An Afternoon in Ohiya

9th February 2017

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After finishing the hike through Horton Plains, Mark, Wendy and I arrive back at our home stay in Ohiya around 11am, and are treated to some delicious coconut and ginger pancakes. An hour later, it is time for them to catch the train to Ella (which I’ll be doing tomorrow) and I bid them farewell. The German couple have also left, so it’s just me now.

I go outside to read, and Muthu brings me a plate of tropical fruit. Not long after, I’m debating whether to make a trip to Haputale and check out Lipton’s Seat when a little face pops into view, extending yet more food in her hand. It’s Nawanga, Mahinda and Muthu’s nine-year old daughter. She has just come home from school. Nawanga’s English is great, and she informs me she is in Grade Four. She then asks whether I would like to go for a tour of her village, and I reply that I would love to. The plan for the afternoon is finally set.

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We set off up the driveway, and Nawanga is none too pleased when her younger brother tags along. She is unsuccessful in her repeated attempts to shoo him off. I laugh and tell her that my brothers are annoying, too. The three of us proceed to traipse into the nearby woods, where the two children run around, and I struggle to keep up with them.

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Nawanga then leads us to a clearing, where a rocky stream runs through a golden meadow. It’s as if we have stumbled upon a secret garden. The two siblings climb on logs and play hide and seek, disappearing behind giant tree trunks or fallen branches. I sit in the grass and think about how wonderful it is that these children have such freedom to play. Having a forest as your backyard must be paradise.

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After a while, we leave the open space behind and head back into the shade of the trees. Nawanga treats me to a rendition of the Sri Lanka’s national anthem. Her face is serious and focused as she sings. I sing her the Advance Australia Fair in return, though I can’t say I’m as good a singer as she is. Once the formalities are over, we take turns being monkeys in trees. In this, I am able to monkey around as well as any child!

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Nawanga is a curious child, full of questions, and one thing she expresses particular interest in is my DSLR camera. I let her take some photos with it, and explain some of the different processes involved in operating it. She astounds me with how quickly she learns the basics, and I find myself in the midst of an unexpected photoshoot. In no time at all, she is adeptly changing the settings and clicking away, framing the forest in black and white before switching the scene to incorporate soft filtered light.

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A gentle rain starts to fall, so I snap a final selfie with my young photographer and we head back home. We spend the rest of the day writing letters, drawing pictures, playing games on my laptop, playing ‘magic princesses’ and painting each other’s nails. She is delighted when I give her a small bottle of perfume and some Australian coins to add to her collection of foreign currency. It’s the least I can do for this sweet and clever little girl.

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