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A PORTENT OF THINGS TO COME: waiting to die in Uda Walawe

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by Rohan Wijesinha

A New Year spells new beginnings and brings with it the hope of things better. This year, it dawned very differently at the Uda Walawe National Park. The officers of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) were on a mission of mercy. A large bull elephant had been shot; the bone and muscle of the knee of his back left leg had been shattered. It had swollen to many times its normal size, and needed urgent treatment. The shooting had taken place outside of the Park, and the DWC officers had to entice this beautiful creature back into it, with food and elephant delicacies, to keep him safe from more human torture, and to try and treat his wounds. Despite the extent of his injuries, they managed to tempt him in, a considerable trek in his condition. In his prime, large and full of life, this big bull now faced the biggest challenge to his existence; to heal from human harm.

When death is a release

Six weeks later, and the DWC officers were trying to move him again, away from the edges of the Park, perhaps so that he could die in peace, away from the prying eyes of those who might otherwise exult in his sad ending. Time, even this short span of time, had taken heavy toll. Despite the every effort of the DWC officers, the swelling had now trebled in size, and was oozing with foul smelling suppurate. The once proud beast, now an emaciated hulk, blind in one eye, perhaps the result of a previous bullet, shuffled along the road in obvious pain. His left back leg crumpled every time it took his weight, and with each step, more pus oozed out of the swollen mass of rotting flesh.

We may never know why he was shot, or why he deserved to be if such a justification can ever be made, but the placement of the bullet clearly showed that it was to hurt and not to instantly kill. Yet, with a political leadership seemingly intent on the decimation of the wildlife and wilderness areas of Sri Lanka, this will be just one of the many tragedies waiting to play out on lands that were once prized by our ancient rulers and peoples for their sanctity, serenity and life-giving powers, and were the foundation of this country’s prosperity.

Murdering the future

A government that wages war on its own people is referred to as a Dictatorship but, usually, exists for just the lifespan of that particular rule as not even tyrants can live forever. History shows that power soon returns to the people, and sanity prevails once more. Those who wage war on Nature and the environment, however, are Demons that are intent on destroying the futures of all who come after them. They have no comprehension of tomorrow but believe that their today is all that matters, a final generation. Though the ‘future’ is bound to curse them for their callous destruction of it, they will no longer be there to suffer the consequences of their wickedness. Their children will be sent to live elsewhere, though as the climate heats up, due to deforestation and environmental destruction, there may be nowhere else to live. Nature does not adhere to manmade boundaries – those constructed by states or individuals. A lack of water, polluted air and inadequate supplies of food will bring as slow and as lingering a death to humanity, as it is today coming to the dying bull elephant in the Uda Walawe National Park.

The Government has now determined that any farmer with over an acre of arable land is to be given guns to protect their crops from wildlife. It is estimated that there are approximately two million who will so qualify. Sri Lanka’s famous fauna, those exotic creatures with whom we share this Island and who attract many visitors to our shores, will be the victims of this slaughter. The massacre will be apocalyptic. It will not only be elephants who will be targeted, but any creature that nears human cultivation and habitation.

There is also a matter of National security. In the last 50 years Sri Lanka has suffered the consequences of three major insurrections; two in the South and one in the North. There has been a rise in the levels of domestic violence. Will these guns be used against animals alone?

Give a child a gun, and who is responsible? It is clear as to who should be held to account for every human and animal death that results from this irresponsible political initiative. This is not being done for the benefit of farmers for if it was, the forests would be fiercely protected for they are the bringers of rain, and the precious water needed for agriculture. Wild animals are an essential component of a healthy ecosystem. This is nothing but for the benefit of the policymakers and the money they, and their henchmen, can make from selling this precious natural heritage to large corporate entities who will rape it for what it can give them, and in the shortest possible time. Nothing but barren, waterless earth will remain for those who are left to try and scrape a pittance from the residue – the true farmers.

The Final Generation?

Historians, if there are any left, will refer to this as the Final Age as biodiversity disappears, and natural systems begin to collapse. There would be no point in appealing to our Gods to sustain us as this destruction would have been orchestrated by men who delude themselves that they are divine and not just above the Laws of Men, but those of Nature too. They, long ago, abandoned their worship of the just by building graven images of themselves with the materials they had plundered, and continue to steal, from the Earth.

If only we could save it for the future, for the younger generations are far more aware of the value of Nature and the need to preserve it, intact, for the health and life of all? They are the hope of tomorrow. Are we going to stand by quietly and let them be robbed of their inheritance especially as there are so many ways for us to coexist with Nature, and benefit from its blessings? Or do we, too, believe that ours is the final generation?

“Human kind of one generation holds the guardianship and conservation of the natural resources in trust for future generations…A sacred duty to be carried out with the highest level of accountability.”

Justice Shiranee Thilakawardena (in Watte Gedara Wijebanda v Conservator General of Forests and Others 2009 1 SLR 337 at p. 338)

 



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Confessions of a global gypsy

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Providing hospitality to Prince Philip  

by Dr. Chandana

(Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc.

Consulting, Canada Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

Today, instead of chronologically narrating another episode of the story of my career, I will write about a customer I met and provided hospitality services twice, in the UK in 1984 and in Jamaica in 1998. Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg was born nearly 100 years ago (on 10 June 1921) in Greece into Greek and Danish royal families. He had a non-English, but a rich continental European mix – German, Greek, Danish, Hungarian, French, Swiss, Bohemian, Lithuanian, Russian, Swedish, Belgian, and Dutch. His family was exiled from Greece when he was an infant. After being educated in France, Germany and the United Kingdom (UK), he joined the British Royal Navy as an officer in 1939. He became a British subject in 1947, changed his family name to Mountbatten and married Princess Elizabeth, who became the Queen of the United Kingdom in 1952. Having made a British Prince in 1957, and over the years many other titles and honours were bestowed to him, but I will refer to him as Prince Philip, who was unique in that he was the longest-lived male member ever in the British royal family.

 

Two VIP visitors from UK

 

From 1995 to 1998 I was the General Manager of the largest hotel in the capital city of Jamaica – Kingston. Le Meridien Jamaica Pegasus Hotel (Pegasus) was operated by the largest British hotel company at that time – Forte PLC, and I represented that company in Jamaica. Along with two sister hotels – Guyana Pegasus Hotel and Pegasus Reef Hotel in Sri Lanka, Jamaica Pegasus was planned and developed in late 1960s and early 1970s by British Overseas Airways Corporation or BOAC (now British Airways) and Trust House Forte (later Forte PLC). Because of the hotel’s British connections, we had a large percentage of British travellers coming to Kingston staying at the Pegasus. Thirty rooms of the Pegasus were booked on back-to-back basis for the crews of British Airways over many years. The English cricket team stayed at the Pegasus, during all their matches played in Jamaica.

The British High Commissioner in Jamaica at that time had become a friend of mine. One day in early 1998, while attending a private party at my apartment at the Pegasus with his wife, the High Commissioner gave me heads up about two separate visits by two VIPs from the UK – Former (1990-1997) Prime Minister John Major (now Sir John) and Prince Philip. I lived in the UK when John Major became the surprise successor of Margret Thatcher in 1990, after the famous cabinet revolt. I was glued to the TV every evening in my London home, wondering how a person with such humble beginnings became the most powerful person in the UK. I became an admirer of John Major, and was excited about the opportunity to meet and greet him. On the other hand, having read and heard about Prince Philip’s greatest legacy (apart from his marathon marriage to Elizabeth II) – a lifetime of controversial, cringeworthy and sometimes outright appalling comments or insensitive jokes, I was not an admirer of Prince Philip. However, I was happy that he would be staying at the Pegasus for two days.

 

Arrival in Jamaica

 

Prince Philip arrived at the Pegasus in the evening of 23rd March 1998. He was accompanied by the British High Commissioner and a male travelling companion, who had a variety of roles such as Secretary, Butler and Valet. Given his reputation, my expectations were not high. However, I was pleasantly surprised about the jovial mood and politeness of Prince Philip that evening. He looked fit and athletic, and did not look 76, which was his age at that time. For someone who just arrived in the Caribbean after a cross-Atlantic flight, he appeared to be fresh. His suite and the adjoining room for his Secretary were on the 15th floor furthest from the elevators. While walking towards his suite he told me jokingly, “Hotels forget that I am an old man when they always allocate me a suite which requires the longest walk from the lift.” When I apologised, he said: “That is alright, I need the exercise.”

 

Chat about the past

 

The next day, during his breakfast at the suite, I met Prince Philip again. I checked how his first night at the Pegasus was, and he was happy with all arrangements. He looked well rested. We chatted briefly about the weather and his previous visits to Jamaica, as well as about his stay with Queen Elizabeth at Guyana Pegasus Hotel a few years ago and visits to Sri Lanka. Then I walked with him, on his way out to a meeting scheduled at the British High Commission. While walking he surprised me by asking: “have we met before?” Assuming that this is his dry sense of humour he is famous for, I replied, “Yes, Your Royal Highness, we met last evening.” He laughed and said, “No, no, I mean before, years ago. I remember your face and your afro hair style.” I then said, “I served you once at the Dorchester Hotel, but that was 14 years ago, when I was a Banquet Waiter, I cannot imagine you remembering all Waiters who served you at numerous royal banquets, Sir.” Prince Philip looked straight at my eyes for a few seconds and said, “I think that I remember you from the Dorchester.”

A royal banquet at the Dorchester, London in 1984

When I was a graduate student at the University of Surrey, UK in 1983 and 1984, to make sufficient money to pay the rent, I worked at the Dorchester in Park Lane, London, as a part-time Banquet Waiter. Although it was the best hotel in the UK at that time, most Waiters who served in banquets were part-time employees. Traditionally most royal banquets in London were held at the Buckingham Palace or at a historic hotel with long-standing connections with royalty that have led to it sometimes being referred to as an annexe to the Buckingham Palace – The Claridge’s in Mayfair, London. In early 1984, after many efforts by the top management team, the Dorchester secured a prestigious booking for the first royal banquet ever to be held at the Dorchester, since its opening in 1931.

As this banquet would enhance the image of the Dorchester, the management decided to re-train the full banquet service team of full-time and part-time employees. It was a two week fully-paid special training. We were told by the Banquet Manager that the five waiters who perform the best in the practical test and the exam at the end of the special training session, will be given the opportunity of serving the 27 VIPs who would sit at the head table. These VIPs included the Queen and Prince Philip, King of Bahrain, The Lord Chancellor of the UK and the Prime Minister of the UK (Margret Thatcher). Thanks to my practical training I received by German and Swiss food and beverage service experts at the Ceylon Hotel School in the early 1970s, I managed to do well at this training session and become one of the best five waiters. I was chosen to serve the Queen and Prince Philip and the King of Bahrain at the royal banquet held on 12th April 1984. I was one of the two non-white waiters among a service brigade of 50 who worked at that royal banquet. Perhaps that may be a reason for Prince Philip to remember me after 14 long years.

A fundraiser private dinner in Kingston in 1998

In 1998, the Chairman of the Pegasus Board and the individual shareholder with the largest percentage of shares, was Mr. John Issa. He was also the Chairman of his family-owned resort chain – SuperClubs. Mr. Issa’s family were the pioneers of tourism in Jamaica for a few generations. His wife, son and twin daughters were all well-qualified and held senior positions within the family business. I was very close to the Issa family. Towards the end of 1997, Mr. Issa had a chat with me and said that he and his family will need two suites at the Pegasus for six months, as their beautiful house in a posh area of Kingston will be fully renovated to host an important event. As their house was already well-appointed and well-maintained, to me it sounded strange, but I did not ask too many questions from the Chairman of the Board.

A few days before the visit of Prince Philip to Jamaica, the Issa family returned to their upgraded house. At that point Mr. Issa informed me that his family would be hosting Prince Philip for a private dinner in their house, the day after Prince Philip’s arrival. As it was a fundraiser event the invitees for the dinner were rich and famous Jamaicans. Mr. Issa disliked wearing the tie and jacket and therefore, the dress code was informal. A six-course menu with matching wines were planned. Pegasus was asked to look after some of the logistics, while SuperClubs looked after catering.

 

The event was a success in terms of quality, satisfaction and fundraising. It was like musical chairs, when those invitees who sat next to and in front of Prince Philip, were rotated from course to course. After the event was over, jokingly I asked Mr. Issa: “Would there be an opportunity for me to address you as SIR JOHN in the near future?” He laughed and said: “Chandi, I need to do much more than one fundraiser to earn a title such as that”. I think that I read Mr. Issa’s mind, correctly.

 

Goodbye

 

The next morning, I handled Prince Philip’s departure from Pegasus. When he saw me at his suite, he asked, “You, again?” By then I have gotten used to his dry sense of humour. I think that he joked often with an intention to put people at ease, but at times was misunderstood as being sarcastic. After a firm hand shake and exchange of smiles, I said goodbye and bon voyage to Prince Philip.

Years later when I watched four seasons of the award-winning Netflix series ‘The Crown’ with my wife, I realized how complex and at times, difficult it was for him to play a supportive ceremonial role for 69 years from the time his wife became the Queen of the UK and the Commonwealth in 1952. He was fully dedicated to the institution and had a deep sense of duty, perhaps stemmed from his naval officer training and distinguished military career. He was a reliable husband for 73 long years.

Prince Philip served as a patron, president, or member of over 780 organisations, and his key legacy will be his work as the Chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a self-improvement program for young people aged 14 to 24 founded by Prince Philip in the UK in 1956 and expanded to 144 nations, over the decades. He was a good man. “Goodnight Sweet Prince!”

chandij@sympatico.ca

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ODEL Launches its vivacious Summer Collection

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The longing for a place or a face, is something we have all experienced in the past year. Yet the tides have turned, and as life gets slowly back to normal, the ODEL Summer collection, “Wish you were here” celebrates those cherished throwbacks to good times; The love, the laughter and having it all back again. With a range of stylishly comfortable silhouettes, accessories, shoes and bags, the collection welcomes the dawn of a new year, while looking back at those wonderful days with fondness.

Inspired by all things island, ODEL’s Summer collection lives up to its theme of ‘Wish You Were Here’. And indeed, you most certainly will wish you were at ODEL, not just once but everyday this season as ODEL introduces a range of delightful products which are a veritable burst of island blooms and colors that will get you right into a mood of Summer fun and frolic as well as traditional Avurudu celebrations.

You can shop ODEL with complete ease of mind, with a host of bank offers as well as special promotions, to make your Avurudu all the more festive. What’s more, this season you can shop till you drop at ODEL, from 10 AM all the way to 10 PM!

“This season, vibrant blooms will come in to play across ladies’, men’s as well as kids’ categories. The collection comprises of a stunning selection of silhouettes in joyful, celebratory hues such as Red, Orange as well as Green which is the designated auspicious color of Avurudu this year. Sri Lanka being the tropical paradise that it is, we have kept the fabric light and breathable with the perfect blend of cottons and linens, which are well suited to our climate” said Desiree Karunaratne, Group Director Marketing of Softlogic Group.

The overall direction for this Summer’s collection is ‘comfort first’. In the ladies’ line up, you will see cascading shapes with layers and fluidity. Staples such as floral summer dresses, shorts, tropical co-ord sets, palazzo pants, crop tops and cover ups are making a comeback. Wide-leg trousers made for comfort, floaty dresses that could take you from an intimate festive gathering to a tropical get away far from Colombo, paper bag shorts pairable with those breezy tops with billowy sleeves or even a cute little crop top are all must- haves that will soon become your summer favorites.

For LUV Sri Lanka, the ‘Blossoms of Avurudu’ collection capture the essence of this festive period and portrays the beauty and magic that is created by the myriad of flowers that blossom across the island during this time with emphasis being placed on this year’s Avurudu colors which are green, white and blue. Conveyed via water colours by our team of designers, everything you see has been drawn from scratch. We have given special attention to the flowers that are synonymous with the culture and traditions of Sri Lankans, namely Erabadu, Asala, Nilmanel, Saman Pitchcha , Katurolu, Kadupul, Binara and Sapu.

The Men’s collection too revolves primarily around comfort, with tropical shirts, shorts, ombre- tie dye T shirts and crisp white tailored staples included in the collection. With a range of printed, casual shirts that can be paired with a casual short for a day by the pool, or a Chino from our wide collection for an evening out, the ODEL Men’s collection is versatile and interchangeable, working for a whole range of different looks. Not forgetting the wildly popular tie dye tee range by WYOS and Liberation, and the beloved formal range by Davidoff and Fellini, the ODEL Men’s department is fully equipped for all your festive shopping needs.

Kid’s Summer collection for both boys and girls, is affectionately labeled ‘Fruitloops’ this season as it’s a celebration of tropical fruits and their burst of vivacious colors. Boysenbear brings ever so cozy casual looks for little boys while Pinkabelle comes through with summer dresses, rompers and comfy shorts that your little princess will want to live in during these hot summer days.

ODEL Home, in keeping with the theme of vibrant colors and light-as-air textures, presents a range of home essentials for this festive season. Beautiful, vibrantly hued mosaic vases, modern ceramic vases in uncommon shapes and sizes, floral cushion covers in colorful linens and cottons, and a range of color coordinated bath room accessory sets, bath mats and towels, that will complete your home, while a unique collection of clay table wear, vintage brass oil lamps, batik cushion covers and table runners will make your Avurudu table the cynosure of all!

As for Backstage, resplendent dazzles are the order of the day! In order to coordinate and complement the bright and gleaming hues of Avurudu, Backstage will feature a range of jewelry that is intricate, exotic, colourful, dazzling and one of a kind.

Last but by no means least; Delight has an array of traditional Avurudu sweet treat hampers that are guaranteed to satisfy the gourmand in you with a stunning assortment of all-time favourites and some new ones too.

Sri Lanka’s leading Department store, ODEL certainly has it all for the entire family, so head over down to your favourite store for all your family’s needs this Avurudhu – ODEL has it all!

ODEL PLC is a fully owned subsidiary of Softlogic Holdings PLC, one of Sri Lanka’s largest diversified conglomerates with leading market positions in growing economic sectors in Retail, Healthcare, ICT, Automobiles, Leisure, and Financial Services. Softlogic holds authorised distributorships for key global power brands and employs over 11,000 employees at its offices in Sri Lanka and Australia today.

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Banana: the everyday super fruit

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by Randima Attygalle

Be it visiting loved ones for the new year or on any other occasion, taking a comb of bananas along is a time-honoured practice among Lankans. We are not alone in our love for this delectable fruit relished over centuries by mankind and herbivorous animals alike. One of the most widely grown fruit crops in the world, banana occupies a top place in the fresh fruit trade, second only to orange. Banana (Musa spp.) is native to South Asia and Western Pacific Region. The wild ancestors of cultivated banana Musa acuminate Colla and Musa balbisiana Colla are distributed in South and South East Asian countries including Sri Lanka.

The earliest written reference to bananas in Sri Lankan history goes back to about 341 A.D. the time of King Buddhadasa who is reputed to have been a skilled physician. The king had recorded in his Sarartha Sangragaha, the medicinal values of various parts of the banana plant. There is also evidence that the prehistoric inhabitants of the island, over 12,000 years ago had eaten wild bananas. The seed remains of ati-eta kesel which had been found in a carbonized state in the stone-age cave sites of Batadombalena in the Ratnapura District prove the long existence of banana in Sri Lanka.

“Botanically known to be a kind of berry, banana is the only fruit crop equally recognized as a fruit and a vegetable. Although ‘bananas’ and ‘plantains’ are commonly used to name the fruit, there is a distinction between them. The two major types of edible banana cultivars in the country are classified into banana and plantain each with different morphological characters and uses. “While banana is considered to be the ‘dessert’ type, plantains are the cooking type,” explains Dr. Kalyani Ketipearachchi, former Principal Scientist (Fruit Agronomy), Fruits Crops Research and Development Station of the Department of Agriculture in Gannoruwa, Peradeniya. Today what is known as ‘ornamental banana species’ have also found a place in home gardens, she adds.

While almost 1,000 varieties of bananas are found across the world, there are around 50 varieties locally found, says Dr. Ketipearachchi. Other than a few varieties introduced scientifically through international research projects such as Ambun types, Cavendish type, recommended varieties of Kandula and
Pulathisi, almost all the others are indigenous to the country, she adds.

Sri Lankan bananas are found in three main groups: the Mysore, the Kolikuttu and the Cavendish. Ambul and seeni bananas are of Mysore group. Kolikuttu, suwendel, puwalu and rath kehel belong to the Kolikuttu group, while embun, anamalu, nethrampalam and bim-kesel belong to the Cavendish group. While all these are popular dessert bananas, alu-kesel or ash plantain is a cooking variety. Among the cooking types are Kithala, Mondan, Etamuru, and Marathamana which are however not as common as alu-kesel. Nethrampalam, she says, is the most expensive local variety. “This is not commonly available as it is not yet cultivated on a large scale. Nethrapalam is believed to help improve eyesight and contains aphrodisiac qualities. Bimkesel or Navkesel is also a Cavendish type known as Sri Lankan Cavendish. The tree is of dwarf size and its fruit bunch almost touches the ground.

Bananas are a popular fruit crop ensuring high economic returns throughout the year. “This is the fruit’s biggest attraction, as it could be grown across the country even at very high elevations unlike other seasonal fruits such as rambutan or mango. Moreover, banana can be harvested in shorter periods, bearing fruit in about ten months,” notes Dr. Ketipearachchi. The economic life span of a tree is about four years.

Nearly 50,000 hectares of land are under banana in Sri Lanka – that’s about 54% of the total fruit cultivation extent, according to the Department of Agriculture. It is also our highest export fruit crop. According to the Export Development Board’s numbers, Cavendish has a high demand in the international market and ambul and rath kesel are also exported in small quantities. Middle East countries are the largest buyers of Lankan bananas, (largely Cavendish) followed by several European countries including Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and the UK. Japan and New Zealand are also among lead buyers.

Along with its everyday presence in Lankan homes, the fruit is also part of the country’s religious and cultural fabric. All of it, be it leaves, flower bud, pseudo stem or corm, no part of this plant goes unutilized. It is also a popular weaning food for infants as it is easily digestible, soft and palatable. Rice and curry wrapped in banana leaves, popularly known as kesel-kola buth is much relished, giving a special flavour to a meal apart from its packaging function.

Harvard School of Public Health in their literature alludes to banana as the ‘iconic golden fruit’ which carries the title of the ‘first super-food endorsed by the American Medical Association in the early 20th century as a health food for children and a treatment for celiac disease. Rich in potassium, vitamin A and C, banana can easily fulfill the minimum daily fruit requirement of 100gms, says Dr. Renuka Jayatissa, Head of the Department of Nutrition at the Medical Research Institute and President of the Sri Lanka Medical Nutrition Association.

An advocate of ‘a banana a day keeps the doctor away,’ she remarks that banana is a natural intervention for tropical lands like ours to supplement the minerals lost due to heat. “It’s actually a wonder fruit with many advantages – nutrition value, affordability, availability and its natural peel-wrapper, makes it a safe and a practical fruit that could be eaten at any time without interfering with our meal patterns.”

Nearly 50% of Lankan adults have high blood pressure says the Clinical Nutritionist. Rich is potassium, the fruit is recommended for maintaining blood pressure levels. However, those with potassium-related health issues need to be conscious of how much of the fruit they eat, says Dr. Jayatissa. As it is rich in calories and carbohydrates, it should be eaten in moderation by diabetics and other high risk groups such as the overweight and the obese, to prevent glycemic overloading. “People unnecessarily fear banana which should not be the case. Eating in moderation is the key,” she notes.

The nutritional level of different kinds of bananas varies but this is not very significant, so people have the advantage of enjoying their preferred variety, Dr. Jayatissa says. “Ambul has more citric acid, and that’s the reason why it doesn’t agree with those who have citric acid intolerance. But such cases are now not very common. Rath-kesel has more beta-carotenes and is good for those with Vitamin A deficiency. Anamalu is recommended to treat diarrhea as well as constipation,” she explains emphasizing that this fruit can also meet the recommended daily dose of vitamin C as a buffer against COVID-19.

Citing Thailand’s example, she says that the wastage of this wonder fruit must be avoided. “In Thailand, hardly any bananas are thrown away. Overripe fruit is sun-dried and diced into small pieces which they enjoy with ice cream or smoothies. We can learn from this and even add it to our much loved curd. Banana peel soaked in water for three days is a good fertilizer”, Dr Jayatissa says, encouraging Lankans to be more creative with this abundant fruit.

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