The good, the bad and the ugly

Trip Start Dec 09, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sri Lankan peeps are so lovely, so friendly and kind. Everywhere you go people are constantly saying hello to you and asking you questions. Where are you going? Where are you from? What's your name? ...and it's not like they've never seen a tourist before. Many people stop you wherever you're going and ask you all sorts of questions and tell you all sorts of things just because they are curious and friendly. Many people find it hard to talk to westerners because they always think that the Sri Lankans are after something when they talk to them. Like this guy Nanden I went fishing with the other day, who said tourists always thought he was 'guide man' and wouldn't talk to him. I met Nanden a few times, first when I arrived in Weligama I helped him and his mates push their boats out to sea. Trust me, pushing a massive boat across the sand into the sea is not easy. Big sweat. Anyway, they asked me to go out fishing with them, 'no money'. I was on my way somewhere but said I would another time, well eventually it came round and yesterday I went fishing with them. It was fun, and interesting, a few good chats, a whole load of water. Not very much fish.
They drink arrack (like rum but made from coconuts and tastes bad) everyday after work together and whilst I don't think it's great that they sit around drinking arrack everyday rather than going home to see their wives and children, I thought I'd buy them a bottle of arrack to say thanks. At least it's a present that, though short-lived, they would appreciate.
Happily, they invited me to have a drink with them when we got back. Perfect time to buy them a bottle of arrack. But I turns out that they already expected me to buy the arrack, in fact, they expect me to buy two bottles of arrack if I'm going to drink with them and were most disappointed to find I didn't have enough money for two.
Shame really, it's not at all about the money, it's more about whether any relationship you build here is based on friendship or what they an get out of it. And giving a present doesn't feel like giving a present when the receiver expects twice as much as you gave. And the good feeling I had turned a bit sour. Nanden is still a genuine and really nice guy, who really did want to talk and be friends, but he also thinks, not just that I might buy him stuff just because we have a chat but that I will and should because I'm English, maybe not realising how many times every day people I don't know ask me for things because I'm English.
So many times I walk into town and someone, particularly the kids, will say hello. I look round and say hello, and then they hold out their hand waiting for you to give them some unspecified thing... money, a pen, whatever, just for saying hello, and you being white.
These are the things that tourism is made of. Like I say, so many lovely people here. I keep saying hello to all the folk I meet and chatting to anyone who has the time to chat, because not all of them are after anything at all.
In part, since the tsunami, so many people have been giving stuff, lots of stuff, much by tourists who have got to know them, that many people do expect tourists to give them things and have learnt that the best way to get stuff is to make friends with tourists. I guess that's why so many kids think that if they say hello, you'll give them cash. You here all the time here how the aid that people have given here has caused enormous jealousy that is really tearing the local fabric here, and everyone locks gates where before they never had fences.
Lovely friendly, smiley people.... How friendly must they have been before?
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