I’m sitting on the bed in the family’s spare room, graciously cleared and made up just for me. The house is huge by Sri Lankan standards, especially for a village that’s not even on the map. Living here is 18-year old Danushika and her mother, introduced to me simply as ‘Mom’, or ‘Ama’, in Sinhala. The mystery of where Dad is would be revealed later. Even though we’ve just met, and I’m a foreigner in their house, they call me ‘sister’ and ‘daughter’, they’re sweet and enthusiastic and I’m instant family.
To reach their hilltop home is quite a trek. My new little sister and I take the mini-hike up to their house at a leisurely pace. We stop often for brief chats with neighbours, and I’m endlessly but politely interrogated about my family, my hobbies, and what I think about Sri Lanka. The path to their house winds up from the main village, and is lined with huge jackfruit and banana trees. The surrounding jungle is dense and luscious and echoes with bird and wild peacock calls. A little stream trickles unobtrusively over the rocks beside us.
We head up, up and up. Small trails branch off invitingly to one side and the other, up and over, around unseen bends. Finally we reach their house. It’s a bright baby blue and perched on a patch of grass that’s soft and green (lawns are rare in these parts, and yards are normally bare and dusty).
Inside the dim home, the usual odd Sri Lankan collections of household items. Family photos arranged on the sofa, wedding photos blown up poster size and framed, magazine cutouts of Western babies, and wall calendars (at least 2 per room). The house has a living room and a small dining room and 3 bedrooms. Mom and daughter share a room, and dad got his own room, shared only with the rice cooker. There is no bathroom, only an outhouse with a bucket. The kitchen is a mud-and-clay structure outside. You washed at the water tanks at the bottom of the yard, or down by the river. Personal space and privacy are rare commodities in Sri Lanka, so I’m extremely grateful to have my very own room. What a treat. Ama flits in and out of the room with various things for me – a plastic side table, a mirror, and tea – with smiles and head bobs and streams of incomprehensible Sinhalese at her newly adopted daughter.
Danushika talks in her best English about her upcoming A-level exams, her dreams to join the Navy, and Buddhism. She prays to Lord Buddha every morning and evening. A short while later, the TV clicks off, and I see her through my room curtain on her hands and knees in front of the Buddha in the shrine next to the TV, hands at her heart and chanting prayers unselfconsciously.
Later, we have rice and curries cooked by Ama on the fire in the outside kitchen. The traditional bean curry has an awesome smokey flavour, there’s a sweet, creamy plantain curry, and even some fish. I eat with my right hand with relish, and try to fend off Ama’s attempts to pile more rice on to my plate. After dinner, it’s time for Sadahatama oba mage, the Korean teledrama dubbed in Singhala. Mom and daughter are lulled to sleep on the couch while romantic dramas unfold on screen, and I crawl into my mosquito net and pass out peacefully.