News for August 2004

Last week in Sri Lanka

Greetings everyone,

Here’s the latest update from Sri Lanka. I quit smoking a couple weeks ago. I’ve forgotten to mention it. It feels good to breathe again. What else? Read on…

One day, when walking down the street, I spied a homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk. Now this may not be uncommon, but for the fact that he had dreadlocks. He was, in fact, one of the few people I’ve seen in Sri Lanka with dreadlocks. So, I went up to said individual and asked him if I could take his picture. When I whipped out my camera, he opened his toothless, betel chew stained mouth and said, “Anne matte denne,” which means, “C’mon, give it to me.” Well, I managed to take his photo and gave him 10 rupees in return. This guy was obviously off his hook. He was quite insane, and as I started walking away I was glad that he was satisfied with 10 rupees. (Find photos of this guy in the gallery).

On another day, Roshan, Niroshi, Mayah and I went to a party. It was largely uneventful, but on the way back we came across a dreadful car crash. A result of drunk driving, the car had smashed into the concrete on the side of a bridge, flipped and landed between 2 bridges, and was hanging precariously over the river. The 2 passengers in the car apparently walked away unharmed. (Find photos of this accident in the gallery).

Last weekend I went on a trip to Kataragama, a holy city in the southern part of Sri Lanka. Drove down there with my friend Dikka, who takes a trip down there about twice a year. Although by our standards it would have been 1.5-2 hrs away, it took us about 8 hours to get there by car. The roads were small and winding, and and infested by all manner of obstacles, including cars, trucks, 3-wheeled cabs, bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, cows, goats, etc… Driving here is totally insane; I had to close my eyes and pray for safety innumerable times.

On the way to Kataragama, we stopped by a beach town called Unawattuna, alleged to have one of the best beaches in the world. We decided to eat have a drink there. It is a truly beautiful beach, and we were enjoying the view when a bead salesman approached us. Upon seeing me, he announced “Welcome, Roman Edirisinghe.” I did a double take. Had I ever seen this guy before? Surely not – he had a memorable face. And yet here was this guy who claimed to have seen my and my band on TV and the internet. Finally, after a few minutes I knew something was up. I looked at my friend Dikka, who was sitting there quite earnestly, and I realized he’d somehow put this bead salesman up to this ruse. We all had a good laugh about it (see photos). I then bought some beads, and asked the beadguy if he was going to use the money on liquor later that night (Sri Lankans have a penchant for drinking)… He replied that he didn’t drink alcohol and instead he preferred this: he then picked up my bottle of soda, filled my glass with it, and started drinking the rest of my soda out the bottle. I nearly split in half laughing. This guy was so crazy. He left us a few moments later, continuing his bead peddling. We saw him go up to a sunbathing tourist couple and start tickling the guy’s feet. Finally the guy rolled off, laughing. He then offered the lady his hand, and pulled it away just in time and stuck his tongue out at her. Dikka & I were in stitches.

We got to Kataragama later that night. Upon entering the town, Dikka found out that one of his good friends in Kataragama had died about 2 weeks back, which apparently eliminated some of the plans he had had for the trip. So instead, we found a hotel to stay in. This part of the country was very dry. It hadn’t rained in 6 months. After freshening up @ the hotel, we went to the Kataragama temple to make an offering, called “Pooja“. Pooja involves obtaining a plate of fruit to offer to the god Kataragama, who it turns out was a Hindu god of sorts. However, all the Buddhists on the island make a type of pilgrimage to the town because it is a very sacred place. Incidentally, Kataragama turned out to be a diety of music as well, and Dikka explained to me that Carlos Santana and Duran Duran had not only spent time there but also made devotional offerings and songs to the God. Armed with this knowledge, we walked to the temple, accompanied by the boy who was bearing our Pooja. Right before the temple gates, we had to take off our shoes. I was wearing the typical black rubber slippers that one finds there. We walked in barefoot, made out offerings, walked to another building, went thru some more ritual experiences (which included smearing a little coconut oil on our foreheads and receiving a blessing of some powder by a Swami), and then walked to a the Buddhist part of the complex. There, we made an offering of water lillies, and lit some incense. The whole time, I was trying to connect to the experience, and I had a difficult time embracing the place spiritually (internally) because it was all so new and I was overloaded with external stimuli. So heading back, we were almost at the gates when we noticed a band was coming closer. Led by a trumpet player, the band consisted of a bunch of drummers trailed by an entourage of dancers. And the shit sounded so good that I had no choice but to join in. It was then that I connected with Kataragama, and was welcomed in by the dancers and the musicians. They recognized me as a foreigner, but I also spoke Sinhala, and they complimented me on my dancing. The music kept playing and playing and it was a real blast. Afterwards, we met the trumpet player (Rohana) and he invited us to stop by the following day to get a recording of the devotional songs the band had played. Upon leaving the temple, I discovered that someone had walked off with my cheap rubber slippers, probably thinking they were their own. So I walked home barefoot.

Dikka & I crashed in the hotel room and I was under a mosquito net. For some reason, he didn’t want his. At some point in the night, the power went out, which mean out ceiling fan stopped working. It got so hot, and the mosquitos were dive bombing the net. I could hear them whining away. Furthermore, my roommate was snoring. It was rough. Eventually, the power came back on and we got a good nights sleep. The following day, it started raining! What a feeling. One could just see the dry earth soaking up the moisture. The smell was incomparable. The earth smelled freshly laundered. We checked out, met with Rohana (he gave me a CD with 18 tracks played by him & the band), got me some new rubber slippers (these were unmistakably blue), and left town. We decided to head back to Unawattuna. Hours later, we arrived there. Apparently the rain had struck all over the island, pretty hard. We decided instead that we should simply head back to Colombo, so we did.

I’m back in Colombo now, trying to feel everything out. I’ve had a very intense trip, full of emotions I never expected to feel. I’m headed back to the US this weekend, and I’m almost ready to come back. I just have a few more things to do in town, and I’ll be coming home.



Posted: August 16th, 2004
Categories: culture, travel
Tags: , ,
Comments: 2 Comments.

Day 20 in Sri Lanka

Hey there,

The baby got baptized on Sunday, August 8th. I’ve already mailed u a link to view some of the photos. The experience was rather amusing. One one hand, there was Niroshi’s side of the family, all ultra-conservative, Roman Catholics who would ordinarily not choose to be in my company, and on the other, there was my side of the family – my cousin Roshan and his friends, and lastly, me, dreads & all. The ceremony was conducted by a Jedi Knight. Just look at the pictures. I really felt the presence of The Force. Luke Skywalker was definitely there in spirit, as were Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia.

The funniest thing about the ceremony (actually there were 2 really funny things). Firstly, the godmother Nilu had no idea of how to hold a baby. I believe maternity would pose an interesting challenge to her. Secondly, once Nilu held the baby in her arms, Mayah started trying to suck on Nilu’s breast thru her clothes. Oh god, I thought I’d die!!! When the priest finally poured some water on Mayah’s head, she started wailing. I guess babies don’t really enjoy getting cold water poured on their heads, even by a Jedi Knight.

Later that day, there was a party. Niroshi’s dad got really drunk and asked me to call him my younger brother. There was singing and general merrymaking. We had a a barbecue and I made some killer veggie kabobs. Even later, after most of the people had disappeared, one of Roshan’s friends, in a drunken frenzy, ended up punching a wall with his bare hands because he found out that a girl he really liked was simply using him. Talk about self hate. His knuckles were swollen and bleeding. It shook me up real bad, and after everyone left, I thought about Sri Lanka and why the people here are so intense. What I came up with is this: The history of this country dates back 3000+ years. Much of that history is linked directly with spirituality. So let’s assume that spiritual energy can build up in certain places, to the point where the place but radiates it. If people chose not to attune themselves to that energy, and understand it, and work with it, it ends up erupting out of them regardless… This is the best explanation I could come up with. Although this country boasts four religions, those that claim to be Christian or Tamil or Buddhist or Muslim don’t necessarily follow the principles. It’s the same with the rest of the world.

Anyway, my stay here is more than half over. I’ve met many cool people, and I’ve met some fucked up people. It’s just like anywhere else. I’ve met a woman who I really like, and there are also some challenges to us getting together. This culture poses some interesting dilemmas to romance. Oh well. I’ll take it as it comes and make the most of everything.

I’m getting used to people staring at me everywhere I go. You know, one of the reasons I enjoy leaving Milwaukee is that I can be anonymous. I’ve lived in my hometown for such a long time that I rarely avoid running into someone I know when I’m out in public. Coming here, however, is not giving me my fill of anonymity. I want to be a stranger, but it’s hard to feel like that when everyone is staring.

Don’t forget to check out the online photo gallery…

Well, I’ll see you all soon. Be well,

Roman Edirisinghe

Posted: August 10th, 2004
Categories: culture, travel
Tags: , ,
Comments: No Comments.

Day 16 in Sri Lanka

Hi folks,

I’m back to Colombo after visiting my family in Kurunegala. By now u should have received an email inviting u to check out the photos I added to the online gallery.

Um, let’s see. Where to start.

So I took a train to Kurunegala. Pretty laid back, actually. I love travelling by train, watching the scenery sort of whiz by. It seems a lot safer than driving here, that’s for sure. The motorists here are absolutely psychotic, and could give a New York cabbie a run for his money.

I arrived in Kurunegala late monday evening, and spent some time with my family. The following day, I took a walk around the village with my aunt. Two things come to mind as I recall that experience: 1) everyone recognized me, because I used to live there as a kid and 2) if I thought being stared at in Colombo because of my dreads was bad, I was in for it in the village. So it was similar to being some kind of celebrity. The village (Thiragama) was pretty laid back. I spent my days either reading, or walking around. The food was great. At night, I took a nude “shower” by the well, if u consider using a bucket a shower. It was deliciously cold, and helped me shed layers of sweat that one inevitably accumulates while there. One night, it rained heavily, and I decided to take my shower under the drainspout. I had my cousin turn off all the lights, and I stripped again, and it was freakin’ amazing! I can’t even convey what that feels like in words. To be surrounded by inky black night, with a storm raging above you, immersed in yummy cold water is totally out of this world, yet so much part of this world.

Part of Kurunegala’s attraction is this huge rock called “Athugalle.” A couple years ago, the Buddhist Ministry built a huge Buddha statue up on top, right in front of all the radio/tv/mobile phone antennas perched up there. Quite the juxtaposition, actually! Anyway, I went there with my aunt Susila and my cousin Dilini. We checked out the statue and the view, and then started walking back down. There was a little shop and we picked up some cookies. As we continued our descent, we were suddenly appoached by a gang of monkeys, all of whom wanted some cookies. So Susila threw one a cookie, but then we were swarmed. One of them jumped up on me, and I raised my knee in defense to knock it off. Seconds later, another came charging out of the brush, teeth bared aggressively. I had to make all sorts of noise and hide the cookies before those monkeys would leave us alone.

Let’s see, I’m back in Colombo now. The baptism of my godchild is tomorrow. I’ll let u know how that goes. We all know how devoutly Roman Catholic I am. Hee hee.

Miss u all a bunch,



Posted: August 7th, 2004
Categories: culture, travel
Tags: , ,
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Day 12 in Sri Lanka

Hello folks,

Latest update. Life is now drama free.

The missing wife had been recovered. It turns out her parents snatched her up because they hadn’t seen her in a while, and when they discovered their cell phone call had been traced and that there was police and Sri Lankan mafia looking for her, they decided to let her go.

The guy who punched a cop got bailed out successfully, and I think he is seriously reconsidering the course of his life.

The fired maid apparently spoke to Niroshi’s aunt (the one who referred her), and claimed that Niroshi & I were trying to get her out of the house so that we could get it on. Interesting notion, considering we have a video of her going thru Niroshi’s purse. I’d love to make it available on the internet for all of u 2 see. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I’m planning to leave Colombo this afternoon, and head for Kurunegala, where my dad’s family came from. It’s going to be nice to leave the city for a while, but I probably won’t have internet access there. So I’ll email you all when I get back, which will be before the weekend. I have to be back before sunday for the christening ceremony. (Interesting especially considering I’m about as far removed from a practicing Roman Catholic as you can get).

Well, I miss you all. I especially miss y’all One Drum members. It’s been interesting playing music here – I’ve turned into a hit machine of sorts – I’ve been playing 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s tunes. Some Eagles, Eric Clapton, Bryan Adams, Guns N Roses, Nirvana, etc – mostly what people request. They have no interest in hearing One Drum tunes. Been playing some La Bamba, Guantanamera, etc. I guess what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger, eh? The saving grace, however, is that everyone loves Bob Marley, and so do I.

I’m doing much better. My mood has improved dramatically…



Posted: August 2nd, 2004
Categories: culture, travel
Tags: , ,
Comments: No Comments.