Sri Lanka Ice Caps


For the lowlanders, the Hill Country is an uncomfortable place.
“Too cold,” Manuja’s brother says with a dismissive sweep of his hand. “I can’t stay there more than a week.”

Sarath, his wife and children, Amila and Supun, are comfortable in the winter of the Hill Country – as long as they have an ice cap.

Ice Cap

When we visit, stormy weather drives in from the Indian Ocean with short, sharp showers. The temperature drops even lower, and as Sarath drives us up through the tea plantations, I reach for my jumper.

Now at the end of the workday, the Tamil tea-pickers emerge from their two-room houses and tumble down the lane between the tea bushes. The boys walk with arms casually slung across each other’s shoulders; the girls arms linked in conspiracy, their heads bent close as they giggle in gossip. Grown-ups gather around roadside stalls. A three-wheeler bread van squeezes through, playing a jingoistic tune.

The faces are darker and coarser here; faces that spend long hours on the hillside in the unfiltered sunlight. These Tamils are the most recent influx of immigrants, brought in by colonial Britons, first to tend the coffee plantations, and when those failed, to work the tea bushes.

Tea Plantation Terraces

Their houses sit in the sweep of low-lying tea bush on the hillsides, a rainbow of pastel colour in among the fresh green of leaf.

By the time we reach the top of the pass, the light is wrung from the sky, the world spun to grey-black. The cold air stings through the open window of the car and Sarath reaches for his hat.
Back at home, when the temperature drops, the Gamage family don their ice caps. If their heads are warm, the rest will follow. Only when it’s really cold, do they put on a fleece or jacket.
But here on the hillside, Amila and Supun shiver in the cool mountain air, having forgotten their own ice caps.
Sarath passes the woollen hat to Supun who eventually passes it to Amila. And so they share in turn.

It’s an apt metaphor for this close-knit family.

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