Skin Cancer in Sri Lanka
Wow. I sit here to write this with every square millimetre of my body from my waistline up a deep shade of red. It’s getting deeper by the minute. I can’t remember the last time I had a burn this bad. When I was a small kid, I have a vague recollection of going to the beach with my family. I lay in a shallow pool of water which had been heated by the sun and enjoyed the warmth of the water, with my back exposed to the elements for a few hours. That night and the ensuing few days were a carnival of pain the likes of which I had never experienced before, as my entire body started to flake and peel away from itself in long thin strips.
My father is English, and one of the amazing legacies he has handed down to me is skin which spontaneously combusts when it comes in contact with UV rays. Apparently this is a common trait for people of the Isles, due to the fact that it’s rainy season about 11 months a year. It’s not the kind of skin that adapts well to tropical islands about 5 degrees from the equator. Which is exactly where I spent the majority of my day on the beach, just outside Colombo in Sri Lanka.
Of course, having lived with this skin my whole life, I’m well aware of its limitations, and painted myself up in sunblock before getting there, and again once I arrived. However, either the sunblock was too weak or the sun too strong, because that sun was not blocked too effectively at all.
The beach itself was beautiful. About 45 minutes outside of Colombo by tuk-tuk, a few of us found Mount Laviniar beach, a long wide beach fringed by palm trees and covered in golden orange sand. When I think of tropical island beach areas, Sri Lanka is not one of the places that comes to mind, but it was absolutely lovely. At the top of the sandy area were several shacks functioning as bars or restaurants, with deck chairs out front to relax on, under the almost cloudless, open blue sky. As an extra bonus, the place was almost deserted. Aside from our group, there were about 3 other foreigners visible, plus a couple of groups of locals.
Shortly after arriving, a young man who called himself Jeffrey came to us and started talking to us about what we were doing, and talking about Sri Lanka, including the civil war which had been raging there until last year. At the same time, another man approached to tell us about his diving exploits, and showed us a collection of beautiful shells, which he then offered to sell us at a variety of prices. Unlike many hawkers through this part of the world, he put absolutely no pressure on me, and we just talked for a while. I ended up buying one for about a dollar just because I liked him. According to him, it could be filled with ink and used as a kind of pen, as the people of old used to do.
We eventually parted ways, the shell man asked me to send anyone else keen on shells his way, and Jeffrey insisted we come back to his bar later as he would give us a present. We waved goodbye and continued down a way to a nice clear spot with a restaurant and chairs. The next few hours were spent eating, drinking, swimming, and relaxing in the most idyllic place I have ever been, as the sun filtered through the palm trees and the waves washed on the shore.
While out splashing about in the water, a group of local young men started playing around in the same area. We got to talking, and they warned us of undercurrents and told us we had to come have a drink with them later. And so after we had had our fill of relaxing, we did just that. We approached their hut on the beach to cheers from the people there, and were welcomed and given seats as they sang and beat on drums. They asked us for requests, but sadly we didn’t seem to have much mutual musical knowledge. Not that it really mattered, as they poured us drinks, offered us their food and we just talked. It turned out that they were a bunch of office workers from Colombo who had taken the day off for a trip to the beach together. They were call centre operators, but either my ability at recognising accented English has improved, or they were much better than anyone else I have talked to over the phone, as they were joking and talking with us perfectly naturally, and even taught us a little Singhalese, which I promptly forgot.
After exchanging email addresses and promises to meet again when we were in the same country, they gave us a bag of local chips and we wandered down to see Jeffrey. We didn’t have much time left to spend with him, as we wanted to get back to the city and do some more things, but he was still really nice, and gave a few of us presents of black coral which we could attach to a chain and hang around our neck, or do whatever we wanted with. He then took us to a place where we could grab a tuk-tuk, and saw us off as we left back to Colombo.