John Moulton is an artist and creative designer who is spending several weeks in Sri Lanka. His job in the textile industry was eliminated when his Miami-based company closed and sold its equipment to a company in Sri Lanka. Moulton will be working for a company there training its workers.
By John Moulton
Colombo, Sri Lanka: I arrived and debarked from my sparsely filled passenger airplane in Sri Lanka. I was greeted by a sign that said, “All passengers arriving from these destinations must check in at the health office.” The list had the usual suspects in it, Mexico, Fiji, Guadalupe, with a surprising addition, the USA. It never crossed my mind that I might be a disease career. A regular Typhoid Johnny, bringing the Black Death to Colombo. They asked me a few easily lied about questions, and off I went hacking and coughing into the crush of people.
My driver was waiting with a placard held at chest level that read “Mr. John Moulton.” His name was Cal, and he stood all of 5’2”, with dark brown skin and did not speak a word of English.
After 36 hours, air and layover time, I began my three-hour ride to Katukurunda (Cat you can run all day). I cannot imagine why they paint lines on the roads here; no one stays in their side. Two lanes are really four, and four lanes are demolition derby chaos.
Every conceivable contraption moves around at harrowing closeness, busses, trucks, motor scooters, bicycles, tractors. They have these small, three-wheeled, motorized rickshaws that can ferry two people to close destinations. Each one is painted differently and adorned with pictures. Some have multi-colored fabric woven into they’re hub caps, some have long streaming ribbons flowing behind them.
You notice a lot on a three-hour trip through whirlwind traffic. You notice a lot because you simple stop looking at where you’re going. After the 12th near miss you figure your either going to make it to your destination, or you’re not.
One of the things I noticed was the smiles on the people. My unofficial count was 20 smiles to every frown. The people here seem genial, friendly and quick to smile. They walk with a content dignity, straight backed with chin up. The women wear bright colors of long light materials that flow when they stroll. The men wear a long, white button-up shirt, outside of the pants.
Saw some things I hadn’t seen before, and noted them down in no particular order. Barefoot construction workers, three people on a scooter, cows (in parking lots), four people on a scooter, politicians holding hands on billboards, four people on a scooter with a chicken. A road going tugboat that has a mounted engine on top of a car axle. The driver sits on the trailer and straddles the engine. Two handlebars ran from either side of the engine for the operator to steer by.
The company that I now work for put me up in a resort. It’s splendid, with tall coconut palms throughout the manicured lawns; far away from the crush of people that live and work just outside the guarded grounds. Inside, the visiting guests relax on the beach as I wait to start my work day. They mingle at the bar, and chat, as I return in sweat soaked clothing. I feel like an outcast both outside, and inside the gate.
The work isn’t as hard as it is hot. Located near the equator, Sri Lanka’s heat exceeds that of Marco, or Miami. But their idea of air conditioning is, let’s just say, quaint.
Things did not go as planned on the first day. The electric is different. Different enough to blow the back out of your laptop, and catch fire to box it sat on. I am writing to you now from the resort’s computer. I’m tired, I’m sweaty and I’m hungry. But I don’t think I have the energy to satiate all three needs this evening. Do me a favor tonight, because I’m sure it’s hot there too. Turn the air down to 60, that’s around 17 Celsius for you Sri Lankan’s, and wake up late. I’ll live vicariously through you.