The River Bathers
Having left Dambulla I explained as I had at the outset where I wanted to go. My next venture and integration was to be the most memorable event of my whole stay in Sri Lanka. I had seen people washing and bathing in a small river just beyond the Kandalama Tank (a name for an irrigation reservoir). He said he knew somewhere better but when we got there it was rather disappointing. The river was wide and deep and huge amounts of rubbish lay around and there was no pathway to go upstream. So we settled on going where I had originally planned. I had to give him directions. I was glad I had remembered the route from passing by on the way to Minnereya. We pulled up and there were only people working in the paddy fields. I told the driver I was going to walk downstream and was not sure how long I would be. Out I got and walked down the orange sandy track. Cars went past, a mechanical ox overloaded with wood, tractors and smiling men on bicycles. As I had come to expect, people wanted to stop and talk. Trouble was that there was no sign of the subjects I had come to see. Bend after bend I looked round with anticipation. Startled Herons and Eagrets burst into the air before I could focus up with my camera. It was about the same time of day that I had seen family after family occupied in cleaning and cleanliness. I must have walked for forty minutes and was on the verge of turning back when I heard voices. There was bridge with a wide pool and about ten people, mainly children in the river. Most were playing. I noticed a wall on the other side of the bridge, which would be a comfortable and unobtrusive place to sit. I waved and noticed downstream the women were washing clothes. I chose not to photograph their activity, as I was too high up.
I sat myself quietly down on the wall. A row of smiling faces slowly formed. I smiled and said" Hello."
They replied with a variety of pronunciations of "Hello."
All sorts of questions came from one little girl with a huge smile, holding onto her little brother. We all exchanged names and I took unposed photographs as they stood in the water. Once they realised, it was a long line of excited children wanting to pose for me; in the river, on the bank and the wall I was perched on. Showing the results caused pandemonium as they called out pushed and demanded, "Show me". My screen could be turned to any angle so rather than have to get everyone in front I was able to keep firm hold of the camera. They seemed fascinated by probably meeting their first European. They got braver and one or two including the smiling girl sat down on the wall. It was then my face and beard they wanted to touch; probably because they thought it might be different. The smiling one whose name was Renuka (inspirational) wanted quiet questions and the others wandered away to play and wash. I have no idea about the content of most words but I smiled and guessed at answers which were met with smiles and mimicking my answers. I gave her a pen, which caused an immediate rush of young people towards me demanding more. I exhausted my supply and they seemed satisfied and stood wanting photographs holding their newly acquired treasure. Another girl called Keshini called to me to photograph her with soap in her hair; ending up striking a lovely smile and racing over to see the results. Keshini (one with beautiful hair) thanked me and explained most were going home now. I stood up to go and got mobbed again with touches and calls of "Tomorrow, tomorrow!"
I started to wander off waving as they called out new words of English they had learned. Down the trackpeople passed by waving as usual, a Chameleon blinked at me from a post. My head full of thought about the wonderful carefree lives of those children. One day I hope to return and meet them again armed with some of the stunning photographs of them. An hour and a half had raced by.