Riding out the days.

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End Mar 25, 2009

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Where I stayed
surfing beach guest house

Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I have retired from surfing this year, I think. Doesn't help that I stepped on a piece of bamboo jutting 6 inches out of the sand on my way home in the dark one evening, giving myself a nice puncture and a healthily bruised foot. Almost better now, at least able to walk.
So two more lazy days reading and lounging in the sun here on this beautiful beach, and back to India with a fresh attitude. Over beers last night, someone said something that reminded me of just what I like about India. It is not the pollution, noise, crowds and dirt, it is the people. In fact, anywhere in the world is truly about the people. There are uncountable palm trees, infinite grains of sand on innumerable beaches, and only so many mountains and plains to see. Temples, monuments, ruins, though all very cool and nice to see, are not the whole of travel. In fact, these "sights" I consider to be secondary to seeing tamil workers in the hill country picking tea, an old woman doing her washing or hand-weaving on an old-fashioned loom, or any of the other activities people do from day to day. In addition to this, when communication is possible, the stories people tell continue to surprise and incite my curiousity.
This is the major reason for my own travel, and also the reason I tend to stay in one place for a good bit of time, whether it be the beaches of india or sri lanka, or the dark backpacker ghettoes of Delhi. It is more about trying to understand the methods and culture of the local residents than to relax in the sun, go on the piss, climb a mountain or ride the waves.

Each person around you has some quality and somthing we can all learn and benefit from. For the most part I like to focus on the positive qualities rather than the "negatives" which, of course, being a judgement call is relative anyhow. Some people display qualities or aspects we try to cultivate in our own selves, and looking around me today, I have listed a few:

Self-awareness. Noel, the sometimes grumpy guest house owner and original hikkaduwa surfer always knows when he is not in a good mood, and so when he comes out to the deck to have himself a cigarette, he sits a little distance away from the guests and/or friends so as not to share his darkness with others. Being conscious of one's own feelings, disposition, or mood should always bring with it the awareness of its effect upon others. In other words, misery may love company, but the key is to ride it out by yourself and not spoil another's experience with your own bitterness.

Patience. There is a huge spider on my wall. I don't mind the arachnids so much, even the 8 inch centipede that scurried up my leg in the dark last night, but I don't so much like to sleep with them. My own not-so-little eight-legged friend I have chosen to call "Joe" for the simple reason that Izza, the japanese fellow staying in the guesthouse thinks this is funny.
In any case, Joe will sit in one place for hours, waiting for an ant or a mosquito to stray too close to him before he makes his move and snatches the annoying insect out of the air of off the wall at just the right moment. He does not stalk, he only waits, motionless until his time comes. Only then does he move to another location to sit again.
Kind of like the surfers who spend hours out on the Main Break, waiting for a wave that may never come.

Perseverence. The old fisherman with his fishing rod comes every day at low tide. We call him "thong man," as he ties up his sri lankan sari in such a way as to expose his posterior. Not something I generally like to see, but I do watch him as he fishes each day, most days catching nothing at all. On certain days, however, his persistence pays off and he will pull in a neon colored reef fish, or a good-sized pompano. He knows if he goes out every day, one day in ten will yield a fresh dinner for himself and his family, if he has one. My grandmother would call such a quality "stick-to-it-ive-ness." Well, maybe not my own Gram, but I'm sure someone's granny has used this word.

Discipline. Izza's devotion to his buddhism and personal discipline is something to be admired. Each day he does his chanting and meditation during both the rising and setting sun. His dedication to the guest house family is equally so, he was there just after the tsunami and helped to rebuild the place, chunks of which's wall can still be seen when the tide brings the sand off of the beach, still painted with the name of the surfing beach, but now reminders of the event which claimed and changed so many lives not so long ago and can still be detected in the faces and eyes of some, a pink and still slightly tender scar across the chest of a country. Izza also has only one, and occasionally two beers per night, retiring at 9:30 or so to be up early once again to stretch and pray. We have talked quite a bit about many things, and I do know that he does not renounce the pleasures of the human condition, just chooses not to poison his body or mind with the desire for such. That man, he's a good coupla guys, as the saying goes.

Amicability. "Ama" (mama in singhalese) comes and serves your coffee or breakfast with a smile. Always. Passing her in the hallway or on the deck, she also smiles. No matter how grumpy the old man is, still she is unaffected. Life is too short not to smile, I guess, but you don't really meet too many who live by those words. Ama is one of those people. She will cook your dinner or help you with anything, no matter if you interrupt her in doing something else, and instead of a mildly annoying look, as you might expect from almost anyone, she will happily take care of you, and if you get off a good joke, she is also ready with a laugh. (also, man, can she cook!)

Curiousity. The Boy, son of Noel and Ama, I so call because he has one of those names that are hard for the western-trained brain to remember. The Boy is clever and bright, has better english than either his father or mother, plays flute, violin, and piano, and goes off to school every day. He says he doesn't like school much, but still he likes to learn. At the age of 7, he does not practice on a surfboard or in the waves as most of the other youngsters do, he learns. Exposure to any number of cultures through the family business also stimulates his curious nature. He asks questions, watches, and listens until Ama calls to him from the other side of the building to stop bothering the guests and return to play or study. Noel does not want him to surf at all, lest he become a "beach boy," one of so many on this beach, most involved with drugs or alcohol in some way, and most of whose driving force is to "get with" western women. Pretty much a dead-end life in this place, especially with heroin becoming readily available here and with a low price. That road only leads to an early demise. Noel's father provided something to pass down to him, and he will carry on the tradition. Perhaps some years hence, I will return to this same guesthouse and find an bright young man taking care of the family business. I hope so.

Work Ethic. Our sometimes-present security man/rickshaw driver hauled sand in the hot sun all day the other day helping out a funny German old man whom I like to call der Kommisar. (don't turn around, uh-oh. . .etc). Another man drank from the morning on, occasionally turning up when der Kommisar was around, only to slip back into the shade when the "boss" was not working. Rickshaw man was a bit miffed about this, as he will take a drink only when the job is over, the day is done, as a reward for his hard labor, as it should be, while drunken man got the same pay. A little resentment, therefore is perfectly understandable in a man who focuses on the job, the task at hand, and rewards himself only when the work is done.

Honesty. Ranjeet, the shop owner down the street from whom we buy our cigarettes and occasional ice cream cones could have burned me for 1k rupees the other night. I handed him a 2k note, thinking that it was a 1k, and started to turn away when he gave me the change I expected. "What I owe you?" he said, with a laugh. I truly had no idea. . "Guess," he asked, and I really did not know what he was getting at. After a minute or so, he opened up the second drawer (the one they keep the bigger notes in), and handed me a 1000 rupee note, telling me that I didn't notice that I gave him a 2000 note. He has got my business from now on. Honesty may not be easy when one is tempted, but in the end I like say that honesty is not the "best" policy, honesty is the ONLY policy. It may not bring instant gratification, but the loyalty of friends, customers, and associates cannot be earned with anything else. I tell this story to many people I meet, and that also brings business to this bearded and smiling man.

Honor/dependability. Sri Lankan time is different than Indian time in that they may stretch a little bit, but Indians have no honor when it comes to doing what they say they will do at the time they say they will do it (well, slightly more possible if there is money to be had).
Knocking on a friend's door at 6 in the morning to go for a surf, only to find him up already, that is honor. That is holding to one's word, one's commitment. This is an extremely important quality for success in all facets of life. Don't expect it from others, necessarily, but insist on it for your own self. Look good, smell good, and be on time, someone once said. No matter how many good jobs you do, they will never make up for one bad job. (also ties in with "work ethic," see above. . "

Finally, but not necessarily "lastly," there is the "Knowing One's Limits" aspect of life. There are two older Australian men at the Surfing Beach, and they don't go out to paddle around for hours with a futile hope that a good breaking wave will come along. Certainly many surf-able waves have been breaking on the beach, but they mostly break at once, not good for anything better than a momentary ride after a maximum effort. Too much work for not enough reward. These old fellows are absolutely right, which is why I myself have retired from the waves, at least for this place and for this year. I know my limits, and had to, after much thought, abandon a practice that gives no practice. . .

Stepping on a jagged piece of bamboo sticking out of the sand 6 inches in the night (who the f**k put that there?!?!?), puncturing and bruising my foot in a reasonably serious manner does not help with the surfing thing either, so I have "retired," certainly not at the top of my career, though.

More pictures will come soon, I promise, but internet is expensive here, and I have been taking loads of HD video with my latest gadget, so some may have to wait a month or so until I return home to Boston. .
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