After a really Ale-ee last few days in the UK, I got on the plane with a fairly dodgy tummy. That was before I had curry for dinner, breakfast, lunch and dinner! No matter, I had the company of Roy. A Sri Lankan academic living in the UK. I had been warned how friendly the Singalese were, but as we parted ways at Colombo International Airport my note pad filled with Singalese phrases I hoped to see him again. That holiday feeling of walking out the AC for the first time hit me hard. Perspiration dripping off me, I walked over and shuck my employers hand for the first time. Who said first impressions were everything?
Back in an air conditioned vehicle, Louis filled me in on the latest update. The Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) had just notified the client that the Looper mock-up that’s being constructed on site, actually isn’t on site! The client owns a 7 acre section, running up from the beach. However it turns out a crown land wildlife corridor runs along the front of the beach. Who knew? Not the SLTDA when they originally came and marked out the boundaries of our beach resort. Obviously Louis was a little frustrated, but for now there was nothing I could do. Looking out the window approaching the capital city, the stark contrast in skyline from London to Colombo was surprising. Pretty much there is only one dominating building, the Lotus Tower. Still in construction it is set to be the tallest building in South Asia, 350m high. With no windows, as Louis pointed out. It’s going to be used as a radio and television transmitter. Funded by the Chinese… What else does it include?
For the first few months before the project gets underway, I’m living with Louis’ family in Colombo. His two children, Cassandra (5yrs), Egor (11ys) and Catty, his Creole wife, from a small Indian Ocean Island called Reunion. Everyone is fluent in both French and English, so the conversation shifts regularly. My D in French GCSE offering very little assistance when communicating with a 5 year old!
The family have recently moved upto Colombo from Galle so the kids can attend a French school in the city. The house they’re renting however is proving to be an electrical nightmare. A week before I arrived the house turned into the Adams family home, with lights and electricals flashing on and off, until they all finally went pop. So now the AC, fridge/freezer, washing machine and numerous charges don’t work. Never mind, I guess acclimatizing won’t wait.
Day 1 on the job, involved getting suited and booted (smart dress is paramount in Sri Lankan business I know now). Fortunately after much deliberation I had packed a pair of black chinos, just in case I might go somewhere cold, I thought… We were off going to inspect the fitted furniture being constructed for the interior of the Looper tents. A 2 hour drive, following a man on a bike who I think felt just as lost as me, resulted in a gravel road leading upto a shed with a tin roof. Avoiding the scabby stray dogs we were greeted by the workers.
With no shirts, socks or shoes, but a smile plastered across their faces made me settle into this strange yet normal Sri Lankan office. I had a good look around, drinking my first coconut water which the guys had prepared for me. It was such a contrast from anything I’ve seen before. But I recon a large amount of the furnishings we have in our homes are manufactured in a very similar way to what I was observing. Old school hand tools and a dirt floor. I asked if I could take photos in my clearest, slowest English. A typical Sri Lankan head wobble and a cheesy grin led me to believe it was OK.
The first time I went lonesome was to get my driving license. Louis warned me that it could be a complicated business but I thought I better use some initiative and prove my independence. A very round about tuk tuk ride and I rocked up at the test centre. I was led to believe that I a medical certificate was necessary in order to process the license. Half an hour passed of me walking round the medical building being passed from one queue to another until I met a brother and sister from Dubai who were also after a license. They were joined by their Sri Lankan Auntie and cousin. Without her knowledge, gained from her son failing numerous times I would of been there all day.
After a further 45 minutes of watching animal planet (in english) and being totally stared at by a thousand people for being the token white guy I was ushered into a room with 9 others. The “Doctor” made us all roll up our pants to reveal our feet. To my amazement, I was the only one wearing shorts! It was 32 degrees and very humid. What is going on? The doc then walked round checking feet, counting everyone’s toes. This followed with a series of exercises, from squatting on our tip toes, to holding our arms out straight and pretending to drive a car. We had an eye test and a nurse took our blood. I purposely had packed sterylised needles as I was told by Nurse Lindsay in the UK that it was safe option. Obviously I hadn’t expected to need them whilst getting my driving test so I put on a brave face and hopefully avoided the AIDs!
A couple more hours went. Going from one person to another to get a stamp, to then go back to the first person to sign that stamp to verify that the stamp had indeed been stamped. What an arse around! As I was finally paying the 1000LKR (5 quid) for my license, the lady behind the cashiers desk notified me that I didn’t need the medical certificate… Cheeeeers!