A New Home in Hirimbura

By Henry Seilern 

Sticky, tired, but filled with anticipation, we got out of our seats and waited for the doors to open. It had taken two flights, totaling to about 14 hours of airtime with the added horror of a 9 hour layover in Dubai, for us to reach our destination. But now as we stepped onto a starlit tarmac with a tropical evening breeze gusting in our faces our adventure was truly about to begin – We had finally arrived.

Our next stop – immigration. Anyone who has ever travelled will know, going through immigration after a long flight is like being kicked when you are already down. However, organized as we were, we had all done online visa applications and waited smugly in line as others scurried to fill out forms. When finally it was our turn, I stepped up to the immigration officer and proudly presented my printed application. With a profoundly bored gesture he waved me away, not past him and into Sri Lankan territory but back past the ever growing queue of eager holiday-goers. So much for smug preparation. A kindly German tourist informed me, with or without online applications, there were forms to be filled out.

An hour and half, and an almost lost suitcase later, we finally exited the Airport. Waiting for us was Ashkar, nephew to our host and Lord of the tuk-tuks (though thankfully on this occasion he picked us up with a van). Ashkar would become our means of whizzing all over Galle; he and his band of tuk-tuk drivers would safely shepherd us through the chaos that is Sri Lankan traffic. But tired as we were, it took about thirty seconds in the van for us all to pass out.

We drove through a large gate and entered the home of Janaka, founder of Volunteer Sri Lanka and our host for the next month. Janaka is a tall man who greeted us with a warmth that we would come to learn was a defining trait of the Sri Lankan people.

Our new home is made entirely of white washed plaster and dark wooden frames, and is split into two. The first part is where Janaka and his family lives, while the second houses all the volunteers. In the front of the house, surrounded by greenery, is a large table were we eat the mouthwateringly delicious, if occasionally mouth corrosively spicy, meals prepared for us. To the side is a small bar where Kari, one of Janaka’s helpers, prepares milkshakes and lassis. Kari was a very caring gentleman who is a fount of information and kindness, and helps us plan our weekend to the northern Tamil city of Jaffna.

The house is about ten minutes inland from the coast by tuk tuk. It isn’t located in the hustle and bustle of Galle, but instead in the calm and quaint town of Hirimbura. Not a large town, Hirimbura is a collection of houses in the midst of palm trees and other tropical flora. Every day, as we drive to varying projects, we race through streets surrounded by overgrown patches of jungle and the occasional tight alleyway that feels like Ashkar is in the midst of a game of tuk tuk Tetris.

Our rooms are on the second floor leading off a long balcony-like walkway overlooking an endless sea of greenery. This is where we spend our evenings chatting, playing cards, and, of course, blogging. The volunteering organisation has a strong hostel-feel to it, the communal open space where we have our meals, the fridge filled with cold drinks and the trust of a book to write down what you took. It is a place that invites volunteers to feel at home, and it is a feeling that, when combined with jet-lag and exhaustion, won us over in a matter of minutes.