Tuesday, March 23, 2010
A visit to Bathalangunduwa at the tip of the island known in the maps incorrectly as Karaitivu north of Kalpitiya peninsula.
I had the privilege of hitching a ride to an island 14km long but very narrow, north of the Kalpitiya peninsula where about 3,500 people live, and who fish for a living.
They use different nets to catch different fish during the various seasons, and this time they were catching keeramin, which is a bigger version of the sprats.
the fish being cleaned in sea water once removed from the nets after the morning's catch
These people have no medical facilities, they originally came from the Negombo area over a century ago and have their own dialect of Sinhala. They are almost all Catholic and live a very basic life in coconut thatch dwellings. The other community is concentrated in three localities on this tiny strip of land, the others being Sinnagunduwa and Palliyawatte.
They are now finally facing some freedom after the severe restrictions they had and the searches they had to undergo, due to the recently concluded LTTE infiltrations in the area. Water is one of their biggest problems as there are no fresh water wells, and they collect water by digging a hole in the sand and collecting drinking water in the first 10 minutes before the water again becomes brackish.
Hole to get fresh water to drink has to be covered up immediatly after removal of water
Ironically they were selling the dried fish at Rs240kg at their site, while I was able to buy at the Hingurakgoda Pola, the same fish and lower quantities at a maximum retail of Rs200kg. So were they trying a fast one knowing the buyer had no idea what the real price was!
They make special expeditions to the mainland to stock up on water and other essentials, but their diet consists of just rice and fish for every meal with a scarce vegetable or leaf bought once a week as a treat as they come from the mainland or Kalpitiya.
I heard from the small Naval detachment that pregnant women suddenly come to the camp when they go into labor and have to be urgently ferried in a naval craft to the nearest hospital which happens to be in Kalpitiya, when the baby arrives aboard the craft on its way to the hospital. The naval staff with no training in midwifery have had to somehow cope with these unexpected events, that being the highlight of their otherwise uneventful existence.
In the absence of a Coast guard, they also have a duty to protect the maritime boundaries from outside fisherman especially from India as well as to protect the country from smuggling mainly of drugs that come in. Needless to say the island has a few superb beaches. No one swims as they just have too much of it!!