For several weeks we settled into our routine in Kandy. The students began attending classes at Peradeniya University and got to know their host families. It was not uncommon in those early days in Kandy for my parent’s day to include a visit with one student or another who was having cultural, logistical or personal issues with their host family.
October 9, 1982
“I had thought that once we got to Kandy we would be somewhat free of the students since they would be staying with Sri Lankan families. However, it seems that our (Lowell’s) job is that much harder because now rather than residing at once place, they are scattered all over the hillside. So, if someone has a problem or needs medical attention, finding them, taxiing them around and returning them home is an all morning chore.”
I attended classes at the international school. My subjects included spelling, English, French, art, creative writing, phonics, grammar, social studies, world news and singing, each taught by a different teacher. On my most memorable day at the school, we were playing tag on the patio outside of our classroom. As I ran from a would-be tagger, I tripped. Skidding across the paved patio, I lost much of the skin off my right knuckles and despite multiple towels the teachers could not get it to stop bleeding and I was sent home. My hand still bears a scar today. I stayed home the next day and accompanied my family to Peradeniya University where the students were taking classes. While my father and the students went to lectures, my mother and sister and I strolled through the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The gardens are magnificent and I am excited to return there when our group visits Kandy in 2017. Traveling through the gardens was like promenading through Kingdoms from multiple worlds. There was a cabbage palm avenue where a long span of palms stood at ram rod straight attention and reached far above the surrounding trees as if a hand had pinched the palm at the top and stretch them long and thin. Walking between the rows made us feel like tiny tropical royals dwarfed by the surrounding trunks. In another section, well groomed British inspired topiaries and mazes in multiple shades of green were surrounded by bright purple and red blossoms which invoked the notion we were in a fairy kingdom. There were stands of bamboo that looked like they belonged in the Giant’s realm of Gulliver’s Travels with stalks so thick you couldn’t reach your arms around them. My favorites were the giant fig trees. Gnarled branches grew out from a twisted center and formed a contorted umbrella under which Janelle napped in her stroller. Longer branches then dipped back down to the ground creating inviting benches for visitors. The roots spread like tentacles on the surface of the soil and I attempted to follow them like balance beams. Mom and I wondered how old the giant tree was. “Viase Kiyede? (How old?)” I asked a nearby gardener pointing to the tree. Smiling he began a long dialogue of which I only understood a portion. “Oh you, speak Sinhala. Blah Blah Blah. Tourist?” “I am not a tourist,” I replied. “I live in Kandy.” “Tourist namae. Kandy innewa.” The conversation was a bit one sided. I wasn’t shy about attempting to speak Sinhala, but my vocabulary was still limited and even phrases I understood were difficult to respond to. I thanked the gardener. “So, how old is it?” asked Mom. “I couldn’t really understand.” It was then that I decided I really needed to dive into learning Sinhala.
My parents quickly hired a Sinhalese tutor who came to our guest house to help us all. She was a lovely woman who made learning the language fun. Bringing baskets of fruit for us to identify and colorful cartoons for me to describe, we would chat as I drank my now daily cup of milk tea. My young brain soaked up her lessons quickly and I was frequently waiting for my parents to catch up with vocabulary and pronunciation.
Our tutor said the best way to learn the language was just to be dropped into a situation where I would be forced to speak it. So, I asked Mom and Dad if I could attend a local school. It irked me very much that I could not take Sinhala at the International School. Looking back on it, many of the students there probably moved from country to country so often that it made sense to keep with a language like French or German. But, I felt at the time it was an insult to the local population to be living in their country and not make an attempt to speak the language. My parents promised that they would look into the possibility, but it would need to wait a while. The other renters had vacated our home in Kandy and the house was ready to move in.
Saturday, October 9, 1982
“Tuesday we plan to move into the house. The lady who is there now is a real character! She has tried to sell me everything from half burnt candles to clothes pins to some free plastic glasses from an airline. Everything has a price. She has grated me so, I would rather buy it in the market at twice the cost that she’s selling it.”
Tuesday afternoon our driver picked me up from school and brought me to the home I would live in for the next year.
Sri Pushpadana Mawatha (street) was a winding road that lead from the center of Kandy up onto a hill. As we drove around a corner, a white house peeked over the tops of bushes that covered a fence which ended in a gated driveway. The short driveway sloped up towards a car port. The two story stucco home had a front yard surrounded by flowers and blooming bushes. Balconies with green wooden railings ringed the second floor. Our family almost exclusively used the side entrance which led into a fairly dark hallway that ended in the kitchen. One door off the right of the hallway opened to a small room designed to be the cook’s living quarters. An opening to the left led to the dining area which was open to the living room. To the left of the dining room was a small sitting room that had been converted to a work area for folding and ironing laundry. Off that room, a locked door led to a room used as a specialty pantry. That room was used for goodies like large bags of M & M’s, peanut butter, chocolate chips and Hershey bars. These were items not readily available in Sri Lanka, but my parents could purchase them at the commissary at the United States Embassy. Also kept in the storage room were little gifts my parents bought for children which they would carry when we went on trips from Kandy. A shelf filled with little wind up toys, colorful pencils and activity books, and small toys made this room very tempting for a ten year old. Before Christmas and birthdays this room was off limits to me all together. At other times my mother carried the only key and would dole out the specialty items on a schedule.
Windows on the right side of the living/dining room were covered in the iron grates my sister saw as her personal jungle gyms and looked out over the back garden. The city of Kandy was below and off to the left. A door led out onto a small stone patio. Another room off of the living room was used as an office or an occasional guest room. There was a small bathroom under the stairs which we accessed down a short hall. That was also where the front door was. At the top of the stairs another living area had windows that were high enough to see over the trees and allowed us to see the city below. To the left was another guest room as well as a door to the front balcony. Down the hall were two bedrooms, each with an attached bathroom. My parents had the room on the left which had access to a back balcony. My room on the right overlooked the front balcony. The home was spacious and clean and quickly I felt like I had lived there forever.