Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
We wandered around town and found a small cafe.
“Isn’t this one our taxi driver also recommended?” I asked Charles.
“Yes.” Charles nodded.
We went inside and ordered toasted cheese and meat sandwiches. No
coffee, but tea was served and it was delicious.
“Ceylon tea,” the waiter said proudly. “Best in the world.”
“Your English is good,” I said.
“Thank you! I worked on cargo ships for many years. I sailed all over
“Are you a Sri Lankan?”
“Yes. I returned home to look after my family.” he said, looking around
to make sure no one else was in the cafe. “We’re Tamils.”
“We read about the Tamil Tigers in the newspaper,” Charles said.
“We’re calling for an independent state, where we are respected,” the
“I understand,” I replied. “Are the Tamils a minority in Sri Lanka?”
“Yes, and we’ve formed a group to fight for our rights. There is no other
alternative. We will fight to the end.”
Charles and I sat silently, taking it all in.
“I’ll bring you more tea,” the waiter said.
“Is it the group the police think took the dingy from the boat?” I whispered
The waiter returned with more tea. Charles ordered another sandwich.
I told the waiter our nice taxi driver, from Colombo, had recommended
“My cousin,” he said, and in a hushed voice warned us not to talk publicly
about the politics of Sri Lanka. “It’s not safe.”
“In America,” I said, “minorities also have to fight for their rights.”
“Your cousin is a nice man,” I said.
He smiled. “He also sailed the seas for many years. But the Indian
Ocean is different because of the mawsim.”
“Mawsim?” I asked.
“Monsoon in English. Arabic in origin, mawsim means fixed season.
In the North the winds blow from the northeast from November to
March, and then switch and blow from the southwest. The fixed seasons
are called the Northeast and Southwest Monsoons.”
“Is this what causes cyclones?” Charles asked.
“No,” the waiter said. “Cyclones are tropical storms. They form over
tropical oceans with high winds of hurricane force.”
“Oh dear,” I said. “They sound dangerous.”
“If you cross the Indian Ocean in mawsim season, you are guaranteed
a few cyclones.”
Charles asked a few more questions about the Trincomalee area and
asked for the bill.
Going out the front door, I almost tripped over a grossly disfigured
man sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against the wall, outside the cafe.
He held a tin cup, hoping for coins. I asked Charles to give him some
Our waiter appeared in the doorway and told us to drop the coins in
“He’s a leper. An outcast,” the waiter said. “Sits here most days. I feel
sorry for him.”
My mind reeled, remembering images I’d seen of leper colonies in
films. Leprosy was common in Bible times, and was used as an example
of sin’s destructive power. ‘Unclean, unclean,’ a leper was expected
to call out. To think, this terrifying disease has been around since
ancient times. The thought made me shudder. Why was this man here
and not in a leper colony? Why wasn’t he receiving help?
“Isn’t leprosy an infectious disease?” I asked Charles.
“Yes, but not so contagious. Children are more likely to get it than adults.”
“From contact with body fluids?”
“Yes. From someone with untreated leprosy.” Charles answered. “That’s
why our waiter told us to drop the coins in his cup.”
“What a horrible disease,” I said. “Remember the man we saw in India
with the giant elephant legs? Elephantiasis?”
“Everyone else was so skinny; people and cows. And the poor man
could barely move with his heavy legs.”
We stopped in the crowded souk. Colorful displays of green beans,
carrots, peas, and yams got our attention, and the prominent exhibit
of fresh fish impressed me. The market was alive with noise and the
sweet smell of spices and local fruits. One stand was cooking freshly
made stuffed patties. We bought several, and some fresh fruit to take
back to the boat.
Processed milk products were relatively new to Sri Lanka and local
cheese was hard to come by. We found a cheese made from powdered
milk; bought a small piece and sampled it. Not the tastiest, but hey
when in Sri Lanka.
We discussed whether to buy a chicken or seafood, and decided to
wait until we talked with Mia about what foods were needed on board.
“I suspect Mia is a bit territorial in her kitchen,” I told Charles.
“No doubt,” he replied.
The locals were friendly and helpful. A few spoke some English, but
we mainly communicated by pointing. “International sign language
is amazing,” I remarked, as we headed back to the boat.