Fun in Sri Lanka's Hill Country

November 14, 2010
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The town of Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka is significantly higher in elevation than the Capital city of Kandy, so the drive was generally downhill. We rounded corner after corner down a switchback road which took us across steep slopes blanketed with tea plantations, and passed many stands selling high quality vegetables , such as radishes, carrots, beets, and zucchini. On the road as well were young boys who chased after the cars, selling bouquets of flowers and vegetables. The boys typically yelled in Sinhala, tapping on the hood of the car, sticking their items in front of the passengers’ faces as they sprinted to keep up with the reluctant vehicle.
One boy who was selling flowers did this to our car, and eventually we stopped. I took a picture of him. Our Sri Lankan driver, Shirly, asked the boy how much the flowers were. When the boy replied, Shirly shook his head and told us the price in English. We decided it was too high and we quickly said thank you and kept on driving. We continued to make our way steeply downhill, seeing breathtaking views with each hairpin turn that we made. Next to the road was mostly a mix of dense forest, large boulders, and small cliffs. After five minutes or so, another boy appeared next to our car holding a similar bouquet of flowers. This time we didn’t stop and instead kept driving. A thought crossed my mind: Was that the same boy? I looked back at him. He was now fifty yards behind the car. “That kid looked like the other one who stopped us earlier”, I said. “They must be brothers.”
We kept driving and after about ten minutes another boy holding a very familiar bouquet of flowers appeared beside the car yelling and waving the flowers in our faces. We zoomed by him, and after a few seconds I exclaimed, “Guys, that is the same boy! I know it!” My dad responded quite firmly, “Rohan, he cannot be in three places at once.” Shirly said in broken English with a thick Sri Lankan accent, “I don’t think same boy. You…take more pictures…then we see if they same boy. Okay?” This sounded like a good idea even though I was already 90% sure. The driver might have thought I was just being a racist foreigner and since I have not been here long, thought all Sri Lankans looked alike. Eventually, a boy emerged from a steep forested slope to our left. He was dripping with sweat, waving flowers in front of our faces. “It’s him! He has the same chipped tooth,” I say. “Really?” my dad says. “Just take a picture to be sure.” So I took a second picture. I looked at it. “Yeah. Same boy.” “You marvelous boy!” exclaimed Shirly to me. With a big smile on his face, he spoke to the boy in Sinhala. He appeared to be asking a question. He gestured with his hands towards the slope to our left. The boy responded enthusiastically and Shirly nodded and laughed. He turned around and said, “This boy run down hill with shortcut.” It now became clear. I remembered seeing narrow trails through the forest cutting down the steep slopes. These trails must have had many purposes and one of them was for the flower and vegetable boys to quickly reach each section of the road, without having to follow the entire road with its windy, hairpin turns.
Sympathetic for the boy’s hard work, we bought the flowers for one hundred rupees after Shirly did some bargaining. The boy could sense that we were still highly entertained by his cleverness and he told the driver that he wanted to do it again. He told the driver to go fast and that he would be able to catch up with us and meet the car after the next turn. Shirly accelerated down the hill and around the sharp turn. I looked behind the car and saw the boy sprint into the woods. Maybe twenty yards after the turn the boy emerged from the brush on the right side, smiling. He told Shirly to go even faster. We drove for a couple minutes this time, going around a few turns. Suddenly the boy emerged again in front of the car. We stopped and we could tell he wanted a tip of some kind. Unfortunately we didn’t have anything below a one thousand rupee bank note, so we gave him an American dollar. He looked at it and was not very satisfied. Shirly explained that we did not have any more money. The boy was a little disappointed but we said thank you and he gave us a very warm smile as we drove off and continued downhill.
It occurred to me that this appearing-and-reappearing technique must be a more effective way of selling the flowers than just standing in one place, as well as perhaps being fun. The boys pick a car to follow, and supposing that they are able to catch up with it three or four times, the customers will be entertained and more willing to give money for the items. I was certainly entertaining for me.

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