Colombo on Election Day
April 2004©Nigel Spiers

Bangkok to Colombo and my first time on Thai Airways is most encouraging; an almost empty plane, a whole row to myself and lashings of splendid purple and lilac hostees in hip hugging silk.

Ahhh – here come the pre-dinner drinks and salted Soya beans. I wish that young Swedish couple in the next row would stop eating each other. Sven and Inga think I can’t see them trying to join the mile high club under that airline rug.

The road from the airport into the city of Colombo is a 38 km pot-holed dual carriage race track. We rock, jolt and bounce in a clapped out Toyota van at breakneck speed around hairpins while competing drivers overtake on the outside. Arjuna (my driver) has a unique passing style. He races up to within a few feet of the car ahead, stands on the horn, flashes the headlights and then swoops past the humiliated driver with a huge cheesy grin and a wave. Our next target refuses to yield so Arjuna simply pulls into the right hand lane and plays chicken with the on-coming cars until hey submit.

By the 20 km mark I’ve given up suggesting he slow down and assume a whimpering brace position. Encouraged by this show of cowardice Arjuna re-doubles his efforts leaning forward with a maniacal gleam in his eye and a sheen of excitement on his forehead.

My host, Dilshad, is addicted to Rugby he tells me and in fact the whole of Sri Lanka seems to be sport mad and even watch Rugby Super 12 games live.
Dilshad’s favorite team is the All Blacks. Over lunch I try to explain to him that when his hero, Carlos Spencer, passes the ball between his legs on his own goal line it is not cause for national celebration in New Zealand.

Day two in Colombo and its election day. The roads are congested with people driving to their place of birth to be counted and vote - wait a sec – isn’t there a famous book or film about that?
Security is ferocious with armed soldiers examining the papers of any dodgy looking characters on the street. They all look nice friendly folk to me and my hotel is full to the brim with interesting European Union staff here to observe the election process.
In the evening, after a long hot day's work, my hosts suggest dinner at a local restaurant. The 12 of us sit down and we start with a beer - yes just one bottle of beer lovingly poured by the waiter into thimbles set in front of each guest.

In the evening and on the way to the airport the streets are deserted. My driver is crawling along and tells me
“Velly velly dangerous my friend”.
There’s a road-block ahead and as we pull over a heavily armed soldier swaggers up to the driver’s window. F… hell even I can recognize an AK7 barrel poking through the window.
“Don’t worry” whispers the driver
“Just keep velly still sir”.
The driver gets out and a heated discussion ensues with lots of finger pointing and arm waving. Finally the driver returns and as we drive off says
“He say my headlights need adjusting”

Flight BA-9 to Sydney and I’m sitting next to a chatty young thing bedecked in so many gold and silver bangles that she jingles even when she’s not wriggling. In a broad Australian accent she asks me
“Ee’m from Cabramatta, wee’s you from?”
She goes on to tell me how boring Istanbul is and then extols the virtues of Sydney’s western suburbs as the cradle of western civilization.

About this time I take a sleeping pill, drift into merciful release and dream of long hot cloudless days and the surf rolling in from the Bay of Bengal on endless Sri Lankan beaches.

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