Monday, October 14, 2019

Grocery Shopping on a Poya Day

Every full moon day is known as a Poya in the Sinhala language; this is when practicing Sinhalese Buddhists visit a temple for religious observances. There are 13 or 14 Poyas per year, and, generally, shops and businesses are closed on Poya days. The sale of alcohol and meat is also forbidden on a Poya Day.

Unbeknownst to us, Sunday was a Poya Day. Sunday was also the day we convinced the kids to pile into the car for a trip to the grocery store.

Recently, it has become a flight to get the kids out of the house every time Elise and I want to go somewhere. We wanted to go out for South Indian breakfast -- dosas, idly, and sambar, the kids' favorite -- Saturday morning, and you would have thought we were dragging them to the gallows pole. We could tell them we were going to Toys 'R' Us and Disney World and I think they would still protest having to leave the house. 

Now, granted, the grocery store is neither Toys 'R' Us or Disney World, and I didn't fully expect them to come willing, but it is true that everytime we leave the house there is the potential for them to see or do something amazing. Saturday afternoon, Elise and I wanted to get a coffee and check out this cafe in the neighborhood, right around the corner from our house, Black Cat Cafe. 

The kids vehemently did not want to go, but we made them come with us anyway, and they each got a cup full of pudding for their troubles. Pudding! 

This is one battle Elise and I will continue to fight. Even when they are older and able to stay home by themselves, we feel as though it is healthy they get out of the house and see things. Yes, at some point it will he much easier to sigh heavily and say, "Okay. You can stay home. Just don't kill each other." But, for now, sorry kids. That's not an option. 

We drove out to a new grocery store Elise had heard about out by the kids' school. We didn't know it was a full moon or a Poya Day...until we were stopped by the Poya Day parade. 

Elise and I looked at each other incredulously, "We were just driving to the grocery store!" we exclaimed.

And I told the kids they never would have seen the parade or the elephants or got to have an ice cream cone if they hadn't of come to the grocery store with us. 

"Just trust us," I tell them imploringly. "We won't steer you wrong." 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Endless Summer

Monday, September 30, 2019

Gymnastics Routines

Elise recently attended a PE performance at the kids' school where they performed gymnastics routines the kids choreographed themselves.

First up, Clementine!

Next up, Peter!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Saturday Matinee

Elise and I woke to the screech of masking tape early Saturday morning, earlier than either of us hoped to wake.

I found this taped up outside our room.

And this at the top of the stairs on the third level where the TV room is.

Movie posters.

Earlier in the week, I had promised Peter we would watch a Godzilla movie this weekend. I had also promised Sam I would take him to get his haircut and promised Clementine I would take her to Brew Bar for a bubble waffle sundae. I had a busy Saturday ahead of me. 

Sam and I went to get our haircuts first. After Elise took Peter and Clementine to the toy store to buy a gift for the birthday party he was invited to on Sunday, Sam refused to leave the house. Like a bomb squad defusing a IED Sam and I talked, me frightfully aware to not let the blue wire cross the green wire lest I unleash the maelstrom of tween emotions twirling feverishly in his head loose. 

We returned to the house after haircuts to find Peter and Clementine back from their own outing. Which meant only one thing: Movie time!

Clementine in the ticket booth.

Saturday matinee.

After the movie, it was straight to Brew Bar for a bubble waffle cone ice cream sundae.  At some point, I think I may have said, "Let's go before it rains."

The shop was crowded and service slow. By the time the kids had gotten their dessert and eaten it, the storm had rolled in. We waited almost an hour in the lobby of the hotel where the ice cream shop is located, waiting out the storm as lightning bolts cracked overhead.

The following day, Peter attended a classmate's birthday party at the Taj in downtown Colombo. The boys first ate lunch at the hotel buffet. There was a carving station, ice sculpture, raw bar, and fresh sushi!

Peter with his new friend, Ryan.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Crisis for Birds

At the end of a long week, the weekend can almost seem like an oasis in the desert, teasingly refreshing only to dissolve into hallucination as you approach it.  Saturday was a lot like this.

As mentioned, the weeks are grueling and long.  Mornings begin before the sun rises, breakfast made, coffee brewed by the light of a single fluorescent bulb in the kitchen; often rain falling outside, heavy pattering on the palm fronds outside the kitchen window in the courtyard. Even after the kids are home from the hour-long bus ride, homework begins in earnest; Elise orchestrating a symphony of activities, worksheets, flash cards, and forms to sign while trying to put dinner on the table.  I usually don't arrive home until six or later, and we sit down to dinner, tie on, sleeves unbuttoned and rolled, trying to unravel and decipher tales from the day.

The busy schedules holds the kids' emotions back like a dam. On Saturdays, when they have time to sit and just be, cracks in the pavement form, and water comes spitting through, of course there is always the possibility, the threat -- as happened this Saturday -- of cataclysmic failure.

The kids completely melted down no less than four separate times on Saturday alone, like the Batman villain Clayface melting into a pile of amorphous goo. By the end of the day, after reconstructing each of them, there wasn't enough gin, tonic, or limes to overcome the emotional exhaustion.

Peter, again, cried for his friend Faisal in Jordan and could only be brought back to life by a long talk about Godzilla movies, and Clementine's torso was too long.

It's day like this school does seem especially cruel.  The traffic in Colombo didn't seem bad when we first arrived in mid-August, but local schools started a week later, and the city became clogged with every parent in the city dropping off or picking up their school-aged child.  It feels like every denizen of Colombo has a kid in the second, third, or forth grade. 

The civil war in Sri Lanka lasted 25 years. It ended only 10 years ago. Memory is long.  Habits are stubborn once formed. And the country, naturally is still guarded. Trains and buses, mass transit, in general, were the targets of suicide bombers, and those with the means to avoid this mode of transportation still do.  School buses as we know them do not exist in Sri Lanka.  Kids are brought individually by parents to school, dropped off, and picked up the same way, by foot, by tuk-tuk, or by Audi Q7, creating endless queues of small girls with pig tails and white skirts with starch shields; they don't touch the pleats for fear of fraying the tips of their fingers.

You see the looks on the faces of the guards outside the schools -- the baby-faced young men in khaki uniforms with machine guns who were schoolchildren themselves when the war ended -- and you get the sense, perhaps, the entire country is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Especially after the Easter bombings in April.

Every generation has a societal angst it can own. The mistake is thinking we are passive and the fear - -whatever it is -- is something that happens to us. In 1979, cars lined up for blocks when Jimmy Carter embargoed oil from post-revolutionary Iran.  Today, three billion birds die in 50 years in North America.  In neither case, did these events just happen to us. They were caused by the avoidable actions of man. Nor will the pall hanging over Sri Lanka, invisible on most days, yet somewhere still in the eyes of the traffic police in marrow white sleeves, flicking their wrists and waving their gloved hands fearlessly at oncoming traffic, dissipate on its own.

I don't know if birds can be recreated or what it would take to make three billion birds sing again. Likely, it would be more difficult than putting our children back together after an emotional meltdown on a Saturday afternoon, but it was hairdresser and television personality Jonathan Van Ness that said, "You're never too broken to be fixed." 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


And on the third week, we went surfing.

Though our shipment of household goods arrived earlier in the week, and we could have very easily spent the weekend putting away and organizing the house, we decided it was time to get out of Colombo and start seeing a little bit more of Sri Lanka. 

We had a three day weekend to play with. In the Buddhist religion, every full moon is a holiday, or poya in Sinhala. Unfortunately, we don't get a day off for every poya, but the kids do get many of them off from school, including the September, or Binara poya

Though we did spend part of  Friday unpacking, we decided to head down to the beaches in the south of Sri Lanka and spend the night on Saturday. 

Thanks to the E01 superhighway, the beaches in the south of Sri Lanka are a short, two hour drive away. It evens has an American-style rest area with an American-style food court with Subway and Pizza Hut, along with several more local options. On the way back from the beach, Elise and I tried the fish bun, a Sri Lankan pastry which is basically a dinner roll with room temperature minced fished filling. I liked it. Elise emphatically did not.

The kids had Subway which has been one of the few constants in a life growing up abroad. There is Subway in every country we have lived in overseas. The kids are automatically drawn to it, ironically, not because it reminds them of the States, even though it is an American chain, yet it is still familiar because it reminds them of being overseas. Six inch turkey on white Italian for all. 

Getting on the E01 in Colombo and off in Weligama was the true test of my driving ability. I'm glad we didn't buy anything larger than a Ford Ecosport, because navigating the narrow streets of Sri Lanka around bicycles and tuk-tuks was challenging enough as it was. 

We stayed at Weligama Bay Resort. I accidentally booked a room on line for Wednesday night instead of Saturday night, not realizing mistake until Saturday morning when I received an email from the resort asking me to rate my stay. I immediately called them in a panic. Fortunately, they were able to change the reservation to Saturday without charging us for two nights (I hope). 

We sat down at the restaurant for a quick lunch of fish fingers and fried calamari before hitting the beach. 

It didn't take long before we found a surf school and both Peter and Sam leaped at the chance to take their first surf lesson. 

It wasn't long before they were out in the waves and up on the board. 


Then Sam:

And both boys together: 

As the boys were taking their lesson, Clementine played in the surf, and Elise and I looked on.  Meanwhile, a fishing boat glided up on shore next to us. 

After the surf lesson, the boys were understandably wiped out.  

We had a lobster dinner that night by the ocean, chatting with new friends by candlelight, still pinching ourselves we were actually here.  

Sri Lanka is a heartbreakingly beautiful country. We drove back on the E01 following our weekend in Weligama surrounded by the lush jungle and mountains that opened up to flatland rice paddies and cinnamon farms.  black-skinned water buffalo waded in the fields, white egrets perched on their backs. The peaks of bone-white Buddhist temples peeked from between the palms.  I am already thinking about how difficult it will be to leave, but I have to put those thoughts aside for now and make the most of every minute we have here. 

"What Does Muto Do?"

We have lived in Sri Lanka for nearly a month.  It's hard to believe it has been that long.  It seems as though we just got here and have been living here forever.

We built our new home quickly, pouring the foundation before we even landed in Colombo. As such we were on our feet quickly and anxious to explore our new home.  In a few short weeks, we started a new job, a new school, joined two new swim teams (Elise and Sam), bought an orange car (I never pictured myself owning an orange car; it's actually closer to a rust color), hired two people who whose lives would become intrinsically interwove into our own, ordered take-out Taco Bell, went surfing, ate dosas, and drove on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road going the wrong way down a one-way street. 

Peter has a healthy obsession with Godzilla.  I remember having the same obsession when I was about his age.  He wants to know everything about kaiju, Japanese for monster, but meant to refer to larger-than-life, rubber suit-wearing, megalopolis-stomping super-monsters.  Unfortunately, his brother and sister do not share his affinity for wanton destruction and became quickly annoyed when Peter spent the entire morning on our recent trip to the beach asking, "What does Muto do?"

How the hell am I supposed to know, I thought.  I don't even know what a muto is. 

Thing is...I'd given Peter every reason to believe I knew exactly what muto did. 

This is the dad who raises the kids on a healthy diet of Star Wars, who knows the history of the Marvel and DC universes better than I know the history of our own universe, and who plays Dungeons & Dragons with them on rainy Saturday or Sunday mornings.  I should know exactly what muto does.  But I didn't.

So, we Googled it.

Muto stands for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism and first appeared in 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which would easily be Peter's favorite movie if he was allowed to watch PG-13 movies or hadn't been terrified by the first five minutes of the original 1950's Godzilla movie when we tried watching it together.

There is actually a male Muto which has wings and kind of looks like a stealth bomber with legs and a female Muto which has eight limbs.  Both Mutos are capable of generating electromagnetic interference, or EMP bursts, which in spy movies can be used to take down the power grids of entire cities which may or may not be entirely fiction.

Anyway, we now know what Muto does.

Sam started swim team last night.  I still remember moving up from the B-team to the A-team at the North Palm Beach Swim Club.  This meant moving from an hour and a half practice with Coach Diechert to a two hours practice with Coach Cavanah.  But considering we spent a lot of time goofing off (and every Thursday doing relays) on the B-team, the commensurate jump in yardage was much higher.

I was exhausted.

I knew Sam could handle it, but I was worried he'd come home wiped out, unable to do his homework, sit at the table for dinner, or much of anything else, for that matter. 

I remember telling my mom I wanted to quit.  It was too hard.  I wanted to go back to the B-team.  I wasn't ready for the A-team.  But she talked me into sticking with it, and eventually my endurance grew and my arms ached a little bit less after each practice.  I hope Sam sticks with it, too. He has three practices a week for now, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday morning. I think he will stick with it, but I am just so proud that he went out for the team at all and see that as an achievement, in and of itself.  He said even the kid who did not qualify to participate in the October meet in Nepal are still practicing, so I hope he sees that as a sign he can benefit from swimming without ever racing.

Clementine has been good for about one complete melt down a day.  I have no idea what to attribute this to. Maybe it is the age she is at, exhaustion from the early mornings and long days, or influence of friends at school. 

Last night, she started spiraling right after she brushed her teeth. (It may have been precipitated by Peter asking her what Muto does.) But as she kicked and screamed, I -- as gently as possible when one kicks and screams -- guided her to her bed, slid back the mosquito netting, and crawled in with her.  She wanted to read.  I had turned off the lights. Instead, I told her a story.

Inspired by our recent trip south to the beach at Weligama, I told her the story of Jojo who lives in Weligama in a one-room grass hut with his mother and older brother and older sister.  The hut has a thatch roof and a floor of packed dirt and they all four sleep in the one room on grass mats. Jojo's father is a truck driver.  During the week, he drives a gas truck around Sri Lanka, coming home on the weekends.  On the weekends, all five of them sleep in the one-room grass hut.

As the youngest, Jojo was often teased by his older brother and sister.  When he tried to play with the local boys and girls in the town, they often picked on his, as well.  They said his father had other girlfriends all over Sri Lanka; it was likely Jojo didn't even know who is real mother was.

Frustrated and upset, Jojo set out to prove himself. He pointed to the sole island far offshore in the bay and boasted, "I will swim out to the island."

The kids all laughed at Jojo, because, of course, they all knew no one could swim out to the island.  The island was too far, the currents were too strong, the waves were too high, and the rocks to sharp and jagged. But Jojo was eager to prove himself, so he striped down to his briefs and waded out into the surf. The water lapped over his ankles, then rose to his shins, and lapped at his chin before the sea floor fell out beneath the soles of his feet. He stretched his long, skinny brown arms and stroked, pulling himself further away from land.

The waves were, indeed high, and the currents tugged at his body.  The rocks scrapped and poked at him, but after many long hours swimming in the surf, he arrived at the island, tired and cold.

He stepped onto the island, feeling the cold sand between his toes and looked back at the shore and the town where his family was longingly.

"Hello?" came a voice from the bushes and trees.

"Hello?" Jojo replied. "Who's there?"

"It is I," came the voice, ragged and pitched. "The old man of the island."

"But no one has ever swum to the island before," insisted Jojo.

"I have," said the man. "And now that you are here to replace me, I can leave."

But Jojo didn't want to stay on the island until he was an old man.  He had only come to the island to prove to the other boys and girls in Weligama he was strong and brave.

"I don't want to stay here," he told the old man.

"You must," he said, "That is what happens when you come to the island with something to prove. That's how I came here as a young boy, too."

The old man had waddled to the edge of the sea, squinting back toward Weligama and shore, licking his lips, seemingly, in anticipation of rejoining civilization. He swung his arms as one does before a long swim, the darkly tanned and weathered skin flapping from his chest and arms. 

"Wait!" yelled Jojo.

The old man glanced at Jojo skeptically.

"You've proven you are brave enough to swim to the island. But what if I told you there was another island, even further away?  Imagine what your friends would think of you if you told them you had swum out to this island." Jojo pointed in the opposite direction of shore, out to sea.

"I don't see another island," protested the old man.

"It is so far away you can't see it.  It is past the horizon. It is where the long boats go to fish. No one has ever swum there before. You're friends will be so impressed!"

The old man scratched his chin as he pondered this. He circled the island and put his hand to his deep blue eyes, shielding them from the harsh rays of the sun. "They would be very impressed," he agreed. " I would be the most famous man in the town." And as he said these last words, the old man waded out into the water, past the white water of the surf breaking, and started swimming further out to sea.

Jojo watched him go, then turned to shore. He stepped over the jagged rocks on the beach, into the water, and swam back to the town.

When he reached the beach, the whole town was there. His mother and father and older brother and sister and all the kids from the town who had teased him before had gathered at the beach. They were all worried and all had feared he had surely drowned.

When Jojo emerged from the waves, they wrapped up his cold, wet body and brought him grilled mackerels and toddy. 

"Jojo," his mother said, "You didn't have to prove anything to us. We love you just the way you are." Everyone in the town agreed, though couldn't explain why they had been so mean to Jojo before.

And everyone in Weligama lived happily ever after.