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The last ten days has been more or less "life as usual" in our home in Sri Lanka, which means "life un-usual" in a lot of ways. Like the early morning tuk tuk (aka "three wheeler" or "tri-shaw") ride with Karen down the soaking wet pot hole road to the entrance of her National College. There I bail out and climb the stairs to the dimly lit gym scattered with rusty old equipment and a television blaring a campy morning show in Sinhala. I lift weights and swat at the occasional mosquito. When I get myself winded on the squeaky exer-cycle I walk out back to look down on the turgid brown waters of Nanu Oya, a river strewn with plastic debris, and used by some neighbors for bathing with buckets.
After the gym it's time for errands. Usually I buy some vegetables (and practice my Sinhala) at the small shop across the street. Occasionally I walk over to the railway station to reserve tickets for a trip the next month. The station master lights up when he sees me because I gave him a two dollar bill for his foreign notes collection. When I'm ready to go home I can walk up to most local tuk tuk drivers and say "gedara" and climb in and they know where this foreign guy with the brown hat lives, and that I'll pay too much, 200 rupees, just over a dollar.
Back home again, as the morning is usually sunny, I open the doors and windows and set up a couple floor fans to push air through the house to combat the damp that otherwise sets in. One day, though, a passing cyclone on its way to hit India gave us a full day of drizzling rain, and I kept everything shut.
In the late afternoon I hear a tuk tuk straining to climb our steep road and then clearly make the turn into our driveway and Karen is home, paying the driver for the ride and saying "see you tomorrow seven thirty." I bring her a soda water with ice. She goes to the bedroom to change into yoga clothes and returns to start half an hour of iPad-guided yoga by "The Lady". Then she's ready to give me her "podcast" of the day's events. Outside the sun is setting and we hear the amplified, monotonic chanting from nearby temples.
As my occupation is stamped as "spouse" in my residency permit I try to fill the role by cooking and cleaning and generally tending to the household. One night I deep fried eggplant (aubergine) and papadams. Another night I made green bean and beet root curries. But, lessening my role, Karen has hired a cleaning lady to come Friday mornings. I feel bad having a servant, though Preema is happy for the work, and secretly I'm glad to not have to mop.
Last weekend was a big one thanks to the Alliance Française, a kind of French equivalent of the British Council, but throwing much cooler events. They did a "literary weekend" with several well known Sri Lankan authors who read from their works and sold autographed books, and even came out for beers with us. See..
Women here generally do not go out drinking, so Friday when Karen went to the restroom near the end of the night she found several of the pub's workers in the Ladies Room sharing a joint. They got flustered but she quickly retreated and told them she'd use the Mens. Being out so late it was a challenge to get home: the streets were empty. We managed to flag a tuk tuk and had to agree to pay a "late night price", nearly double.
On the Saturday, while Karen tended to her garden and relaxed, I went in to Kandy with a purpose: to finally get an electronic keyboard with nice sounds that I could just switch on and play any time I wished. At the Singer Store I found a Yamaha keyboard that did all of that and more. I called to ask Karen's permission to spend $350 and she agreed, with the proviso that I play it every day. Next thing you know I was heading home in Ikram's tuk tuk in the rain with rain covers down and a large box next to me.
The best local band in Kandy is a guitar playing duo named "See Sharp". They cover popular English language songs. The Alliance Française booked them for Saturday night and we were there to sing along and dance. Everyone decided to move up to the Headquarters pub and we all raced off in different taxis. Authors were there talking about book ideas, tall plastic towers of beer came out with glass mugs. "See Sharp" broke out a guitar, and other expats arrived from a birthday party. It was a crazy mix of talking and strumming and laughing and singing on the patio and we actually stayed until the Headquarters closed: they hauled off the empty beer towers, locked the pub, and left us hanging out. We had to go around the back in the dark to pee. Finally our mugs were empty and the security guard said it was time to leave and switched off the patio lights. We started down the road, wondering how we'd get home, when up came a tuk tuk asking if we'd ordered a PickMe (like Uber or Lyft for tuk tuks). We jumped in and commandeered the thing.
The new keyboard needed a stand. I commissioned our local carpenter, Mr Bowatura, to build one to my specs. He gave me an outrageous price ($14) and I accepted. I went home, just arriving before a massive thunderstorm came through with lightning strikes so close that I had to look out and see if I could see any fires or broken trees.
With elections coming up in the USA it was time to mail my absentee ballot. I had it printed on A4 paper and it looked pretty wonky but I sent it anyway, as if it would make any difference, if it even gets there. I walked over to the University, which has a food stand that serves excellent local dishes, like dosa with sauce, and roti with sambal, for a pittance. It also has a barber that gives a haircut, shave, and head massage for about two bucks. I went in for that and then walked back over the "monkey bridge" to pick up my keyboard stand. I just had to tell the tuk tuk driver, "gedara".
Today on return from the gym I saw a fat brown snake making an exit into some bushes in our garden just below the clothesline. Life as usual, life un-usual...