Our new families

I was stung a bit by Nikky’s comment on my “Just because you are paranoid…” post. She wrote that I was being very negative about my experiences in Sri Lanka, when actually I feel very positive about my experiences in Sri Lanka. So this posting is one I had been thinking about for awhile but did not quite feel ready to write. It is about one aspect of Sri Lankan culture  that I find wonderful, an aspect whose weight on the positive-negative balance scale overwhelms the negative experiences we have had here.

I have written before about how warmly we have been welcomed here. However, “warmly welcomed” is not an adequate description of what we have experienced. More accurately, if not literally, we feel like we have been adopted into several families.

The Physics Department has adopted us. Last night they took us out to a local banquet hall for a big “family” dinner. The men got together on my left at one end of a long table and I was initiated into the drinking of arrack, a local liquor. The men discussed physics and politics, mostly. Kris, and the women and two children clustered to my right, where, Kris reported afterward, they had a great “hen party” that included some hilarious stories about the trials of  breast feeding while working. The atmosphere was just like some Thanksgiving dinners I have had with family at home and we left with a very warm feeling that could not be completely explained by the arrack.

In keeping with my policy of protecting the anonymity of the people I write about, I will refer to a retiree of our acquaintance as PP. It appears that we have been adopted by PP and his family. In Sri Lanka, it is perfectly normal and acceptable to drop by a friend’s house without calling ahead. I can almost hear the startled reactions of my American readers. In the US, friends rarely stop in without calling. But family members may be more likely to do so and that is what it feels like. And PP seems to have adopted us.

Two Sundays ago, PP stopped by in the late morning. He was “in the neighborhood.” We had a nice chat about how we were settling in. The topic turned to the subject of tea vs. coffee and Kris said that we were hoping to learn more about the various kinds of tea, given that we were living in a country that is internationally recognized as growing the world’s finest tea. PP asked if we wanted to visit a tea factory, as in right now. Sure. So, off we went in PP’s car for a half  hour drive to a local tea factory and tea plantation. We had been to a different tea factory before, but this factory was set in a local plantation so we could see the tea plants up close. PP treated us to cakes with our tea and then drove us out a country road to get a better look at the tea plants. He pulled off to the side of the road and we got out. He showed us how to tell which leaves were ready for picking and which were too old for use, but were picked and discarded to help keep the tea bush a manageble size. He showed us the prized silvertips that are supposed to make the very best tea. We tasted the tea leaves and wondered who had first decided to dry and steep such an unpromising leaf.

The place he had chosen to stop was on a saddle on a ridgeline. It is kite season in Sri Lanka and eight or so boys were flying kites. It was the perfect spot as the winds were strong coming over the ridge. It was sunny and hot,, but the breeze kept us cool. The boys ranged from eight to twelve years old, I would say. PP called some of them over to show us their handmade kites. So far as we know, PP did not know any of the boys, but they complied with his request and treated PP with respect. It was a wonderful outing and one that would have been very costly to do on our own since we do not drive here. The next Sunday, PP dropped by again, but that day deserves its own posting. All in all, PP acts towards us like a genial uncle, a part of his family.

When we first arrived in the Kandy area, we stayed at the Hotel Sandakelum, or, rather, right next door to the Hotel Sandakelum, and took most of our meals in the hotel’s restaurant. The manager kind of adopted us as well. Learning that we would be staying for some time in Kandy, he took it upon himself to introduce us to Sri Lankan cuisine. We never had the same dinner  twice and never ordered off the menu. Most of the meals were in the form of “rice and curry,” but with different kinds of curry. So we had chicken curry, mutton curry as well as curry made from jackfruit, breadfruit, and plantains. We had hoppers, strong hoppers, and roti. When Kris indicated that she preferred a little less pepper in her curry, they provided two versions of every curry, one for her, and (the real) one for me. It was delightful.

Our landlady (whom I will call GR)  also adopted us. In fact she lived with us for a couple of weeks after we moved in, moving to a different bedroom to accommodate our preferences.  She, too, took it upon herself to introduce us to Sri Lankan cuisine with the help of her (now our) maid. For the two weeks GR was in the house, they served us all of the meals we took at home. GR made a point of introducing us to all of our neighbors (save the one across the creek). She took Kris to meet her dressmaker and Kris is having the dressmaker sew the necessary garments for Kris to be able to wear a genuine sari (spurning the pseudo-saris sold to tourists in Kandy Town that can be worn like western clothes). We even were introduced to the justice of the peace of Dongolla, our neighborhood in Kandy. The justice of the peace acts kind of like the “mayor” of the neighborhood. He is very respected in the community, having served a very long time as the local postmaster until his retirement. GR herself is very respected in the neighborhood, being a long standing, active  member of the local Buddhist temple. She really set us up to be happy in her house. She treated us like family. Family that she had only recently met.

This willingness of Sri Lankans to adopt new people into their extended family structures, especially so quickly after meeting, is a most wonderful trait. Would that we could spread this trait worldwide.




  1. Charles Santiapillai said,

    December 10, 2008 at 10:51 am


    Sri Lanka is a wonderful country, if only it has no people. In the first year of your stay, you may feel that you have such a grasp of the people and their ways that you can write a book. In the second year, doubts arise, and you are not so sure. If you survive for three years, you will never write a book. It is a complex island and understanding our people is like peeling an onion: you begin to cry. We are charming and reasonably treacherous; no wonder that famous Bishop from England referred to Ceylon as a land where “every prospect pleases, only man is wile” (women too). If you just consider our current “civil” war (a sort of an oxymoron for an uncivil conduct), it is a bit like two bald-headed men fighting for a piece of comb.

    Cheers. Charles

  2. January 3, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    […] 3, 2009 at 12:24 pm (Uncategorized) Back near the beginning of December, 2008, I wrote about being “adopted” by several families here in Sri Lanka. In particular, I wanted to continue the story of our retiree acquaintance, PP, […]

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