|Lara , so upset at having to leave our dog
10th January 2013
Today we start a new life, a different life. After 26 years of working nights, weekends, Public Holidays and every Christmas we have sold our Pub and taking our two youngest children to live in Sri Lanka for 12 months. Our eldest daughter is spending this year in England studying at university in Leeds and our second daughter has finished school and is taking a gap year before she decides which direction she will take.....so it seems with all the ducks lined up in a row, now is the perfect time.
My Sri Lankan born husband has been in Australia for nearly 30 years, over that time we have holidayed with our 4 children in Sri Lanka so many times I can no longer count, there was a time during the height of the civil war where we stayed away for a few years, the uncertainty of random terrorists attacks in Colombo was too much of a risk , but the war has been over for three years now and Sri Lanka has come alive again, the economy is booming, there are new high rise apartments and five star hotels going up all over Colombo, roads are being re made, side walks are being re paved, hospitals are being built and finally there is no sight of the piles of rotting garbage that we always saw in the streets in years gone by.
There is a buzz about the place, you can just tell they are trying to make up for all those lost decades where money was being poured into the war effort now its making its way into infrastructure and a better way of life for the people. The obvious question then is why Australia is still having Sri Lankan citizens arriving weekly on it's shores by boat if everything is going so well, and I equate it back to the 70's when it was the Vietnamese risking their lives to come Down Under. After a country has been at war for years people have absolutely nothing..when that war finishes there is a boom period but it still takes time for the money to trickle down to the little people. It's during this period were they take the risk to make a better life for their families now, rather than later. There's no boat people from Vietnam any more hasn't been for years its turned from a battle zone into a thriving tourist destination and the same will happen with Sri Lanka, in 5 years it will be another Malaysia, they're a little too haphazard to become a Singapore but they will come close.
Our 11 year old daughter Lara was excited to arrive in Colombo she was treating it as a big holiday, however our son Romesh who is 13 cried for the first 3 days after we arrived. It broke my heart to see what we were doing to him and I was actually considering whether we should forget the whole idea and just go home.
Now here is where I drop a few names, not to make us sound important, but just to put in context how difficult the whole transition would have been if we did not know some people who only had to snap their fingers and the proverbial bureaucratic red tape would just disappear.
In our years running the Knox Tavern we hosted the Sri Lankan Cricket team at the hotel every time they came to Australia, My husband David loved his cricket and he was a serial fundraiser, put the two together and it was a match made in Heaven. We had a lot of great nights and raised a lot of money for charity, especially after the Tsunami. A lot of the boys became personal friends. none more so than some of the 96 world cup team, we still have a connection with the current crop but alas we are getting older and they are getting younger.
We were staying at Aravinda De Silva's spare apartment for the first few weeks until we could organise furniture for the house we had rented. Now Aravinda is considered a God here, Sri Lankans love their cricket and Aravinda was one of the best. He picked us up from the airport, David, Me , a subdued Romesh, Lara, and our life, compacted into 6 suitcases and a carry on bag. It was like Moses parting the Red Sea, as soon as people saw who it was they moved aside and gave room for us and the bags to be loaded into the two cars that were waiting, Aravinda in charge of one and his Driver in the other. Sri Lanka has a system called "organised chaos" no one knows how to line up and wait their turn, it's always hot and humid and throngs of people trying to get two cars in where only one can fit, so tick number one for our airport exit going so smoothly.
We arrived Thursday night and Friday morning we turned up at Elizabeth Moir International School in one of the nifty three wheelers that terrorise the streets in Colombo. If you don't have a car it's the quickest form of public transport,you can go anywhere, even up on the footpath to avoid the constant traffic jams for less than one Australian Dollar, although the minute they see it's a foreigner the price usually doubles. I know a few choice words in Singhala, just to let them know I know what's going on, they then smile , wobble their head and we go about our transaction, with me usually giving them the extra money for their entrepreneurial skills.
We needed to purchase the kids uniforms, so they could start first thing Monday morning. The International Schools here runs on the European Summer schedule, the year starts in August and finishes in June so the kids had already missed the first term, plus the first week of second term. Back in Australia their friends were still enjoying another 3 weeks of Christmas holidays so they saw this as a form of child abuse that they had to start school immediately as luck would have it Monday was a public holiday. With Buddhists Hindus, Muslims and Catholics all making up the different Religions here, turns out for the rest of January every week had a long weekend in it with several in February as well. Made me think of the movie Life of Pi, if they had another couple of Religions we all could have been on permanent holiday.....By the way, 2 school uniforms plus sports uniforms came to the grand sum of $45. The children went to Haileybury in Australia, I would be constantly yelling at them when another item of clothing was lost, their P.E. shirts alone would start at $70 each .....although as you would expect this saving didn't brighten their day.
We had looked at several schools for the kids the previous September when we were in Sri Lanka for the 20/20 World Cup, they had begrudgingly come along and of course as far as they were concerned nothing compared to the facilities they had at home. Thing is they were right, they had been fortunate enough to go to private school in Australia. When our eldest completed her final year at Haileybury we breathed a sigh of releif, one down three to go, however as each year passed and the schools fees rose we were finding it increasingly difficult to justify the cost, it had became just as expensive to send three children as it was four.
We were looking forward to the relief of exorbitant school fees while we were here,a private education in Colombo is around $3000 per year as opposed to $22,000 at home. The children had to sit an entrance exam when they started and after 7 years of private schooling in Australia Romesh struggled with the the test here....at least we know their education system is up to standard. Haileybury had beautiful grounds,modern buildings, air conditioned classrooms ,unlimited playing fields lovely teachers but it all came at a cost, now they were looking at schools that were a little tired, had only fans , due to the expense of land none of the International schools had ovals, kids are bussed to the local sports grounds and teachers were there to teach and this should be done in a serious fashion, education is seen as the only way of getting ahead and surviving in Sri Lanka, you cant leave school here and go on the dole until you reach old age, and then go on the pension until you die, receiving government handouts along the way, here if you don't get a good job to support yourself you end up hungry on the streets.
|Lara being welcomed at Assembly,
sitting on a mat works just fine.
We looked at the British International School which had over 1000 students , dismissed a few others untill I went to Elizabeth Moir, it's run by an aging British lady who has worked her way through the other international schools in Colombo until 20 years ago when she opened her own. The junior school is housed in an old colonial building harking back to the time the British ruled what was then Ceylon, the senior school is in the adjacent street again in an old Mansion but with additional classrooms
built in the grounds, thus taking up most of the playing area but the kids still have room to kick the soccer ball under the century old trees and of course the cricket ball gets a belting on the half basketball court. As soon a I walked through the gates I knew this was the one, it had a beautiful feel, very homey and Elizabeth Moir reminded me of a lovely old Nanna, Romesh thinks she's weird, but then he thinks anyone over 40 who doesn't know Earthworm is the greatest DJ of all times is weird.
The two campuses have a total of 250 children which I felt was important, this was a big move and I worried if they were going to struggle with the transition, they might fall through the cracks and get lost in a big school...so with us set up in our temporary apartment , shiny new clothes, a school picked out and a stamp in our passports (courtesy of one of those phone calls again) that says RESIDENT OF SRI LANKA we are officially locals.......Yay!!
.......... I think.