Waking up early, going out into the garden at the back of the house, finding Pascal (85) standing there in his long sarong, taking in the singing of the birds and enjoying the yet not scorching sun, were the favorite moments of my Colombo stay. The garden is small, but doesn’t seem that way, because only a meshed fence separates it from the neighbor’s vegetable plot, and beyond that are the paddy (rice) fields with grazing buffaloes against a backdrop of green hills.

The area used to be part of a jungle. It is still hot and humid, now called The Wetlands, but the rich and unique ecosystem has gradually been replaced by developed land, in the process  destroying the habitats of a variety of species, among others monkeys, a few of which are still roaming the area, living off people’s fruit trees.

The neighbor, barefoot, long haired and dressed in a brown short sleeved shirt and a shorter, and dirtier…, version of Pascal’s sarong, moves silently about, watering and tending to his plants, mainly string beans and lady fingers, a legume commonly grown here. The watering is done by using a ceramic vessel of traditional shape; a big “belly” with a narrow nozzle. Scooping up the water from the small irrigation canals, he lets it flow from his urn and onto his hands, which in turn deftly spreads the water where it is needed. He goes about his work, meticulously , but without haste. Once in a long while he sits down and drinks a brownish liquid from a plastic bottle. I find myself hoping it’s tea, and not discolored water…

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