The Village Initiation

The crack of dawn

I force down the last gulp of the iddiyappam and sambol

Sip on my morning guilty pleasure: Coffee with a hint of kithul syrup

The car keys glinting on the table

I let them be …

‘Today I walk’

 

The village kids breeze past me

Mahathya endako [Sinhala: get your backside into gear and hurry up]

They also say for good measure..

Vango durai vango [Tamil: get your backside into gear and hurry up]

They skip down the twisting undulating warm bitumen

Half of them forgetting to put their slippers on

 

Vimalasena

My right hand man…next to me

Hasn’t said a word in the past five mins

His emphysematous lungs beginning to slightly heave

As he quickens his step

 

‘BOOM’

A loud gunshot reverberates through the valley

I can just about hear the village clapping and cheering with zeal

 

“Arahmba…” Vimalasena mutters to himself [Sinhala: it has begun]

With a half chewed cigarette poking out of his mouth

 

We get to the village schoolyard

The April humidity beginning to take effect

The whole village has assembled

The excitement filling their faces

 

Because today is:

A day that everyone has been looking forward to

Avurudu Sinhala/Tamil New Year village celebrations

 

The crowd is cheering

A group of men are running up the mountain

An incline of about 50-60degrees

Drenched in sweat

Shoeless

Tuk tuks chirping around them,

Men inside handing out water and shouting out words of fortitude

Until they reach the finish line and half collapse

 

Meanwhile, the local pyromaniacs

Trigger off the bamboo cannon

Using a mix of calcium carbide, rice flour and coconut oil

Creating a huge explosion

Getting a small kick each time

Giving each other hi-fives

The barrage continuing on for the whole day

 

Its time for the children now to play some games

Blow a balloon till it pops

Break a hanging pot of buffalo curd blindfolded (a Sri Lankan pinata)

Guess how many seeds are in a paw-paw

For a second, I think I have found myself at the village version of a Maccas birthday party

But not for long

image2-5

The ferris wheel

Made solely for this event by the village carpenter

Made from locally picked timber and rope

Children gleefully jump on without a care about OH&S

The wooden contraption run by man-power alone

One of the fathers jumps into the middle and is like a lab-rat on a running wheel

Getting the cogs turning

The village roars

I watch in amazement

image1-15

After the kids have had a go

A bunch of men get on

With a load of more than 500kg

The lab rat inside gets the cogs turning again

I am genuinely surprised

Its actually working…holding their weight

And then…CRUNCH

People go flying off the wheel

I close my eyes and cringe

Gravity doing its job

The men compare their scratches

They all laugh

The ferris wheel…now out of service

‘Damn..I wished I snap-chatted this..’

 

Then a wooden beam raised above

Two men get on top

One hand on their sacrum

The other with a huge sack filled with straw and rice

The aim of the game to brutally hack your opponent off

Like that childhood TV show Gladiators

 

Two men get on

The men battle it out

One looses balance

Like an ungraceful swan falling into the depths

A group of men ready to catch him

The whole village roars in laughter

Glad I captured that on video

‘Will put that on Insty..’

 

I look around

I am the only guy with my phone out

Everyone else living in the moment

Laughter enveloping the surrounds

Men, women and children

Old and young

Of all races and all religions

Flashing wide grins

I put my phone back into my moisture soaked pocket

 

…A familiar face walks towards me

The village mechanic

“Doctor mahathya, oya yanna” he says as he points to the wooden beam

“Surely not today. Maybe another time.” .. I mutter in English

A genuine look of disappointment overcomes his face

 

It is at this moment I throw away my prudishness

And channel my inner Sri Lankan

The power of my ancestors

Will be behind me…I convince myself

This soil nourished my forefathers

And it will nourish me today

 

I climb onto the beam

I look around

All eyes on me

Beginning to regret my hasty decision

 

Vimalasena, my right hand man

Cries in jubilation

Pure happiness plastered all over his face

Flashing his two remaining magenta stained teeth

 

The rest of the village hushes

I shift my gaze

My jaw drops

The biggest, baddest, blackest villager swings on

His pectorals popping out of his crisp white banyan (vest)

His biceps and triceps contoured like the mountain range behind him

Beads of sweat dripping of his Grecian form

 

I look over to Vimalasena

He is smiling no more

He looks worried

 

The strength of my ancestors suddenly abandons me

I’ve seen this guy roll tyres up mountains

I muster some fake confidence

 

Old mates lips curl

His eyes fixated on mine

Neck tucked in

Body upright

Pectorals poking out

He begins to shake…

(I hope hes not having a seizure…I think to myself)

 

Millisecond existential thoughts cripple my mind

…why am I here?

…why am I doing this

…who am I?

…what is life?

 

‘”Satana” … I hear a man shout (Sinhala: ? )

 

Before I could even think

I feel a heavy thud across my left cheek

Sound warping in time

The world angling ever so slightly

Before tumbling into the never world

….and then complete blackness

 

Complete bliss for 1-2 seconds

Floating in space

 

Before I start hearing voracious laughter

I am in the arms of the men below me

They lift me upright

…I am alive

I survived Big, Bad, Black

I let out a big sigh of relief and contentment

I look up at my faceless ancestors

 

I see Vimalasena next to me

He folds his sarong in half

Puffing away at another slightly chewed cigarette

Emphysematously chuckling

 

Big, Bad, Black walks up to me

Doesn’t say a word

Puts his hand out

…I shake it

He hands me a drink

We both take a big gulp of the local Kithul toddy

…he nods and then he smiles for the first time

Revealing his deep burgundy betel nut stained teeth

 

…Welcome to the village

image1-16.JPG
Vimalasena, my housekeeper with two of his grandchildren. The eldest Malith wants to be a pilot or tuk-tuk driver in the future and Aakash wants to be a Buddhist monk

*Aeration rating: Gentle mountain breeze was enjoyed coming off the wooden beam 9+/10

**To this day, I am not entirely sure what the name of this village is. Multiple names have been thrown out there: Wariyagola, Pahala Wariyagola, Illagolla, Kalkamuwah. Google Maps seems to have no opinion on the matter. However, FedEx finds me with no problems at all.

 

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