The Spice of Politics and the Politics of Spices:
This time we were off to Kandy, the city whose name has always brought images of striped peppermint canes to me, but only because I was never taught the history of Sri Lanka and how Kandy was the home of kings for centuries.
As it turned out, our stay would coincide with another Poya day, the monthly Buddhist holiday of the full-moon, which is a public holiday for Sri Lankans. As it turned out, we arrived on the last day of campaigning for the provincial elections in three northern provinces. (Provincial elections are not held country-wide, but are done in groups of provinces across a calendar year.)
The city was jammed with buses and people and it was electric with anticipation because it was said that the president, Mahinda Rajipaksa, would be arriving and giving a speech in support of local candidates. When we asked where he would be speaking, we were told no one ever knows for sure, so people gather in various possible spots around the city, in hopes. Finally it becomes clear, just before the time.
It became clear to us as we were making our way through the Central Markets and when we wanted to ascend a staircase to an upper level we were told we needed to step into booths where people wearing white plastic gloves were inspecting those entering. “No way”, I said and backed off.
A little later we had stopped down the street for a refreshing drink of juice and suddenly vehicles with loudspeakers and crowds of shouting supporters in identical t-shirts flooded past our cafe. Back at the Central Markets the enthusiasts were gathering with balloons and promoting their favoured candidates by colours and numbers. Someone was haranguing the crowd over a public address system at very high decibels, but as we don’t speak Sinhala we could understand nothing except the general intention.
The following 2 days would be free of overt campaigning and the election would be on the Saturday.
In the calm Poya day (Thursday) which followed we got into some sightseeing. The first place we went to was the Spice Garden in Peradeniya. Entrance is free and we were shown around by a trained herbalist who showed us many plants used in both cooking and Ayurvedic medicine, which is the traditional herbal medicine of Sri Lanka. We were shown many plants whose products we were familiar with, but whose bearing plants were new to us. Pepper grows on vines? Cardamom seeds grow next to the ground on a plant that looks a bit like ginger? Here is a nutmeg tree, this is how vanilla beans grow, here is a cinnamon tree, here a ginger plant, here are coffee beans, still green, on their tree. For every plant, the herbalist told us what body ills the plant could cure or help with. It was fascinating, and I started looking in amazement and forgot to keep taking pictures.
The herbalist would list what Ayurvedic medicine is allowed to publically claim and what it can’t. For example, it can help with developing hair loss, but when Phil removed his hat and the man saw Phil’s almost bald pate he said there was nothing it could do for actual baldness and it wasn’t allowed to advertise a cure for baldness. He explained that if the hair follicles were still alive, the condition could be reversed, but eventually they die off and then it’s too late.
After the garden tour we were taken to a little open shelter and shown the various products the Spice Garden sold (of course!). Then we were offered sample massages with their therapeutic red oil. I had had an Ayurvedic massage in Galle, so I was quick to say yes, and Phil gave in as well.
It would be fair to say we left the Spice Garden well oiled!