A debate about whether or not our Thai Visa was for 30 days or 60 days compelled Drew and I to check the passport stamp we’d just gotten after arriving in Satun, Thailand by boat from Langkawi, Malaysia. We both stood corrected. 15 days.
This called for a “visa run” which is ultimately why we awoke in Sri Lanka this morning. There were simple differences to take in at first. Catholic shrines to the Virgin Mary instead of gilded shrines to seat Buddha. I noticed that the palms were taller and thicker, and the sand was a deserty marigold yellow. There was a beauty about the place that was entirely different than the countries we’ve been roaming.
Then, a knock on our door. It was the hotel man we had inquired about a jeep rental for the day. In addition to solving our Visa issue, we hoped that Sri Lanka would provide some opportunities to see some large wildlife across the Island at Yala National Park. The man informed us in quite polished English adn witha distinctly Sri Lankan swagger of his head that his friend, the car owner, regretted to inform us that the fisherman were striking and that they had blockaded the main roads to protest the recent spike in government mandated petrol prices. “But the roads should be open again tomorrow.” he said. My first thought was that this sounded like a scam. I’ve heard so many stories from people with something to sell lately, and this sounded no different than the Thai boy who had told us that the Grand Palace was closed for a special Buddhist holiday. There had been no Buddhist Holiday to close the very open Grand Palace, and part of me assumed that there was no fisherman strike. “He wants us to use his hotel a second night.” I thought.
All we had to do was step out into the street to confirm that this man was an honest man. There was a strike indeed, but none like I’ve ever seen before. The local men and women of all ages had gathered in the streets and had created make-shift baricades from whatever scraps of things could be found by the road. Fires were built in the middle of the street to help make the blockade seem fiercer. Otherwise, there was nothing fierce about the protest. Participants were spit-fire old ladies and hard-working fisherman who couldn’t waste their money on fuel when they had mouths to feed at home. They held their hands up to stop approaching vehicles and if anyone tried to fuss, they simply stated their case with determination. It appeared they usually won people over without much argument and if not, they often allowed them to pass with the simple excuse that there was a school-child to fetch. A police man on his day off gave us the scoop on what was going on. We had found him casually watching with his daughter, with no intention of stopping the participants. Even children joined in.
Harmless but passionate. There was passionate conversation instead of violence and it was beautiful in its own way.
Later that evening, Drew and I set out for our routine search for the local-priced food. Every town seems to have a hidden selection of local restaurants, but they are hard to find and take some researching. We were questioning some locals across the street from our hotel when one young woman shocked me with her response. “Food? Local food? You want to come to my house? Come! Follow me please.”
We followed her down a sandy alley lined with paint-chipped walls. The alley elbowed and we came into a little courtyard that led into her house. “It will be five minutes please. You like noodles?”
I sat in her home bewildered by the hospitality I was experiencing and it never ceased the whole evening. Her whole family came by and eveyr now and then a cousin peaked through the window to see who these strange guests were. After she introduced us to her family and showerd us with compliments and food, she took us to her church, a beautiful Bascillica style cathedral with a crucifix in the yard. The walls wre orange as the sand and rose in tall peaks against the pink of the evening sky. The church bells rang in the warm air and she grabbed my hand. “Do not worry.” She said. “There is no problem.” At first I didn’t know what she meant, but soon she explained that the bells were calling the protestors back to the blockades. The president had told them “I will come and give you a solution to the petrol problem tomorrow.” But the bells summoned the protestors to tell them “We demand you come tonight.” She hald my hand tightly and we moved through the crowds on the street. “They are my father.” She said and I knew what she meant. These men were just fisherman with something to say. I was not afraid.