I could also call this episode â€œSo Long and Thanks for all the Dahl: Part 2,â€ (a la our departure from India) but Iâ€™ve written enough praise about Sabahâ€™s cooking. I could describe to you the goodbyes and gift-giving of our last week in Nuwara Eliya, but Iâ€™m tired of farewell, inured. I donâ€™t think describing our final day crunch-time in the PALM office or our last-minute preparations for Africa would be very exciting either, though some mention of Harineeâ€™s delivery is due, a healthy girl who the astrologers name â€œDimanti Thisarie.â€
Perhaps the best thing is to speak of the journey itselfâ€”immediately after the sad, awkward hugs with Sabah in the Toppass garden, beginning with motion: the cool-air drive to Nanu Oya rail station with Lal and his children, them waiting with us on the platform, the little one playing with a balloon Tay gives him, the train late, but it doesnâ€™t matter.
We ride through tea and tea and more tea, through the backyards of the laborers, ramshackle and swaddled in greenery, rolling expanses of bush-carpeted hills, broken only by the occasional stand of pines or steep, waterfall-slicked drainages.
The first-class observation car with its wide caboose window and reclining pleather seats is worlds away from our first Sri Lankan train, the hell-ride from Hikkaduwa a few weeks ago, when we were trapped between cars, wedged among a thousand families on their way back to the capital, dirt and ash swirling, sweat dripping, crazy motion, no room to sit or stand. No, this ride is a walk in the park; we ease back and watch the rails appear from under the back window, the sari- and sarong-clad people stepping back onto the tracks as soon as the train passes, continuing their Sunday walks to somewhere.
Descending. Air warmer. Children screaming, hooting out the windows each time we rock our way through a tunnel, their heads dangerously outside open windows, the sheer thrill of it in their wind-blown hair and eyes as we emerge into light and they pull back into the car again. The air warmer still, six hours of this change until, drained, we reach Fort Station; sweating.
At Sutamiâ€™s we join a crowd of refugeesâ€”volunteers, mostly British VSO workers (Volunteer Service Overseas, their version of the Peace Corps), evacuated from sites in the north and east where the violence has been increasing, offices closed in Jaffna and Trincomalee. The words â€œClaymore minesâ€ and â€œsecurity situationâ€ buzz amidst uncertain and excited talk about what will happen next. We recognize a few from our stay two months ago, but we do not linger in the guesthouse and spend most of our time out, with friends.
Emily and Gaya take us to the Galle Face Hotel, where we indulge in High Tea and watch a dirty red sun set across the Indian Ocean, swollen orb dipping into our next destination. Roseanna joins us for dinner at the posh â€œNumber 18.â€ At midnight, Susantha arrives to take us to the airport; then a long, sleepless swirl begins until
Dar es Salaam, the â€œHouse of Peace.â€