Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sveta Nyet and the Ugly American

Yesterday I was bored, so I decided to bike into Colombo to entertain myself. Plus, I was supposed to meet friends for coffee later, so this way when they called with suggestions on where to meet, I wouldn't be so far away.

This weekend was the Hindu Val festival. I didn't know this ahead of time, but as I'm riding up Galle Road, I look to my right and there is a parade going down the street. So I think, hmm, must be another Perahera, until I take a closer look. Remember, I'm riding my bike on a major thoroughfare. Well, the Val festival is when Hindus do various mutilations to themselves to bring them closer to the gods. So there were men hanging from chains over the street attached via hooks that had been pierced through their skin! I have no photos to commemorate this event, but I have a terrible memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It almost made me fall off my bike!

I couldn't take much of that, so I went to Barefoot. I thought I'd get a lime soda (yummy drink made from fresh lime and club soda, usually with sugar, but I prefer without) and have a look in their book section for something to read. I swear Amitha and I have some sort of freaky ESP-thing going because there she was, about to call me to suggest meeting at Barefoot. So that made things easier. Lisa (actually living elsewhere, but in town for the day), Verti and Zack all showed up and we had a drink in Barefoot.

Anyway, after some wandering around of shops I decided to go home for a bit and then meet them all later for dinner. What this meant was two bike rides in and out of Colombo. Not a great distance, but still by the last ride home I was surely going to be tired.

And I was tired. I just wanted to get home. It was about 11 p.m. and I had really had it with the comments I'd been receiving from random men all day (mostly just 'hi' which seems innocent, but is not). Basically I'm such an oddity that I get a great deal of unwanted attention. I was practically home. I had already made the turn where the street cuts in a Y at the Buddha window, which is my landmark for being on the home stretch. I noticed the cops stopping traffic, but they didn't stop me, so I figured I was home free.

Well I got to about 1.5 km from my house, when the cops finally stopped me. Now remember, it is 11 p.m. This is extremely late for Colombo -- people don't really go outside after dark much here. I know this will sound crazy, but there was a Perahera and they wouldn't let me go. Usually there is a Perahera and they close one side of the street, but you can still move on the other side. Plus, there shouldn't be a Perahera -- Poya isn't until next week. I personally feel this was put here just to irritate me. And that is when the ugly American in me came out. I couldn't take it anymore. The cops said I'd have to stand here for an hour and wait, while men in the crowd were literally verbally harassing me with the cops standing right there. I looked at the cop and asked if he planned to do anything about that (meaning the hissing, clapping and the hi, how are you's) and he looked at me like I was insane. So I began my tirade that I was not waiting for this and they would have to give me instructions for how to get home another route. Honestly, I would have stayed and watched, but I was so tired and so irritated by the constant attention.

So the cops told me a different route (which took me way out of my way and added 30 minutes to my bike ride when I was only 5 minutes from my house) and I actually made them part the sea of people so I could take this route. I'm not proud of my actions, but even as I write this, a day later, I'm irritated with the behavior of the men here. Perahera is a religious event -- they can't take a couple hours out of their day to actually behave properly for a religious event! See ugly American. [I've since asked someone at work if there is anything that can be done about this unwanted attention -- he said women don't venture out after dark and they don't go anywhere alone. Great, I see no solution in this comment.]

Then today I woke up to no electricity (that is what Sveta Nyet means -- we used to say it all the time in Kazakhstan). This has happened before, but the lights came on after a couple of hours.

I also woke up to drumming. Turns out the little temple just around the corner from my house was having a Perahera. Somehow I got dressed and ran out with my camera just in time to catch the entire thing.

The electricity was still out when I got back, so I thought I'd just bike into town and have lunch at a cafe, read a little and when I came back I'd have electricity. [I thought I might catch the Val Festival again and get photos this time, but no such luck.]

Still no lights.

I asked the security guard if this was just our house or the entire neighborhood. I've had this feeling something is wrong with our electricity because it has been flickering a lot lately. The guard said it was everyone and they expect them to be back on around 6. I thought, o.k. I can live with this. Remember, no electricity means no fans, which means it was stinkin' hot. I've taken a number of showers today.

Anyway, six o'clock came and went with no lights. As it grew dark outside, it became apparent that we were indeed the only ones without lights. So then the phone calls started. Finally an electrician from the electricity board came to the house. Apparently a wire was loose outside of the house. So around 8 p.m. the lights came on. Now I am way behind in all the things I hoped to accomplish today. I need to do laundry, but I have to wait for Aya, so I might be up half the night. I have to do it today because I could leave for Sinharaja any day this week. I hate not knowing when things will happen.


Anonymous said...

If I'm feeling really tired of the attention, I sometimes yell at the guy who did the grabbing. The scary thing is that it really really used to bother me, and now I just never look anyone in the eye and avoid going anywhere public by myself. Buying into the game is a bit of a lame course of action, but sometimes there are too many fights to fight here...Y

Jessica L. said...

Oh, I've already started never looking anyone in the eye or answering back. I'll eventually get used to it.