit to the renters who suddenly insisted on cash. Taking it in stride my parents returned to the bank and I snagged another sweet while they made out their first giant check out to cash.

Had we been visiting Sri Lanka in 2016 instead of 1982, perhaps you could have watched us on House Hunters International. I can imagine my parents being instructed to walk along the lake in Kandy and cross one of the potential rental properties off the list and then high five excitedly as they agreed on which accommodation was best for their family.  But, this was last century and there were no cameras  following us – not yet anyway, but stay tuned. We did run into some pretty exciting film crews in Kandy later in our adventure. But, for now, after putting down the deposit we went back to Colombo – back to  our routine of Sinhala lessons, swimming at the Oberoi and enjoying our final weeks in the muggy coastal capital.


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Johanna is a theatre producer who currently lives with her family in New Hampshire.

2 thoughts on “House Hunters International”

  1. I have been following your “journeys” and enjoying it. I can’t believe the clarity of your memories. I don’t think I was ever 10!

    We have several friends who are teaching around the world, and bringing up children who have learned 2 or 3 new languages. One who went from Morocco, to Indonesia, to Bangladesh, the daughter finally said NO more new languages! They have been in Bangladesh for 3 years and decided that it was just too dangerous, so are safely back in Vt.

    Patte Sarausky’s daughter has taught in China, though she had to come home during her first pregnancy because she was so sick, to Germany, Scandinavia, Hawaii, and is now in Switzerland. Her husband is Swiss, so this is the most comfortable so far. Now that Patte’s 104 year old Dad died, she has plans to visit her “grands”.

    Our son went to a Swiss preschool when we lived near Zurich and he was 4, he could speak Swiss-german, but as an adult has very few memories, and no German.

    Love Septembers, our son is coming this weekend and we’re going to the Highland Games. He was born in Edinburgh, and when we came home and he was 6 months I made him a little kilt and the whole outfit. Someone on the plane commented that “she had been so good”! They had little cribs attached to the bulkheads then, which was great. David allowed as how he might need a bigger kilt now! Indeed.

    Sorry we can’t make the Bat Mitzpha, is Janney doing anything special – like writing a book? How can you top that?



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