Arthur C Clarke called Sri Lanka an Emerald Isle and I have to admit I was struck by the lush vegetation and greenery when I landed in Colombo. Banana plantations, jack fruit, and palm trees flanked the roads. For me, seeing everyday life here was a highlight. When I travel one of the highlights of a journey is to see local people and daily lives
Chilaw fish market was buzzing with activity when I walked across the slippery alleyways to watch all manner of catches being sold and haggled over. There were small minnows, tilapia fish, mullet and more. Crabs were displayed upside down on stone slabs whilst women shrieked their wares. In the back of the market men hacked and gutted fish. Every few moments another boat arrived and men rushed to get the catch into the market and sold.
I had to watch out where my feet went as it was slippy, busy, and messy, but essential to see. Although it was hot, humid and fishy- the fish actually smelled incredibly fresh with just the smell of salty water.
Clay tiles are commonplace in Sri Lanka and are cheap to make. There are many tile factories where workers shape the tiles, bake them and then they end up on roofs. I went to one factory just outside Colombo which was full of machinery, piles of tiles, clay- and a couple of young kids helping out.
Tiles are shaped and cut to size by hand and machine in the factory which was more of a shed. One of the kids helped clear mud off the ground- apparently it was school holidays. Even so, the machinery and pace of the factory made me wonder whether this was a good place for a bring your kid to work day. Wages are $4 a day for all this hard work.
Tiles are baked in huge kilns and literally bricked up whilst they are heated. There were piles of tiles everywhere but when I looked at roofs generally in Sri Lanka there’s a different material being used these days. The traditional clay tiles can still be seen. Another method is to use palm fronds woven into a roof but these need to be replaced each year. The new kid on the block here is asbestos- imported from Russia. Cheaper and easier to install, this now covers roofs all over the country. Apparently Russia is the largest drinker of Ceylon tea and there is concern that if trade stalls in asbestos it could impact the tea industry. So much for health concerns.
Look out for more stories from Sri Lanka over the next few days.