Last week I went to an auction, always an interesting experience when you cant speak the language. The Holiday Inn here has been re branded as the Ramada and is under going refurbishment along with the rest of the country. They have to keep up with their new neighbours. Just down the road they are building a brand new Hyatt and in the prime location directly opposite Galle Face Green, which was occupied by the Army Headquarters, they are building a Shangri la Hotel.
|Study courtesy Hotel Ramada|
|My bargain chairs|
The auction was an experience, you paid your 500 rupees ($3.50) to be allowed in and we went from room to room on the eighth floor, at one stage there would have been 200 people crammed into a single Hotel room. Everything was for sale, right down to the taps, toilets and light fittings, if you bought these you had to disconnect them yourself, Lara thought it was so funny when people started bidding on the carpet.
|My favourite purchase- no home should be|
without their own mini bar
I've dealt with this language problem for the nearly 30 years. When we go out with Sri Lankans they speak English so I can understand what's going on, problem is when they get a bit excited or when the alcohol has been flowing, they tend to switch between languages....we call it Singlish. I have a whole repertoire of jokes I've heard over the years, but with no punch lines. I'm listening, listening, the tension is building, the joke is in English, it switches to Sinhala, that's ok he's just switched back I'm still in, he's getting excited now, were all sitting on the edge of our chairs, the punch line is coming.....SWITCH....... a- a- a- and of course he brings it home in Sinhala, every one screams with laughter.........Me......I just look at David.
So back to the auction...There were fours floors up for bids, we left after one, the crowd was too much for us, but my random hand waving paid off and for less than $500 we walked out of the Ramada with three desks, 4 chairs, two coffee tables, 2 lamps and a cabinet with a mini bar fridge, that I only realised I'd purchased when the auctioneer slammed his gavel down with theatrical gusto and said, Sold to the lady in front. Now he talks in English !! ....A Mini bar......We laughed all the way home.
The mini bar has now taken pride of place upstairs, because all 13 year old boys would rather die of thirst than have to walk down the stairs to get a drink. The funny thing is David and I met nearly 30 years ago at Rockman's Regency Hotel in Exhibition Street, I was a breakfast waitress and he was in room service, one of his jobs was to re stock the mini bar, so it's only fitting at the end of our Hotel career our house is looking like an old Hotel, we have come a full circle.... so once again it will now be his job to re stock the mini bar.
My latest observation here is to admire the grace and elegance of Sri Lankan Women, you see them, so petite, with long slender arms and delicate hands, draped in their Sari's. I love to watch them, they literally glide around a room, it used to annoy me at how slow they walked, when I
walk ,the kids have to do a little trot to keep up with me, but now I see the beauty in it. When I was working at the pub I was like a pinball machine banging into one table, bouncing off it and going to the next, I constantly had bruises at hip height from the corners of the tables, I was like a tornado wooshing around, I had one gear ...flatout, even when I talk it's at a hundred miles an hour, David was constantly telling me to slow down and take a breath. I'm just wired that way. Since I've been here I have had to make a conscious effort to slow down or they cant understand a word I say, so for two months I've sat and read and gone to the beach with the kids, the most I've done in the house is make the beds, there are people to do everything else. A luxury we could never afford at home
However you can only sit around for so long before you start going mad, especially me. I'm an all or nothing kind of girl...and for the past two months I've done nothing.
So when I got a call from a friend asking if I was interested in doing some volunteer work, I couldn't say no. He was coming to Colombo to open the final stage of their transit house, at the Maharagama Cancer Hospital. CCC House was built with funds raised in Australia and Sri Lanka, it is a 188 bed transit home for patients undergoing Chemotherapy or Radiation treatment for cancer. Similar to Ronald McDonald House in Melbourne. These people only require day treatment, but because so many of them are from poor families, and they live in the out stations, up to a 14 hour round trip, they can't return home for weeks, so inevitably they live in the hospital corridors, sleeping on the floor, with Doctors stepping over them in the mornings to do their rounds.
CCC House is a wonderful, modern facility provided free of charge to these patients, a mother can stay here with her sick child in a private room for the duration of the treatment. Then there are separate women's and men's wards for the adults. It gives these people a little dignity while they are fighting for their lives.
|Children's Play Area|
I turned up at CCC House armed with a bucket, cleaning cloths and steel wool. I went straight to the women's ward, walked into the bathroom, got on my hands and knees and started scrubbing, when I looked up I had a dozen ladies staring at me. Some with the palm of their hands against their foreheads, they were mortified. I could see on their faces, they were thinking,why the hell is the white lady on the floor scrubbing the toilets. Like it or not there is a real class system here and you just don't see white woman doing that sort of work.
I looked up, smiled and said Hari Rasni which means very hot, pulled down my shirt because my butt was showing, wiggled it and they shrieked with laughter. They then proceeded to watch me for the next 45 minutes.
|Female Cancer Patients at CCC House|
While I scrubbed I talked to the one patient who spoke English, she in turn translated everything to the others. There were lots of Oohs and Ahhs when they realised I lived in Sri Lanka and was married to a Sri Lankan, lots of nods and smiles when I told them about my four children. They were the most beautiful simple woman, I was going home in a few hours to my nice home and my healthy kids and leaving them to battle their disease alone, they had no one with them, they would only see their family once a week when they travelled for hours on a rickeckety old bus with no air conditioning, that would have definitely been deemed un-roadworthy in Australia and retired to the scrap heap years ago. Some would have no visitors at all.
I looked at them in their worn out clothes and bare feet,some with nothing but a small amount of fuzz on their heads. For many this was their first time to Colombo, but they were all laughing and smiling, I was glad at least that I was some sort of entertainment. How cruel life can be, as if these women hadn't already endured enough hardship in their lives, then they get cancer thrown at them...sometimes life just sucks.
David and I worked at Knox Tavern for 26 years, up until the day I left, I still scraped plates and polished cutlery. David would get to work every morning at 6.30am and fill up the ice bins, stock the fridges and serve behind the bar. So for nearly an hour I scrubbed that bathroom till the sweat was pouring from me like a tap, I was soaked from head to foot. My point was, a job is a job, and no job is beneath you, doesn't matter where you are in the pecking order.
So at the end of the day, I lined up the staff and showed what a clean bathroom should look like, everything was done with hand gestures and translators, the women in the ward clapped and the cleaners smiled.
I will go again in a few days and do it all again, this time in the men's ward,that should raise a few eyebrows. Things take time to change here, no one is in a rush, why should they, for these people life is hard they don't want extra time to cram more misery in their day.....so for once in my life I am moving slowly and thanking God I was born in the Lucky Country.