All Things Coconut!
Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Coconut trees. Coconut water. Coconut milk. Coconut lumber, rope, brooms, oil, meat, thatch roofs... As many as 120 coconuts a year from each tree are harvested and every single part of the coconut tree is used in this country. I didn’t know how to classify a coconut - was it a fruit or a nut? Well... I learned that it is technically a fibrous one-seeded drupe. Drupe. New word for me. I realized after finding the definition that I sold drupes on the side of the road in Auckland - stone fruit! Chuckling over the humor of life...
I arrived to the coconut plantation in Sri Lanka on a good day. It was coconut harvesting day which happens once every 2-3 months depending on the availability of the harvester and his tool.The plucking tool consists of 2-3 very long bamboo (20’ long) poles strapped together with coconut twine and a curved machete bound to the end. I wished I could have seen the picker arrive on his rusty bike with those 20 foot poles strapped to his back. Srilanda (owner) said he had to be very careful weaving through the early morning tuk tuks! I wondered why Srilanda simply didn’t buy the tools and pick himself, but as I observed, there is a skill required as well as a respect for the various trades that each person brings to the table. Srilanda simply waited until the picker was available, even though it was a month longer than he needed. Everyone has a job...
Meanwhile, back under those coconut trees I remembered that a friend had said the number one cause of death in Sri Lanka was falling coconuts. Pretty sure he was kidding, but I didn’t want a 5 pound coconut falling on my head from 50 feet, so I dodged falling coconuts and fresh cow pies. For those that don’t have a farming background, fresh cow pies are fresh cow dung. As kids we would go barefoot and walk through them because it was easier to clean our feet than our shoes which is kind of a disgusting thinking back on it, but nevertheless, I thought about it with a smile.
Srilanda and his wife Uthpala are kind, hard working Sri Lankan’s. Fortunately for me they speak a fair dose of English and told me about their daughters. Their youngest is at law school in Colombo and the eldest is at Iowa University working on her graduate degree; she’s been gone for 6 years and her husband is working on his PhD in physics. They told me the story of Jaye who has lived with them for 30 years who was mistreated as a child, had very few life skills, suffered from understandable anger issues but had a willingness to work hard. He’s helped on the farm ever since. Srilanda said he hopes to continue taking care of Jaye and his wife until they pass. Big hearts. I watched a young boy carrying his school books walk into the house and Uthpala begin tutoring. I learned at breakfast the next morning that Srilanda and Uthpalas’ daughters did well in school and the community noticed! She’s been helping the neighboring kids with their school work for years.
The planation consists of 2 hectares that holds 8 cows, I think I counted 11 pigs and 150 coconut trees that were planted over 60 years ago by Srilanda’s grandfather. They work the land, they harvest, sell and the cycle starts again. It feels like a simpler life; not necessarily easier as they work hard, but grounded in the cycles of nature. The 2 truck load of coconuts we gathered today will be picked up by a distributor tomorrow and sold at the local market the next day.
I have to admit that I’ve never been a hug fan of coconut water. I know, I know it is supposed to have all kinds of health benefits, but I don’t like the taste. However, coconut water from a fruit that was harvested in the last 10 minutes - game changer!
And then there’s their language - Sinhala. The beautiful language of the Sri Lankan’s is rooted in Sanskrit, which my yogi friends will appreciate as it is the backbone of all of yoga poses and philosophy. And it is truly a beautiful written language. 54 letters with swirls and curves and grace. I find it interesting to compare it to the linear hard lines of English. I look forward to one of you out there explaining to me the reasons behind such variations in the written languages!
The country is primarily Buddhist followed by Hindu, Muslim and a smattering of Christians. And get this - every full moon is a National Holiday (Poya Day) and with a blue moon - 2 holidays a month! The workers get a lot of time off as there are 4 Country specific holidays e.g., celebrating their independence from Britain, all of the Buddhist holidays are National holidays as are several Hindu, Muslim and a couple of Christian holidays thrown in for good measure. No wonder they all live peacefully together; all are recognized - not to mention it’s a fabulous number of official days off!
I am doing a home stay and am being treated like a queen! Three meals a day plus lodging for $12 a day. I “work” along side of them for a few hours a day and learn so much... Its been a wonderful cultural, real experience. They are excited to share traditional Sri Lankan food with me and my first breakfast consisted of hoppers - thin rice pancake made with coconut milk. I had a couple filled with fresh bananas and one with a peppery egg - yum! The next morning Uthpala made pittu which were logs of what looked like tiny grains of rice, which actually was made of rice flour and coconut. The mixture is pushed into bamboo shoots and baked. Once removed we poured coconut milk over them and a spiced red sauce. The Sri Lankan’s love their peppers! Yesterday they went to a wedding (middle of the week as they align weddings with astrologically significant days) and my lunch was left wrapped in banana leaves filled with Dahl, okra, a hard egg and rice. Happy girl!
It’s hot here. So hot that the water buffalo are up to their necks in a water hole and I’m looking forward to another swim on the beautiful beach. Pinch me.