“The Best cup of Nestomalt I’ve had in my life!!!”
Let alone Nestomalt, it was the best cup of anything I’ve ever drunk in my life. Honestly speaking, it was the first cup of Nestomalt I’ve ever drunk, cos’ I hate the stuff usually. Enough about me and Nestomalt, let me tell you why it was the best cup I’ve ever drunk!
I’m going to be starting with the end this time…it was approximately 7 pm and two of us were just finishing off our last distribution of some tea, sugar and “Nestomalt,” to the last ward. Once we were done, we decided to sit down and have a little chat with some of the patients and their families. We barely had any time to have a chat with anyone this time, because distribution was an absolute “logistical nightmare!” Anyway, as a direct result of a part Sinhala, part Tamil, part English and part sign language chat I had with one of the families, they discovered that we hadn’t had lunch as yet. And to make matters worse, I told them that I was “setthu poochi” (dead)! After having a good laugh possibly at my heavily accented Tamil, and also what I said, I guess, I moved to another group of patients, and as far as I was concerned, that was the end of that. That was of course until, around 10 minutes later, I get a little tap on my shoulder and a little girl hands me a little stainless steel tumbler full of piping hot Nestomalt!
I was caught so off guard that I was too overwhelmed to really say much, so I just smiled, said thank you and held it in my hands for a while. In that little while, so many thought were racing through my head. We didn’t have enough Nestomalt to give each person a packet, so we had to break them open and pour some into their individual bottles or cups. Out of that little quota we gave them, they’d made 2 cups for us! They were so affected by us not having eaten, that they felt that it was almost their duty as our “hosts” to offer us whatever they had, and considering that wasn’t a whole lot, they still took the trouble to make us a warm cuppa’. The least I could do was drink every drop of it, and boy…did I do just that! Relished every single drop in fact!
It was in the same ward that I met “Uncle” (because for some strange reason, I keep forgetting to ask names…). He had this wise, old look and a charming smile which seemed to be just brimming with stories. So before I knew it, I was sitting beside him on his mat and listening to his story… “I was a Police constable till 1981, and then went to the UK to work. I was working at the Sheraton Hotel near the Heathrow Airport for most of my stint abroad and only 2 years ago returned to Sri Lanka to visit my beloved 5 children and wife in Malavi. During my stay here, the roads were suddenly shut off and we couldn’t leave. Now, my family’s in Vavuniya and I’m here.” At which point I asked, “Have you had any news from them since you parted a month ago?” To which he answered with such conviction,“No I haven’t, but definitely God will look after us no?” I was just blown away…but, I managed to say, “Of course he will!”
Just before we left, I saw one of the patients having a hearty laugh with the young nurse in charge of the ward, as she attempted to say good-bye for the day. “Poiyta waren,” she stuttered much to the amusement and satisfaction of her “teacher!” I know it’s just one little thing, but, I’d like to think of it as a start at least.
When it was finally time for us to leave, we wound up giving our numbers to all the kids and some of the others, saying that they had to give us a call once they got back home or ever visited Colombo. We all seemed quite thrilled and excited at the prospect of having found new friends in each other. So much so, that I can’t wait to pick up my phone one day and find one of my new found buddies at the other end! Finally having to part ways, we left on the note that all of us were welcome in one another’s homes if ever we were in each others’ neighbourhoods! If that isn’t hope for a new beginning, I don’t know what is.
There were quite a few other heart wrenching moments, like when a little kid without one leg, and so being carried by her dad was brought near our trolley to get her share of “goodies,” as she was just about to leave for the camps in Vavuniya. There was something very sad and almost ominous in the way all the nurses crowded around the trolley saying, “Aney pauw, mey lamaya Vavuniyawate yawanawa dan, ithin eyata pulluwan tharam deval denna, Miss.” (“Poor little thing, she’s being sent to the camps in Vavuniya, so please give her as many things as you can, miss.”) It was almost as if Vavuniya was this dreary ‘land of no return,’ where you needed to stock up as much as possible, just in order to survive. As true or not as the stories of Vavuniya might be, we couldn’t help but feel so sad for this little girl and fear for her future. Although sheltered in her fathers’ loving arms for now, I couldn’t help but question what her future had in store for her.
Yet another moment was when one of the nurses put her hand reassuringly on the arm of another patient (who she seemed to have grown quite fond of, and was just getting ready to leave for Vavuniya with his wife) and said “Dan parrissamen gihin hondha jeevithayak gatha karranne harida? Ekai mage ekema prarthananawa oyalata.” (“Please travel safely and live a good life. That’s my only wish for you both.”)
How could I forget one of the most memorable moments of our visit, when we almost managed to willing “adopt” an adorable little baby girl who found one of my friends quite a comfortable refuge once carried, and refused to go back to her father! She actually started to cry when she was returned to him. So he took her back and then later handed her over to me, at which point we decided to take her with us on our distribution, with her father following quite good naturedly behind. When we asked her if she’d like to come home with us and her father waved “bye” to her, she waved “bye” back. We couldn’t believe our eyes! I guess children don’t see through the same eyes as adults. How I wish we could all be like children!
The cards and novels were a huge hit as by the end of the day, many of the novels had been completed and intense card games had begun!
Amidst all this hope though, there was one rather depressing sight of this girl (who was asleep during our entire stay there,) asleep on the floor – flies setting on her face. “She has lost her mind and is all alone. Nobody knows where her family is. All she does is sleep. She doesn’t eat, she doesn’t bathe, she doesn’t change her clothes, she doesn’t speak, all she does is sleep all day,” said the elderly couple occupying the bed alongside her. How do you come to terms with a story like that? Where do you even start?
And then last but hardly least, there was precious little 2 week year old Arjun who had been born at the hospital. Cradled in his dad’s arms, he just lay there with his eyes peacefully shut, seemingly without a care in the world. Looking down on this tiny little miracle, all I could wish for with all my heart, was that he gets to grow up in a world where war, hatred, pain and suffering are only heard of in story books.
A friend of mine often questions my abundance of hope…“Arjun” is why I hope…
— Marisa de Silva.
Marisa is not a BB-ite, but she’s often seen around BB. She’s leading a team of people to delivering aid to a hospital in polonnaruwa treating people injured from the fighting in the north. Following is a needs list for their next drop off, please contribute if you can. Details are here.