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
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
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.
Postcards from Abroad