Flight and Arrival
flight to Frankfurt was delayed twice. This first delay moved departure
time from 6 pm to 9 pm. The second happened after getting on the plane,
when the wings had to be deiced. The seven hours or so to Frankfurt
brought me to that gleaming efficient airport at 11 am "their" time.
Most people in Philadelphia were still sound asleep! The layover in
Germany was shorter due to the delay in Philadelphia. From Frankfurt to
Bombay was another seven hours. I had a bulkhead seat so it was not too
cramped. When I arrived in Bombay, we had to disembark and also recheck
the checked luggage since it would be shipped through on Sri Lankan
airlines. A big sign had my name on it and an employee of the airport
took me into a large very run down lounge where they had chaise lounges
such as we have on our patios. I lounged while the employee went and
got my bags and re checked them on Sri Lankan air. Later, I had to go
out on the tarmac and visually confirm these were my bags,
The 2 and a half hours from Bombay here was a blessing (very short). I
saw the dawn come up just before we landed. The Colombo airport is
being renovated. All glass and white marble. It was a big contrast with
the Bombay airport. All the other passengers were directed to
immigration but a very beautiful woman in a green sari had a big sign
saying "Dr. Charles Flood". She escorted me to immigration and actually
wrote out the forms for me. Then she directed me to an official who
issued the visa stamp. Finally, she got a "red cap" and waited at the
belt for my luggage. Then she escorted me to the front of the airport.
Since Rifky Noordeen - my host - and I had never met she led me to him.
He has a patterned orange brown shirt with matching pants. He kept
saying how happy he was that I had arrived.
He had a big Lexus type van with his driver. They have right hand drive
here like in England. We zoomed out into traffic at a high rate of
speed. I think there were three lanes of traffics going in each
direction but I am not sure. Sometimes 5 cars were running parallel to
one another going very fast. We zoomed along the suburbs, dust flying
and Rifky's driver weaving in and out of traffic, The palm trees led me
to think I was in a different place, but that could have been Florida.
However, when the large oil can carts went by the side of the road
being pulled by water buffalo, I knew I was not in Philadelphia anymore
(the traffic was similar though!).
Rifky pointed out things along the way but I was too terrified in that
traffic. Finally, after entering Colombo the car suddenly swerved to
the left and we were at the front door of the Hilton Hotel. I checked
in and Rifky and I had some tea and cookies. The tea here is incredible
- much better than anything I have had before.
I finally went to my room and napped until 3 pm. My window looks out to
the Indian Ocean. The blue of the water and the sky cannot be
distinguished. Nice white sandy beaches did not seem to indicate that a
horrible tsunami had been here two months ago. Rifky said there was
some high tide but not big waves in Columbo. Rifky picked me up with
his driver at 3:20 and we went to an adjacent hotel which is being
renovated. It is right on th ocean. Rifky and I had tea and a fruit
tart there. I learned a great deal about Sri Lanka and the Tsunami.
Colombo goes on with few people mentioning it. But in the country side
there are many refugee camps and a lot of suffering. We planned out the
immediate agenda. Wednesday here is a National Holiday (the full moon -
all full moons are holidays). Rifky and I are starting out the day with
meeting with the governor of this province who will; hear about our
work at the morgue in New York and what I hope to accomplish here. Then
we will drive to Galle province where Rifky is building a new home.
This is also an area of refugee camps where we will touch base.
Thursday, we will be meeting with Rotary officials. Rifky is a member
of Rotary and this organization is doing a great deal for tsunami
Rifky let his driver go early and then we drove to his house to pick up
his 8 year old daughter. Rifky is a single father raising this child in
the house he was born in!. It is a huge urban house with a big gate and
small courtyard. There is a grand staircase and marble floors left over
from an earlier time. Rifky's daughter came out dressed in a red
checked party dress. She was very shy. Rifky refers to me as "Uncle"
which I assume is a generic term for all the business associates he is
always meeting with. Next to the house is Rifky's former business with
a big sign still there "Philadelphia Computers". Rifky names it that
after the Philadelphia Sufi community!. It looked very strange to see
that sign. Rifky is now in real estate.
We went to a small mall/department store so Rifky's daughter could buy
candy. Afterwards, we drove her home and Rifky and I went to an Indian
vegetarian restaurant. The food was great but I was falling asleep. On
the way back to the hotel, Rifky went around to two other large hotels.
The Hilton here is somewhat pricey ($125.00 plus tax a night). This is
very high by Sri Lankan standards. We went into the Columbo Plaza a
sprawling marble palace looking like an Atlantic City casino. Rifky
made another cell phone call to a business associate of his. So, I will
probably move there in two days since I have a bigger room in really a
five start hotel now for $65.00 a night including tax! This is
definitely a place where "who you know" is what it is all about. We
have decided that I should take "day trips" out the disaster sites and
then return here to Colombo. This seems to be a very doable model. If I
need to stay over in the suburbs, that can be arranged,
Rifky and I discussed the spirit of generosity and giving. Since I
could not finish my food, we took the wrapped food with us in the car
and drove around a while until we found a very skinny old man in a
white loin cloth sitting by the curb. I went over and gave him the
food. Rifky's philosophy in life is to give at any chance you have. We
discussed Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu points of view but more about that
Now I will go down and walk a little bit in the huge tropical garden
behind the hotel listening to the Indian Ocean lapping.