When I first arrived to live and work in Asia one of the first things I had to do was a introductory round robin trip of all the countries I would be visiting, the
first visit was to be Sri Lanka, I was meet at the airport by the local bakery adviser and then a one and a half hour drive through the forests to the hotel in Colombo.
The next day we went to the head office where I meet with the chairman and all the other people I would have contact with, it was a vast office and all I could see was lots of men and women sitting at desks
typing out customer invoices on old typewriters, as at that time it was cheaper than having lots of computers as the labour was cheap and gave much needed work to the locals.
After this the local adviser and I set out to visit some of his customers, we drove for about two hours passing lots of small villages on the way and I could see the real poverty of the country and the results
of the then ongoing insurgence. As we approached on village we were stopped at a police check point to control our papers, as this was being done I could see through the car windscreen a man sitting at the side of the road behind a table, he was dressed in
a long black gowned and had a white wig on his head and with people sitting and standing around him, I asked the local adviser what’s going on “Oh he said” that’s the local magistrate holding court, as the court house was blown up last
week by the rebels and there’s no other building left for the court room! Then police check completed we drove on deeper into the dense forest and then suddenly pulling of the road into a clearing in the forest, we will have to wake the rest of the way
said the local bakery adviser as there is no road and the bakery is deep in the forest, I could just see a building within a compound through the density of the forest, we followed a track to the compound and into the building where to my surprise there was
an extremely well equipped bakery by local standards, I asked the owner how did you get all this equipment here and how do you get the products out as there is no road (simple he said, it’s all carried by my staff on their heads to vans parked by the
road) and apparently this was one of the company’s biggest bakery customers.
As I visited more and more bakeries
in Sri Lanka it became very apparent that on the whole most bakeries still produced products in a very traditional basic manner and by hand (as besides rice, bread is also a staple part of their daily diet which stems back to the colonial days) so I wasn’t
surprised when visiting some bread bakeries to see many baker staff all standing working around an enormous table mixing the bread dough by hand on top of the table, all the men wore was a loincloth and as they worked frantically mixing the dough by hand I
could see the perspiration dripping of their face and body into the dough (I thought maybe no need to add salt into the bread dough)
To say that many of the bakeries were extremely basic would be an understatement but in those days when I was visiting that was part of the reality of the country, but the local edible fats company was doing its part to help upgrade the bakery
market by helping the bakers to buy new equipment, what the company did was that they bought the equipment for the bakery and then the bakery gradually repaid for the equipment by the cost being added onto the price of their bakery margarine and fats over
a period of time, in this way the company retained a good customer and the bakeries slowly became more modernized...
On my last day we were out again doing the customer visits when we was told we had to phone the head office immediately and found out that there was going to be a curfew that night starting
at 6pm until 6am the next day which was the day I was due to fly out and I needed to be at the airport by 5am, so it was decided that I must change hotels and stay at the airport hotel for the night, by this time it was already 4pm so we rushed to the hotel
in Colombo and I quickly packed my bags and checked out ready to make the one and half drive to the airport hotel, we set off at a horrendous rate through the streets of Colombo and into the forest lined roads, and by this time it was starting to get dark
which was made worse by the density of all the forest trees hanging over the road, as we swerved around a sharp (S Bend) in the road my friend suddenly slammed on the brakes skidding to a halt as there in front of us in the middle of the road was an enormous
military tank with the gun pointing directly our way, then troops seemed to appear out of nowhere and pointed machine guns at us and asked for our papers and where we was going, after giving the explanation of where we were going and why we was let on our
way again and arrived at the airport hotel just as it struck 6pm and we found that the hotel was heaving with business men all in the same situation as me needing to leave first thing in the morning. But our first stop was to the bar and a very large glass
of Scottish nectar to allay the fear from the experience in the forest with the tank!
Next day I took the
airport bus to check in for my flight, but to get into the airport you first had to pass your bags through a conveyer scanner, I was standing waiting for my suitcase come through and could see the scan monitor but did I get an unwanted shock as the man who
was standing directly behind me bag was passing through the scanning machine and there clearly on the scan monitor I could see inside his case was a machine gun, and suddenly the man was quickly grabbed, handcuffed and disappeared along with his case.
I quickly got inside the airport checked in my luggage got my boarding card and went airside and then finally sitting on my
plane for China. I thought about the past few days and said to myself (Welcome to Sri Lanka Barry) but hope my future visits won’t be like this one, fortunately they wasn’t and I enjoyed many more happy visits to Sri Lanka and being among the most
friendliest of people...