Sipping my morning coffee on the balcony of my third-storey Jaffna flat, I look out onto a few red-thatched rooftops, a small grove of tall coconut trees bearing crows on their swingy branches, a chipmunk skillfully scurrying along the triangular rooftops, and a handful of dragonflies circling atop all sorts of tall green vegetation that frames my vista… I have been doing this on any morning that the weather allows it, before the humidity, or heat, or insects drive me indoors for cover. I am doing this now as I write this – welcome to my humble abode.
This quaint little Jaffna flat – the first housing option I saw when I first got here, and one that I resisted till I could find no better alternative – became the bain of my existence as I negotiated the rent, cash advance option, furniture (including my beloved air-conditioner) and, more importantly, completion date. I would feel my heart sink every morning as I walked to work, past my flat, and would look up to find that there were still no windows, or that the walls weren’t painted yet, and would try to banish thoughts of how much more work was still required on the inside. After much delay, the flat was completed in record time by the last card I had left “I will be homeless in 3 days if I don’t have the flat to move into”. This last plea to my landlord was mostly true (I had already extended my stay at the guest house more than once, and knew there would soon be no room for me), but also emotional more than logistical – I needed to unpack and move in once and for all. And so, the flat was suddenly abuzz with activity, with diligent, hapless skilled workers simultaneously working on their specific craft in every room for three days straight, and I was handed the keys at the end of the third day. I was finally home.
I was so excited to finally be in my own place that I didn’t notice that, though I had purchased cleaning supplies and plates, I had overlooked getting mugs (for my morning coffee) or toilet paper! But with the same momentum of my flat’s work crew, I would nip out during lunch hours to buy the missing bits and pieces, including a refrigerator and a washing machine, all of which were delivered and installed on the same day because, hey, we’re in Jaffna!
It has been a few weeks now, and my “I could do this or that…” engine is slowly whirring to a halt as I realize that the place has all the basics it needs, including a few aesthetic touches courtesy of lightweight artisana items that traveled with me from Lebanon, and a few small purchases from here. Besides, I like the clean minimalistic look, which is softened by the canary yellow painted walls (the bedrooms are a warm matt pistachio green)… and this perfectly offsets the garishly-patterned brown sofa set provided as part of my rent agreement. In comparison, I was almost grateful that the landlord opted for a plastic dining room set (nevertheless a wee ornate and heavy-duty).
After a few days here, I no longer noticed how small the bathroom was, which was what had propelled me to look for other houses at the beginning, and soon I also adjusted to the kitchen sink placed in the corner of the counter, rather than at its centre, and the gas cooker that had only two settings (high and higher). After a few days, I found the optimal setting for the AC and ceiling fans, which maintained a soft cool draft through these few rooms. The only thing, it seems that I have yet to get accustomed to is the myriad of switches lined up for the grid of lights scattered on the ceiling and in the corners, inside and outside, of every type; neon tubes, ceiling globe, soft yellow ‘goblet’, and so on. I wish I could recognize a pattern in the assignment of switches, and I wish I could find a simple way to tag them, but I fear that code would be too convoluted to be practical as there simply is no pattern. On a good day, I hit the right switch on the second try. On other days, I wonder how much fun my neighbours are having as they watch my outdoor and indoor lights turn on and off as I hunt for the right switch.
I guess that will be one way I’ll be known in the neighbourhood…