We stayed two nights at Kurumba House, in Tangalle, being cooked and cared for by Rupa and Tekla, who arrived from the beach in the morning to make breakfast and left in the evening the same way. A handful of others walked and rode their motorbike on the wide smooth sand.
Amma asked Rupa and Tekla about the Tsunami. “Madam,” they said, and then continued in Singhalese.
Z turned to me when they are done. “They said that some people got out, but because of the lagoon, the water came from two directions, and most didn’t make it. Now, they say, there are drills every few months.”
This whole coast was struck by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the architecture of the place shows it. Solid cool concrete, floor and walls, bed frame and closets, night stand and wash basin. Beautiful, but more than that, functional. If there was a flood, nothing would float away save the mattress.
Rupa and Tekla cleared the lunch plates and began to plan dinner. “Rice and curry?” Rupa asked. Tekla said a few words I couldn’t follow. Amma nodded. Then I caught the word miris. Chili.
“I can handle the spice,” I said, quickly, guessing. They all smiled.
The few Sinhalese words I know fall into two categories: food and creepy crawlies. Kimbulabunnis: sweet croissant like rolls. Miris: chili. The: tea. Seeni: sugar. Garandia: snake. Huna: gecko. Meru: flying termites that flock to the light.
When Thaththa wouldn’t eat, at the end of his illness, I learned epah, the word for no.
“Tea, Madam?” Rupa asked.
Amma nodded. “Beth?”
“Yes,” I said, then added, “Seeni epah.”
Rupa smiled, “Yes Madam, no sugar.”
As it fell dark the geckos began to chirp. This is sometimes the loudest sound in all of Sri Lanka.
Amma scratched a bite on her arm. “There are so many huna. They are always falling on people.”
I looked behind me. I could easily spot five of the pale bodies on the wall. When I was a kid geckos were the stuff of nightmares. In Sri Lanka, where there is little difference between indoors and outdoors, they are just part of life.
One of the bodies wriggled a bit.
“Did you know there is an almanac for huna? “You look up where the huna falls on you and it tells you your fortune.”
I put down my book as Rupa set pumpkin, loofa, eggplant, fish, and prawn curries on the table.
“Did they fall on you?” I asked Amma.
“What, the huna?”
She got up and went to the table, almost laughing. “Many times.”
Kurumba House. Wonderful. I hope to stay there again. Comfortable, relaxed, delicious.