Fifty in the Fort

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Jul 11, 2012

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Where I stayed
Ocean View Guesthouse

Flag of Sri Lanka  , Southern,
Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I turned fifty in Galle Fort, whose 300-year-old walls are so sturdy they withstood the 2004 tsunami waters which rose around the outside of the walled town and converged disastrously on the bus station behind it. Although those outside the fort suffered a horrific fate, those inside were mostly protected from the ocean's random violence. Born by luck a Canadian in a time of peace, I have lived a mostly protected and privileged life and celebrate many blessings on this birthday. The location of our guesthouse just inside the south wall seemed an appropriate reminder of the analogy.

From our room we were just about level with walkers on the wall, which was like having front row seats at a parade. Families, couples hand-in-hand, athletes doing circuit training singly and in groups, dozens of school children in white uniform single file, a jogging group of Islamic school boys dressed all in white chanting call and response to their leader—all these went by unknowing they were making a show for us.

The morning of my birthday the skies were clear and breakfast was set in the rooftop garden, bright with bougainvillea and other carefully tended flowers, and shaded by a trellis. Our only company there was the resident turtle, doing his morning constitutional stroll on the grass. It was a lovely start to Valentine’s Day.

We walked the narrow streets of the fort at random, finding some handicraft shops, Dutch antique restorers, good tea spots and restaurants, as well as the Historical Mansion, crammed with unlabeled artifacts from lives in the Dutch-built fort. We settled in so long for tea at the Royal Dutch Café that we got started talking to the owner, Fazil, a Galle old-timer who is featured in the locally written book, Around the Fort in 80 Lives. He showed us the write-ups of other people we might know, such as the owner of our guesthouse, Ocean View. Fatima, the seamstress sewing in the back of the café, showed us her profile in the book, and we found that of Mrs. Wijenayake, whom we had met when we arrived. (We had shown up at her guesthouse requesting a room, and having none, she had called around, in authoritative tones, to find us a place.) So we learned about some of the inhabitants of Galle Fort. At the same time, the inhabitants of Galle Fort could teach us about Canada: "Canada has 27 million English speakers and 7 million French speakers. We learned it in school!" said one cheerful shopkeeper on learning of our nationality. And school we were able to see in action: hearing a cacophony of children’s voices, we peered into a cavernous space where at least three primary school classes were being taught simultaneously, with plywood room dividers doing nothing to block the sound from one class to another. A female teacher valiantly tried to make her voice heard above the babble as she drew a Sinhalese word on the chalkboard. I caught her eye and smiled in sympathy; she smiled faintly back. The children in their white uniforms looked bright, busy, and happy, sitting in groups at tables and every one of them, it seemed, chattering.

The day became hot and muggy; black clouds built up and then cracked in forked lightning. Thunder followed soon after like avalanching rocks, then torrential rain. We watched the storm safe on our covered balcony. When it was all over, we were able to stroll again around the wall perimeter and finish off the day with Sri Lankan rice and curry at Mama’s Galle Fort Rooftop Café. The stars were behind the clouds that night, but the lighthouse took their place with its rotating beam.

Many blessings indeed.
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Herb & Sharon on

Happy 50th Catherine and may you have another fine 50 years. You don't look as young as 50, more like 40 or 30. Way to go - must be healthy living and wanderlust. We had a toast to your birthday today with Dave, Giselle, Jake, Ady and Anne. Your trip looks like a great adventure - have a blast down there on those nice beaches, as we look at rain and spring flowers. Best wishes!

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