Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 16

It feels like it's time for another installment of "An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly". You're probably wondering how life has been treating me over the past few months. It's been busy in all aspects of life, but I've been reaping the rewards of all the good stuff I've been sowing for the past few years. If you've been following this blog it's been quite a journey. My intention has always been to blur the lines between expat/foreigner/immigrant (or whatever you want to call me) and local. Therefore, a lot of the things I have thrown myself into have been towards learning, exploring, connecting and embracing. As the years have passed, I've felt more and more connection to Sri Lanka, like becoming part of the furniture. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's where I call home.

A few years back I started to grow more organic fruit and vegetables in my urban garden. If you've read my blog post titled "How safe (or toxic) is the food we grow and eat in Sri Lanka?", I had (and still continue to have) a lot of concerns about the widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the agricultural industry in Sri Lanka and the lack of regulation to give confidence to consumers. One of my personal solutions was to expand the existing vegetable plots in my garden, and also look into planting more fruit trees. My efforts (with the help of my part-time gardener) have gone exceedingly well. So much so, I have harvested more organic produce than I can consume.

I could easily have set up a very little fruit and vegetable stall at the local weekend pola, like some of the aachchis or grannies, and made a little pocket money. But no, I haven't done that. Instead, I've shared the excess organic produce with my neighbors. And they in turn have started sharing some of theirs with me 😁  So far I've received some star fruit, kohila ala, mangoes and olives. It's definitely a wonderful outcome for all of us.

On the fruit side I have about three or four amba (mango) trees that harvest large baskets of big, sweet mangoes. Then there's my two mandarin trees and a few papaya trees which seem to grow all year round. I also have a few passion fruit vines that have been fruiting very well and the leaves are popular for salads. I'm still waiting on my belli (bael fruit), delum (pomegranate) and aligeta-pera (avocado) trees to start fruiting but once they do I'll be over the moon!

On the vegetable side I'm enjoying my ever-expanding and experimental plots that grow kohila, gotukola, thampala, kankun and assorted herbs including sera (lemongrass), rampe (pandan leaves) and minchi (mint). So far they are doing well and I can basically eat from my garden, but they can be affected by extreme weather conditions, so I try to keep a watchful eye on those vegetable plots. I also have murunga (drumstick trees); kathurumurunga; tembu; karapincha (curry leaves), karawila (bitter gourd) and other goodies.

It's joyful to be able to eat straight from your garden knowing that it's home-grown and organic. The added bonus has been gradually developing a friendly network sharing our organic homegrown produce between neighbors. There's no cost or obligation and there's no expectation to barter. I highly recommend it 😉

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With the release of the Sri Lankan Government's Budget 2017 there has been a wave of anger and frustration circling the island. Of course there are fundamental macro-economic issues that need to addressed by the government, but people are really feeling the pinch at a grass roots level. It's understandable. Everything seems to be going up - from food to utilities to transport and more. And wages across the island aren't increasing by the same trajectory, so the pain is very real. You only have to take note of the increasing number of strikes that have or are taking place around the island. It doesn't make for a happy time.

In fact, it's not dissimilar to the predicament in many places around the globe, developed or otherwise.

Let's take a look at the price of thembili (king coconuts) as an example. Last year, I could still buy a thembili for 40 rupees from a street seller by the side of the road. But this year, the price of a thembili has been steadily increasing. On Wednesday last week I bought one for 60 rupees, then the same man charged me 70 rupees for the same-sized thembili on Saturday. I couldn't help but ask him about it because we both seemed to be experiencing a shared misery over the prices of thembili.

He basically explained that his thembili prices to customers are determined by the price at which he can buy his thembili in bulk.  On Tuesday he was able to buy them for 50 rupees, but on Friday he had to pay 60 rupees. Therefore, he had to adjust the price he charged. I think at this point I was simply stunned that he made only 10 rupees per thembili, and that's not including anything for his labor to cut the thembili open for me or the price of a straw (if I had used one).

I asked him what he thought about the overall situation regarding the pricing of thembili and he confirmed my thoughts that they had skyrocketed from last year. He mentioned the exporting of thembili from Sri Lanka and the growing issue of local supply/demand forcing the prices up. There are many other factors as well - from increased tourism and hotel demand for thembili, seasonal and weather conditions, religious and astrological demand and much more.

Over the weekend, while running errands around Colombo, I stopped at a few places to check out thembili prices. One street seller on Marine Drive was selling thembili for 80 rupees and then along the beach the price ranged from 100 to 120 rupees. Then, when I popped into one of the supermarkets to do some grocery shopping I saw packaged thembili  in the cold storage area being sold for 75 rupees.

Now, I'm wondering what next year's prices will be? 😨

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It has now been almost four years since I set up this blog and published my first post. I'm actually a little amazed that I've managed to sustain it for this long, not because it's a burden, but more because I have so much going on in my life. There have definitely been times where I haven't been able to publish as regularly, or even complete the numerous draft posts that I've started. And yet, I continue to receive plenty of messages, questions and comments via social media, this blog and email.

I was pretty clear when I started that I didn't want to have advertising, marketing and promotion of business enterprises on the blog. I simply wanted to connect and help others, offer an expat perspective on life in Sri Lanka, share some anecdotes and pictures, and be generous about it.

This motivation hasn't changed all that much and I really enjoy the opportunity to freely share what I know about Sri Lanka with whoever has an interest in either visiting or living here. I've been quite humbled by the feedback on the blog and the generosity of spirit in how we connect. I greatly appreciate the continued readership, support, suggestions, questions and interest in expat life in Sri Lanka.

Additionally, I think I've benefited in a deeper sense from what I've been able to offer through this blog. It can't be easily quantified as it's a sense of gradually being more at ease and at home in Sri Lanka. There were times during the first few years where I used to need to leave the island to re-balance or reset things. But nowadays, I feel more off-balance the longer I stay away from the island. I think some of the ease I've found over the past few years is a result of the time and effort I've put into assisting others via this blog.

Sending well wishes and friendship from me to you 😄😄😄

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If you haven't read these yet, but are interested in reading my earlier "Expat in Sri Lanka blog posts"... you can click on the links below:

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 1 on what it's like living as an expat in SL
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 2 on local attitudes, dual pricing, behaviors
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 3 on police force, corruption and stories
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 4 on garbage collection, waste and recycling
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 5 on the case for expat fatigue
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 6 on miscellaneous encounters at the post office, around the neighborhood, Mt Lavinia Beach and more
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 7 on New Year celebrations, firecrackers and dodgy doctors
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 8 on Avurudu, Sri Lanka T20 World Cup win and cooling fruits
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 9 on living as an foreign expat woman in Sri Lanka
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 10 on visa renewal process, helping Chinese tourists and enjoying roadside corn-on-the-cob
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 11 on things they don't tell you about living in Sri Lanka, Peenas oil, Colombo apartments and taxes on imported food items
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 12 on an unusual picture of a local man; gathering local plants for ayurveda; and commuting between Colombo and Kandy
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 13 on recent Sri Pada pilgrimage and dansel; harvesting season for cloves and nutmeg; attending a Buddhist ordination ceremony; and my Jar of Awesome Things
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 14 on moving away from the expat bubble and embracing local lifestyle and culture in Sri Lanka
An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 15 on being away from Sri Lanka experiencing new things and returning from travels and acknowledging what is great about where you live...

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