One of the most important things we gain as we grow older is a sense of perspective. I lived in Sri Lanka with my family and did not really appreciate at the time how unique my reality was. I witnessed dozens of women shaving their heads as they were initiated as Buddhist nuns. I watched an artist pour molten brass into intricate molds at his home. I saw wild elephants playing near the sea and giant fruit bats flying at dusk. I enjoyed all of these experiences, but it was not until I looked back at them as an adult that I appreciated how lucky I was to have so many unique natural and cultural adventures. All of the things that transpire in your childhood help shape you and your worldview as an adult, but one of my experiences in Sri Lanka helped me convince my future husband that I was someone he should get to know.
My school was on Spring recess and I had a month of free time. With two energetic kids at home, I am sure Mom was eager to plan some activities that would help us expend energy, and so she got us a pool membership at a local hotel. The Hotel Suisse is one of those old colonial structures that makes one think that at any moment a British solider with a pith helmet is going to walk through the door to join his wife for high tea in the garden. Built in the early 1800s, over the years the building has been used as a private residence, government building and hotel. But our family was not interested in any of the 90 well-appointed rooms, we just wanted to cool off in the hotel pool.
When we arrived it was late morning, but it was already hot and I jumped right into the water while mom sat poolside with my sister. There were not that many people in the pool, but the deck was hopping with activity; Many of the people looked somehow out of place. Rather than relaxed vacationers, they all scurried by the water’s edge to a small garden area in the corner. I wondered if the folks building the dam were having a conference because these people simply looked busy in what was usually a very laid back resort. One of them carried several folding chairs and set them up in the corner near the lair of the resident peacock who seemed annoyed by the intrusion and haughtily made his way to the other side of the garden. Then, a slender bearded man exited the hotel and looked around. The people with the chairs motioned him over. As he passed by I noticed his baseball cap read E.T. I had seen E.T. in the movie theatre just before we had left to come to Sri Lanka. Then, I had watched it at the home of one of my neighbors in Kandy. This neighbor’s family was from Japan. They had all of the latest electronic gadgets including a LaserDisc player and somehow a copy of the recently released movie. I went back to playing in the pool and met a young blond girl several years younger than I named Jessica. We chatted and raced back and forth showing off some of our pool skills – somersaults, handstands, underwater swimming, and we counted as the other held their breath to see how long we could stay under. When I came up from what I hoped would be a record-breaking time I was startled by a large man standing near the edge of the pool.
He was most certainly not ready to swim. He was wearing a long heavy maroon tunic. The black turban wrapped around his head easily doubled its size. A striking red streak in his headgear ended just above his right eyebrow which was barely visible and the black scarf continued around his neck. Both eyes were blacked around the edges creating dark voids in his face. I quickly looked away trying not to stare and wondered what country he was visiting from. A woman with a clipboard came up behind him and he followed her towards the man in the E.T. hat taking one long stride for two of hers.
“He is not from around here,” I said to Jessica.
“He could be,” she replied. “He is probably an extra.”
I really did not have any idea what she was talking about, but I asked if she knew the man in the baseball cap who was talking to the scary turbaned man.
Jessica told me that the E.T. capped man was the director of a movie and that her mother was one of the actors. I wasn’t big into Hollywood, but something clicked and I realized that the man in the cap was the director of E.T. who now seemed vaguely familiar to me.
When recounting the story – this is the point where people say, “Oh my God! That was Steven Spielberg! Did you flip out?” No, I did not flip out. I was 11 and the man in the cap was a grown up in the corner of the garden working and annoying the peacock. I went back to playing in the pool with Jessica relieved that the man with the creepy eyes was wearing a costume and not a strange hotel guest.
Jessica was not alone at the pool. With her was a talkative outgoing woman with crazy curly strawberry hair who I immediately adored. Her name was Jamie and she was a friend of Jessica’s mom, Kate. We took a break from swimming and Jamie told us that Jessica was going to be traveling with her mom while they made the movie that was going to be a sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. She said she had just finished helping with the casting of a movie version of Annie and when her friend needed help with Jessica she agreed to come along. I had many questions about the movie version of Annie – now that is something that does make an 11 year old interested in musical theatre flip out. “It might sound fun,” she said, “but you didn’t have to listen to thousands of girls sing…The sun’ll come out tomorrow…” She mimicked the girls and showed me the hand gestures they were all taught by their moms. “Gag me.” She said pointing to the back of her throat.
Mom came over with my sister and I introduced her to my new friends. My mom had seen the first Indiana Jones movie and knew who Steven Spielberg was, so I guessed that he was pretty famous. Jamie told us all that they would be filming in the area for several weeks and that she and Jessica could really use some company because she didn’t think there would be anything for her them to do in the area.
She asked if maybe I would join them on some of the film shoots so Jessica wouldn’t be so bored. I agreed and also offered to take them around Kandy as I thought there would be a lot of things they would be interested in. We told her about the Kandy Market, the Temple of the Tooth, my school, etc. Jamie seemed very interested in gems and she and my mom began talking about topaz and rubies.
Before we left Jessica wanted to introduce me to her mom who was working upstairs in their room. Mom agreed and we followed them upstairs. There were a few people bustling around the room. Kate Capshaw greeted her daughter with a huge hug and kiss and welcomed us into her room which was the largest hotel room I had seen in Sri Lanka. I commented on the size and she said “You should see the one where they are keeping Mr. and Mrs. Longfellow.” Our puzzled looks were enough for her to tell the other ladies that she would be right back. We followed her downstairs where there were a series of retail shops – gems, Sri Lankan crafts and clothes, etc. One shop was empty and there was a sheet that obscured most of the display window. But peering below, you could see two giant pythons pressed up against the glass in one section. They were impressive snakes. Kate shuddered and turned around. “I have to have a scene with those things,” she said. “I am not looking forward to it.
The next day we met back at this pool. There were no longer costumed cast members bothering the peacock and he was strutting around demanding attention – occasionally he would emit a sound that seemed like the cross between a kazoo and a large cat or shake open his feathers into a colorful fan. Jessica and I had lunch at the poolside bar. A man walked up to us. He seemed to know Jessica. “Man, it is hot,” he said as he sat on the stool next to us. “Not if you swim,” said Jessica. He asked me what was good to eat and I told him that I was partial to their egg salad and crispy French fries, but I warned him as I always did any foreigner that the ketchup wouldn’t taste the same as at home. “Egg salad sounds good. How do you know so much?” he asked. “I live here,” I said. “At the Swiss Hotel?” he inquired. I giggled and explained why we were living in Kandy for the year. Jessica said, “He is in the movie with my mom.” At this point a waiter came over and stood quietly clearly wondering if the man wanted to order something. The big man looked at me and made a face as if to say “How do I do this?” I ordered him an egg salad and Jessica and I chatted with him as he waited. He had a lot of questions about the weather and the country. I explained to him about monsoons and my dad’s studies of Buddhist nuns and my school. When his sandwich arrived he offered me half, but I had already eaten. Plus, I noticed he was a big man and I was sure he could eat the entire thing – which he did in several bites. He signed the check and then shook my hand. “I’m Harrison Ford. It was nice to meet you. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Not only did he see me around, but he may have saved my life. You’ll need to tune in again if you want to hear that story.