Archives for posts with tag: muslim

So, last week I wrote a post about getting caught up in the Vel festival, on Slave Island, Colombo.

A week later, I was wandering through the same area, and whilst there was still evidence of the Vel festival (it continues over several weeks), this time it was all about Eid ul Fitr. Ramadan, the holy fasting month for Muslims, had just finished, so everyone was enjoying the first full day of Eid.

on the way to prayer-1I was walking through just on sunset – men and their sons walking to the mosque. Families were in the street, enjoying the cooler air as the heat of the day finally left, and taking the opportunity to chat with friends and neighbours.

I bumped into Riaz, who invited me to join his family for a cup of tea. Riaz, in his mid 30s lives and works in Dubai – and has done so for the last 14 years. He is now an assistant manager at a golf club. He is home for 6 weeks over the Ramadan period to spend time with his family who live on Slave Island.ImageProxy.mvc-2

As we sat outside the family house, neighbours and friends continually dropped by to say hello. ‘Salaam alaikum!’ Everyone was wearing their new clothes, bought for Eid. His mother was relaxing in the cool breeze – after a busy few days cooking for everyone! His niece stopped to show me the mehndi on her hands, specially applied for this time of the year.

ImageProxy.mvcRiaz’s family have lived in this area for the last 3 generations. But their future is a little uncertain as the government has already begun to ‘gentrify’ some nearby streets on Slave Island.

This area is called Slave Island, named by the British, in recognition of the slaves kept here during Dutch and Portuguese rule. Slave Island borders Beira Lake which used to be nearly 3 times the size it is today, and formed a national defence around this small patch of land in the middle of Colombo. Many of the slaves were African and it is believed that some of their descendants still live in this area today, and are often known as Sri Lankan Kaffirs. Javanese and Malays, mostly soldiers under Dutch and British rule, also lived in the area. Many Muslim families live in this area today – they are often referred to as Sri Lankan Moors. It is thought they are descendants of Arab traders that came to Sri Lanka between the 8th and 15th centuries, and/or descended from Tamils that came from India.

photo-5Such a small area with such a diverse and rich history! I always enjoy wandering around this part of Colombo – and feel very thankful that I had the chance to join Riaz and his family for tea.

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Ah! What a delightful change Galle is after Colombo! Although to be fair I only really had one day in Colombo.  But on the other hand there is many a person that recommends skipping Colombo all together when coming to Sri Lanka!

I love traveling by train. And whilst Sri Lanka doesn’t have an extensive train system, some key places are accessible by train. So I opted for the train from Colombo to Galle. But even that wasn’t going to be as simple as I thought. Half of the line from Colombo to Galle is under reconstruction. So rather than look at other options, I decided to catch the train half way, and once I got to Kalutara then I’d work out how to get the rest of the way!

Because of the limited train service I travelled 3rd class. And considering the Lonely Planet recommends that solo women travelers do not take the train at all, I was a little apprehensive (as in other parts of the world, women traveling solo can experience problems here). But after meeting a mother and daughter who were traveling the same route, I had a safe trip, enjoying sitting at the open window, as we followed the sea south. This was certainly no inter-city express – we stopped at stations every 5 – 10 minutes all the way, barely getting up to full speed in between!

I met the delightful Mr Suji (more about him later) as he was finishing his shift at a beachside resort just before the last stop. He helped me negotiate a tuk-tuk to continue the journey – taking advantage of this option to get where he needed to go too!

But 2 hours in the back of a tuk-tuk on a relatively busy road takes it toll. And whilst it is nice to have the constant movement of air, the layers of dirt and grime that came off me once I arrived were incredible!! I began to question my adventurous determination – why didn’t I just take the A/C bus all the way?! Coming into Galle we made our way through the new city – with its bustling bus station, touts looking for unsuspecting travelers, a busy market, and the cricket oval where the 1st England/Sri Lanka test match was held last week. It was hard to believe that the city was decimated by the tsunami 7 years ago.

I am staying in the fortified old city of Galle (Galle Fort) – surrounded by the fort wall on all sides, and beyond that water on 3 sides. Arriving as 1000s of students were being dismissed, all traffic routes become one way, and could only leave the Galle Fort area not enter it. So I walked through the gate, and surrounded by the girls in their pristine white uniforms, instantly felt the stress of travel and uncertainty fall away.

Galle Fort is full of traditional homes built from the only material that was available – coral. Many are being lovingly restored with dark wood and brass fixtures, each painted a different beachy hue. The area has a large Muslim population – many things close or partially close on Friday. There are galleries, and restaurants, and guesthouses. And in the midst, the locals going about their daily lives – warehouses, training barracks, law courts, small businesses and manufacturers.

Once the sun’s strong rays begin to lessen at the end of a day, everyone heads to the walls of the fort – to play cricket, fly kites, enjoy an ice-cream, take the breeze, or steal a moment with aloved one – culminating in a beautiful sunset.

Yesterday was the full moon, but arriving on Thursday, the moon was still fairly impressive! I was watching the sun set to the west, but looking back to the east, the nearly full moon was rising, and the surrounding clouds colored by the opposing sunset.

Life seems more relaxed, it is easier to get about, people are welcoming; I can see why for some it is their only destination in Sri Lanka, and for others it becomes their home. Wherever I travel I ask myself whether I could live there – and it is a resounding ‘yes’ for Galle.