Sri Lanka. The west coast in May. It feels like summer in Europe. The evening rain cools us down after a warm, musty day. As I open the green gate, the wet metal creaks and moans under the pressure.
Three hundred meters away, cars are honking shamelessly on the connecting road between Colombo and Galle. As busses pass by at breakneck speed, the wind is blowing up colourful saris. On the left side of the little hospital, the homestay can be found hidden in a side road that is nearly wide enough for a buzzing tuk tuk to worm its way through. Here and there a store and fresh laundry everywhere you look. Where the road splits up into a fork and continues at both sides of a quiet river, you will find the gate to Paradise Galle Hostel.
Polo looks at me longing when I raise my head through the gateway. The creaking metal, which broke the silence of the rustling palm leaves and rippling water, was a sign of my arrival. The puppy was already wagging his tail but as his boss taught him, he obediently kept waiting on the patio. We crossed the damp grass and I rewarded the loyal doggy by rubbing his head.
Soon W.C. strolled up onto the patio. He was still wearing his white starched shirt and grey classic trousers. After sunset we always saw him walking around the house bare-chested, wearing a sarong. But tonight was different. He had been meeting with his notary in Matara during the day.
We cuddled up in the seats overlooking the bright green, walled garden. The house resembled the old buildings you see in the historical centre of Galle. You imagine yourself in a southern city in Europe. The fortress that the Portuguese set up in the 16th century is to be found in all corners of these former occupiers’ country. The difference being that this robust line of defence is looking out over the Indian as not the Atlantic Ocean. The Dutch church and street names such as Leyn Baan Cross Street remind us of the time when our northern neighbours and the British were in charge. The village is a cosy mix of European and Asian styles. And although W.C.’s house is inspired by Portuguese and Dutch architecture as well, it only dates back from 1991, he told us afterwards.
Did he have divorce problems or did he have to settle an inheritance issue?
We didn’t ask him how his day at the notary had been like, but we sure fantasised about it while we were wandering down the old town. Polo was only five months old and we couldn’t detect a trace of a woman in the house. Did W.C. have divorce problems or did he have to settle an inheritance issue? Poor guy, we thought, completely on his own with a dog to keep him company. He must feel lonely.
W.C. sat down with us and started to tell his story.
“In 1982, when you were a one-year-old girl, I started my career in the financial sector. Back then my wife earned a living as a teacher. Since two years we are running our guesthouses. Me here in Galle, my wife in the capital of Colombo where she lives with our daughter. My girl is studying at Colombo University. I also have two sons. My eldest son lives in Los Angeles. He received a scholarship to study Finances and Business. My youngest son has just graduated from the university of Matara in the same field of study. Both of them are following in my footsteps,” the proud dad says, his eyes shining.
“In a couple of months, my son will graduate in the United States. As we would love to attend Graduation Day, we applied for a visa but it’s unclear whether it will be granted. Many Sri Lankans enter the US holding a temporary tourist visa but fail to return to their home country. I have my concerns.”
“Will he be visiting you soon in Sri Lanka?” I ask feeling a bit flustered. “No, he will not be returning home yet as he is waiting for a permanent residence visa. It’s not easy to get a Green Card. In the long run, my youngest son and my daughter too would like to accompany their brother in the US.”
This warm man is lucky to have a warm family.
We got exactly the opposite story of what our fantasies had been suggesting, as this warm man is lucky to have a warm family. However, in search of the best future, tough choices are to be made sometimes.
Paradise Hostel Galle
9/1, Bope Cross Road