CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
Hanging Out with Amita and Clan
My co-op (internship) arranged by the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS) at Bentota Beach Hotel was very useful in learning and in meeting interesting tourists and locals. Around the New Year’s Eve of 1973, I met a childhood hero of mine at Bentota Beach Hotel – Amita. The whole family of Amita Abayesekera were regular visitors to the Bentota Beach Hotel to meet and hang out with some members of the executive team. One of my childhood hobbies was creating comic books, and I was a fan of Amita’s cartoons which appeared regularly in a national newspaper. He was a teacher at a school in Bentota, and a part-time journalist.
Amita was a very interesting and versatile person. There was never a dull moment in his company. His ability to hold an audience was remarkable. The walls of his house were partly covered with caricatures of his family members. Amita also used to sing very loudly. In later years, one of his sons-in-law – singer Nimal Jayamanna, took lyrics of an old poem Amita used to sing at home, and composed a song. Thirty years after its release, that song – ‘Rampota Thelabuwa Maniketa’ continues to be one of the most popular Sri Lankan party songs.
We liked to hang out with Amitas’ family. This was particularly because of his daughters, who were very attractive teenagers. One of his daughters became my partner for two dances in 1974 (the CHS Graduation Ball and the New Year’s Eve). As Amita was very friendly with a few of the European tourists, our nick name for him was ‘Suddo (white people) – dana’.
In later years I enjoyed reading his newspaper column – ‘This is my Island!’. My favourite was what Amita wrote about his wife, when she passed away. His column subsequently published as a book, inspired me to write ‘Confessions of a Global Gypsy’. Thank you for the inspiration, Amita!
Mischief at the Bar
After spending a month as a waiter in the hotels’ restaurant, I was transferred to the resident bar as a trainee barman. There, I learnt the good, the bad and the ugly. I worked under two senior barmen – one was honest and the other was a clever crook. I liked working with the honest barman who taught me how to make cocktails and balance the bar books. I became an expert of making the hotel’s most popular cocktails, including the house special – ‘Monsoon Killer’.
One day, I was working with the dishonest barman. When I commenced making a ‘Monsoon Killer’, He told me to use only 50 ml of liquor for one cocktail. I showed him the recipe displayed at the back of the bar counter and told him. “Your recipe says 100 ml.” He responded, “Never mind the recipe. Use exactly 50 ml.” I did as I was told. After I made my second order of ‘Monsoon Killer’ with 50 ml, he collected the money from the tourist (who did not ask for a receipt), and dropped the whole amount in his tip box and not the hotel cash box. This went on the whole evening and he made lots of ‘dis-honest’ tips by serving cocktails with half the amount of alcohol! I was shocked and unhappy. He cleverly managed to balance the bar books.
The next day, while I was working with the dishonest barman, he received a nuisance call from another department. I overheard the caller shouting in Sinhala “Ado, Hila Wahalada?” (“is the hole closed?”) He became very angry and shouted at the caller in bad Sinhala words, in front of some tourists who were seated on the bar stools waiting for their drinks. Fortunately, they did not understand the meanings of the word
s uttered loud, but felt the tension. Curious about this episode, I investigated the reason for the call with my friends at the restaurant. I found out that the dishonest barman also had a reputation of being a ‘cad’.
A few months ago, when a female employee used a washroom behind the resident bar, she suspected that someone peeped through the key hole. The next day she had returned with another female emplo yee as a spy. They caught the dishonest barman peeping through the key hole, red handed. After a full inquiry, the hotel manager had issued the barman the final warning and got the maintenance staff to cover the key hole of the washroom.
Soon, I arranged for my CHS colleagues doing their co-ops in other departments, to give a string of “Ado, Hila Wahalada?” nuisance calls to the resident bar every thirty minutes during peak times of the operation. It was hilarious to witness the re-action. He asked me, “who are these bastards calling me every thirty minutes?” I said, “I have no idea who is doing this.” After a month of these frequent nuisance calls, one day he was frustratingly muttering in Sinhala, “I never had these f***ing problems before all these bloody CHS trainees came to our hotel.” I immediately asked my colleagues to stop the nuisance calls.
One evening a nice-looking Swiss tourist in her mid-twenties came to the bar and ordered a drink. She was a long stay guest. Seated at the bar counter in a mini skirt, she was watching me closely. She was impressed with my speed in making cocktails and my newly mastered bar showmanship. She started chatting with me, while I was preparing a ‘Monsoon Killer’. I was shocked when she asked me, “Would you like to have a drink with me?” I immediately said, “No miss, I am a Hotel School trainee and not supposed to drink with guests at the hotel.” She then said, “I will meet you at the public bar at Hotel Serendib after you finish your shift at 10 pm.”
Bentota Beach Hotel Kitchen
I then spent a month in the kitchen which was managed by three CHS graduates four years my senior. Padde Withana was the Executive Chef and his batch mates U.C. Jayasinghe and Vijitha Nugegoda were the Assistant Chefs. They were a good team and played roles ideally suited to their personalities. Padde was the boss who was very creative in cooking and culinary arts. He planned all the menus and wrote the stores requisitions, while ensuring the overall quality of all dishes. U.C. was the disciplinarian, and focused on keeping the food cost below 40%. Nuga was the friendly people-oriented manager, who also managed the kitchen counter issuing dishes to the waiters. I worked with all three and learnt different aspects of kitchen management from each chef.
Padde did long shifts and worked very hard. He was very focused on creating a niche for himself as the best chef in Sri Lanka. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to be trained under Padde. He did not talk much with me, but taught me a lot about butchery work, food marinading, advance preparations, à la carte cooking, food decorations, butter carvings and buffet arrangements. Bulk cooking was something I never experienced at CHS.
I valued the real-life experience I gained at the Bentota Beach Hotel kitchen. That influenced my decision to specialize as a chef after I graduated from CHS. When I worked behind various types of buffet tables, I became very popular, among tourists, particularly young ladies. Everybody seems to like a chef in a uniform, carving a roast or grilling at the barbeque. I enjoyed being in the lime light and that confirmed in my mind, “I must become a Chef.”
A Good Recommendation
I was sad to leave Bentota Beach Hotel when the internship ended. Back at the CHS, I often dreamt of the interesting and useful times I had within the best resort hotel in Sri Lanka. I often spoke about it with my batch mates. For the first time in my two and half years at CHS, I paid attention to become better at kitchen labs (practical). This newly developed interest and passion, surprised CHS Chef Instructors. I gradually became better at cooking all types of dishes.
Mr. Desmond Fernando, one of our Lecturers was very friendly with Bentota Beach Hotel management team. He shared some good news with me, “Chandana, they liked the work you did at the hotel kitchen.” That motivated me to do better. Then he said, “The moment they have a suitable vacancy, they would like to hire you to their kitchen.” This made me very happy. I was finally, well-behaved and focused on graduating from CHS in six months’ time. My aim was to join a good hotel as a chef soon after my graduation from CHS. My last semester at CHS was un-eventful, until I received an interesting part-time management job offer.
Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security
The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :
‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’
The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.
Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.
But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.
Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :
“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”
And that :
“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”
These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.
Encouraging signs, indeed!
Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving
Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.
They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.
The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.
On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.
Constructive dialogue beyond international community
by Jehan Perera
Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.
In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”
Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”
The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.
There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.
President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.
An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.
The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.
Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.
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