Part of learning to live in another culture is adjusting to the everyday life. Suddenly, the things you thought were so basic are not. I spend the first 10 days of my experience here at a guest house so I didn’t really have to worry about anything Auntie Nagani and Uncle Austin took care of all of my needs. Now I’m in a temporary apartment until Shaun arrives at the end of the month and they find us the place we will be staying in long term. Living on my own here requires some adjusting.
For example, I need to figure out when the vegetable man arrives on my street to sell veggies. This is the cheapest way to buy fresh produce. He arrives on a bicycle pulling a cart and rings his bell when he gets here. (Think a much healthier versions of the Dicky Dee). The only problem is that I don’t know what his bell sounds like and there are many bells that sound throughout the day. The good news is I figured out that the cart that goes by at 6am playing “It’s a Small World after all” is the bakery cart and I can rush out at that time to get fresh bread.
The second thing I’ve learned is that my new nemeses will be ants and dust. Keeping things clean here really involves an extraordinary amount of vigilance. Since the patio windows are open most of the time, dust gets everywhere quickly. Also, if you leave any food or dirty dishes around ants will accumulate in a matter of seconds. This has been extra motivation for improving my domestic skills, which are poor at best.
Thirdly, I’ve learned that there is no one central location where you can pick up multiple things. Every store has its specialty and you really have to know exactly where to go for what. I stupidly thought that the local pharmacy would have hair elastics or if not I could get some at the supermarket. Unfortunately, I have yet to find hair elastics so I really hope I don’t lose the only one I have at the moment. (Tying my hair back is this heat is a necessity.)
Clothing shopping can be especially difficult. I learned this when I had to buy a professional outfit for a job interview at the Overseas School of Colombo. This particular task became more stressful by the time constraints. Needless to say, I am large by Sri Lankan standards so finding an outfit to fit me is a bit of a challenge. Add to this the Sri Lankan cultural tendency to comment on weight and you have a recipe for a self-esteem disaster. When I asked a sales clerk for large trousers (they don’t understand what “pants” are), she said that I would need to look in the “fat trouser section”. She also took my waist measurement (in completely the wrong place) and somehow got a measurement of 36″. After this she apologized saying that they definitely did not have trousers for people with a waist that fat! It’s a good thing I’ve been practicing so much loving-kindness meditation otherwise I either would have lost it on her or left in tears. Fortunately, after my initial gut reaction I was able to laugh it off, and I did find an outfit- trousers, shirt and heels all for 4000 rps ($40).
This is where the friends I have met have been truly invaluable. They have helped me out with where to go for what, how to cook using local ingredients (buying any Western food is super expensive – I almost bought a box of Muesli yesterday for $10 but fortunately noticed the price when the cashier was ringing it in) and how to avoid social faux pas.
Speaking of making a cultural mess up, I didn’t realize that one is supposed to wear pastel colours or white when visiting the temple. At the recent unveiling of a Buddha statue my friend’s uncle made, I showed up wearing the brightest floral dress possible. I felt self-conscious immediately when I looked around to see a sea of white. Luckily, Sri Lankans have a good sense of humour!
So I continue to fumble my way through things and I’m learning more everyday. Tonight I’m going to attempt to make a dahl curry and roti before meeting up with my Sri Lankan friends to watch tonight’s world cup cricket match on the tube. GO SRI LANKA! (Canada is beyond any hope at this point.)