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Sri Lanka Journal:
Arrival

Flight and Arrival

My 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 relief.

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 later.

Now I will go down and walk a little bit in the huge tropical garden behind the hotel listening to the Indian Ocean lapping.

Charles


February 2005 Journal Entries
Arrival | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9


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