poitu varam

THE CHRONICLES OF A FLEDGLING MISSIONARY CALLED JOLLYBEGGAR "i still gaze fondly at all of the pictures, drink ginger beer, bunch my food, listen to punjabi dj tunes, play my dholki, wear my sarong (around the house only because in canada it is still really uncommon for a man to wear a wraparound skirt in public) and speak way too much of the differences between east and west..."

Friday, August 12, 2005

transcontinental time funk

august 12: day 3: friday
at about 7:00 a.m. we touched down in colombo. the day was overcast and so i threw on the light windbreaker that i had in my carryon. the first thing we saw upon stepping out of the pressurized, air-conditioned plane into the dizzying humidity and surprising heat was a soldier holding a big gun. now, eventually we would grow accustomed to these guys (i would even holler out 'good morning' to them on my morning runs through negombo) but initially it was a bit real.

moving through the customs lines at the airport, we all produced our passports obediently (having all seen the guys with the guns) and were granted entrance without a hassle. ben, being sri lankan, was immediately called aside and treated differently. he took it all in stride- it was the first of many experiences along the trip that would cause me to marvel at the quality and character of this man. this was his element... i didn't know what ben was like in canada, but i was pretty impressed at how he seemed to be all things to all men here in sri lanka. over the course of our ten-day stay, he would act as tour guide, waiter, pastor, interpreter, teacher, advocate, missionary, counsellor and exorcist. i don't think he took many pictures, and i know he never drove one of the vans, but that was about it- he did everything else. ben was a blessing from start to finish. i grew to love and respect him dearly. (below, close left)

dan (close right- remember him from the shania shot?) suggested that we do any moneychanging right at the airport because we'd get as good a deal there as anywhere else and it was convenient to boot. he also advised us not to talk to strangers (although in not so many words) or allow anyone to help us with our bags because they would then expect money for the service rendered. sure, whatever.

as i approached one young money changer, he said "aah- pink floyd... another brick in the wall!" apparently this was the right shirt to wear if you wanted to strike a familiar chord with people all over the world.

anyway, after loading all of our stuff into this little van and then squashing ourselves in at the end, the ride from the airport in colombo to the hotel in negombo was our first experience with sri lankan drivers. many comments and shrieks were made...


after taking a shower, the only way to stay awake was to keep moving, so i went out to the beach. as i sat (so much for keeping moving) facing north with the salty wind in my face and the equatorial sun on my back, i wondered if mrs jollybeggar was asleep yet. it was, after all, 11:00 and there was a perfect 12-hour time difference... rather convenient for deciding when to phone home and all that.

i spoke quite at length with an incredibly cool surf instructor named chris. he had shop set up in a handmade bamboo and grass hut ... he claimed his first hut was far superior, but that it had been washed away by the afterwaves of the tsunami in december. even though negombo is basically on the western side of the island, the swells caused by the tsunami even reached this beach about an hour and a half after the main waves hit the eastern shores. chris kept trying to talk me into surfing, but i insisted that: a) i didn't have any real cash anyway, and b) i wasn't actually here to holiday. chris was easy to like- he had this wanderlusty nomad thing that had taken him all over the world... one of those people that works in an area just long enough to buy a ticket to somewhere else- like jack dawson in titanic.

i was approached by peddlars until eventually i decided to head back to the hotel and take my chances being in the same building as the sandman- maybe just a little nap...

hotel? the big blue thing above the bed is a mosquito net that unpacks much like a parachute. imagine the worst place you've ever stayed, multiply it by ten and then subtract everything creepy- what you're left with is simple charm based on something other than creature comforts... and an incredible view of chris' grass hut on the beach.

pastor lazarus from the church in colombo could be mark twain's long lost sri lankan grandson... looked just like the guy, only with a tan. sometime in the afternoon, lazarus joined us for lunch. he was always smiling and always nodding, but spoke very little english.

i found it amazing that dan was able to seemingly communicate with so many of the people here so well. somehow, he's learned to speak 'broken, bit-phrase english' in a way that allows his main ideas to be communicated without any of the decorative clutter that creates a bottleneck in the conversation and impedes the impact of non-verbal gestures, facial expressions and the like. this is a skill i have to learn- it's obvious.

as i walked the streets in my transcontinental time funk, i noticed that the air on the street was laced with a common smell that was probably a spice or something. it was everywhere here, but i had first noticed it upon stepping into the plane back at heathrow.

after a huge supper of curried chicken and fish with rice, we walked down the dimly lit street, peering into shops full of buffalo leather and hindu masks. shopkeepers sat outside, talking or observing quietly. "hello" and a smile. most evening shopkeepers were young men appearing to be late teens or early twenties.

we drank a lot of sprite. with the heavy humidity and heat relentlessly sucking away at our western energy reserves after jet-lag had taken its tithe, something cold and fresh was really nice. the lemon-lime thing worked much better- couldn't even imagine drinking a coke.

i bought some necklaces for poet, warlord and myself. i probably paid (a bit) too much but the manner and humour of the peddlar- manel fernando, single mother of two boys (as per some photographs) was so easy and warm that i didn't mind... and they were still a way better deal than ardene, and bought on the beach on my first day in sri lanka.

tomorrow we would get down to work.


  • At 9/27/2005, Anonymous Denise said…

    You have such an awesome way with telling your story. Keep it coming. It's like I was there with you!

  • At 9/27/2005, Blogger jollybeggar said…

    what i'm really enjoying is how, as i transfer things from my journals (i wrote about 150 of those little mini-notebook pages on the trip... i stole time for this wherever i could because i didn't want to forget anything) onto the blog, more stuff pours out, prompted by the discipline of transfering the existing notes. eventually every single thought from the trip will be down somewhere... you buy that?

    well, i can at least try.


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