Morning Tea with a Difference….

Last school holidays a good friend came to visit us with her twin girls who were eleven. They were a day earlier than I expected and I only found out late the night before that they would be at our place around 10am; just in time for Morning Tea. No time to go shopping for any special treats, so I had to make do with what I had in the freezer and pantry.

This is what I came up with……

Cheese Scones

Sultana Bread

Chicken Pastries and Hundreds and Thousands Biscuits

And my friend added her own contribution to the Morning Tea……

Chocolate Cup Cakes

It was way too much food for the 2 adults and 3 kids, but we did make some serious inroads into it over morning tea and lunch.

This morning tea brought to mind a Morning Tea of a very different kind I had experienced over 20 years ago when I worked as an Assistant English Teacher in a little hamlet called Hinnapita near the town of Rikillagaskada in the highlands of Sri Lanka.

There was no electricity, piped water, flushable toilets or any of the other creature comforts I had been used to all my life. The only way to reach Hinnapita was by bus (although that was too kind a description for the actual mode of transport – see below) followed by a long walk down the hill, across the valley and up another hill.

Imagine a much more ramshackle version of one of these crammed with about 20 people in the back with more hanging off the open doorway on the other side…..(we drive on the left in Sri Lanka by the way).

The school comprised of a long hall with a small windowless staff room and an office at one end in a L-shape. There were about 7 of us on the staff excluding the Principal, two of whom were Buddhist Monks from the adjacent temple. At morning tea time, the monks made their way over to the temple for their Dane (mid day meal brought to them by the villagers). Morning Tea was just in a euphemism for “Something to Eat” followed by water at Hinnapita School as there was no means of heating up water to make tea or coffee.

The teachers took turns to buy a loaf of bread from the local shop each morning which we had with Lunu Miris (Paste made with Chilli, Salt, Onion and Tomato instead of the traditional lime juice which was hard to come by in this area). There were no plates or cups or even a knife with which to cut the bread, so we passed it around and tore off chunks which we dipped in the Lunu Miris which by the way was wrapped in a large leaf. Plastics had not made their way into this village in 1991. This was our only sustenance till we got home for lunch around 3pm after school finished, so it is sufficient to say that this simple meal was devoured by us all. When someone wanted to have a drink of water, they were accompanied outside by one of the other teachers who would heft up the big clay pot called a Kalaya and pour some onto their cupped hands to drink out of.

The Government of the day were issuing food stamps for school lunches. To earn the stamps, the parents had to make sure their children brought something to eat at school each day. It was up to us teachers to check the kids’ lunches and do a second roll call during the morning tea break or interval as it was known, to mark down who would receive their food stamps at the end of the month. The people of Hinnapita subsisted  mainly on agriculture and if a cabbage plot had been harvested the previous day in the village, we would find that almost every child in the school had cabbage and rice for their school meal.  Often times it was cooked onions and rice as that was the main crop grown in the area. These people rarely ate meat or fish mainly because it was not readily available due to lack of refrigeration, but also because they had very little disposable income. They lived off the land and shared what they had with the rest of the community and even a tub of margarine was considered a luxury.

The time I spent with these people opened my eyes to a life lived very differently to how I had always known it to be and it taught me about surviving on very little in very spartan conditions.  I look forward to sharing many more stories and experiences  from Hinnapita over the coming months……..

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Neelika Jayawardane says:

    I so look forward to these posts, dear old friend!
    I eat so much during my day…I take bananas, apples and packet noodle soups to class and share with my teaching assistant. Swimming, running, or teaching (the performance of it!) just makes me ravenous, and more careful about including proteins (vegetarian proteins in channa or plain dal is good enough), which help keep us feeling full. But what if even a simple protein isn’t an option? Your experiences as a teacher in this rural part of Sri Lanka makes me appreciate the discipline necessary to live with limited resources, and with poverty. We all know that abundance makes us have to create some sort of discipline (so we can say ‘no’ to things that we don’t need)…but when when one is faced with the opposite, discipline is a whole other, more complex game.

    1. Thank you. I am very glad to hear that these stories are meaningful to you. Since we both spent our childhoods as children of Expats living in relative comfort in Africa, I think you are one of the few people best placed to appreciate the study in contrasts. Family friends were horrified that my parents chose to send my sister and I to live in places like these, but I am so very glad to have experienced it.

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