Life in the east…

For several months we’ve been living on and off in Batticaloa, a beautiful Tamil fishing town on Sri Lanka’s east coast. I’m helping a project in Ampara with PCA that’s supporting local people from Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala communities get better access to local government services.

Batticaloa is a breathtakingly beautiful place. It seems to be surrounded on all sides by water – the sea to the east and various lagoons elsewhere – and has sunsets that turn the sky red and gold. I first visited the region nearly two years ago and was struck then by how idyllic the place is.

Initially I was homeless in the east, and spent my time living out of small, local guesthouses. The pick was a homestay north of Batticaloa, just off Kalkudah beach. When Katherine came to visit from Colombo we’d borrow old Singer bicycles, rusted by age and sea air, and cycle along the hardened area of sand that’s just beyond the breakers. The ruts from the tires eventually disappeared with the incoming tide.

The east coast of Sri Lanka is for the most part undeveloped. I speak little Tamil, but learnt that place names ending in ‘kudah’ (Kalkudah, Passikudah, Punikudah, etc) signify a calm and shaded bay. These are the sort that curve in a golden crescent, dotted with small and colourful fishing boats, where sea eagles hover on the warm currents above.

We’ve started living in a house on the edge of Batticaloa lagoon. Various volunteers have lived there over the last couple of years. The rainy season has not yet hit the region, and the days remain hot and dry, regularly pushing 34 degrees. Yesterday we cycled along the water’s edge to the sea, to an empty beach about 3 kilometres north. I was hoping to swim, but a fluther of jellyfish washed up in the shallows changed my mind.

We were treated to a night in the fabulous Kandalama hotel recently. The kilometre long, seven story building sits majestically in a forest overlooking Kandalama tank and Sigiriya rock beyond. All manner of tropical foliage sprouts and cascades from its louvers and crevices, so that it becomes fairly indistinguishable from the surrounding habitat. It is a testament to the genius of Bawa that this neo-brutal block is now a part of nature.

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