Selling Bananas and Discussing Climate Change





It was a slow afternoon, at the market, date Saturday 8 December.  The Saturday morning rush was over, and there were plenty of parking places.   As I wandered over to my favourite vegetable sellers, there was a heated discussion going on.  Just across from the veg stall, the lady who sells bananas was reading from the popular Sinhala daily “Lankadeepa” the lead story. 


The banner headline was visible and  said “ 3 Districts in danger in another 30 years: Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Hambantota – No rice farming and parts of Colombo will go under water.”  As the lady continued to read the article most sellers at the market could not understand how the rising temperatures will in turn cause rising sea levels and the coastal towns being submerged.  But what’s that got to do with Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruwa was the question — One bewildered guy said “there is no sea in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa—so how can rice farming be affected.”  Another man shouted “You idiot, the sea is under those cities too!”

With patience that comes with age and wisdom, the lady went on to explain how the drying up of water resources will affect the farmers in the dry zone, and the possibilities of those cities turning into deserts. Quoting the paper she said that there was a need to come up with newer less water dependent varieties of rice for planting.  

Totally fascinated by this discussion I went over to speak to the neatly dressed lady –  Obviously, educated, quite well read, what’s she doing selling bananas I asked myself.   




 Her smile was quizzical, eyes bright, her name Gallage Sriyawathi.  Born in Poregedera, Padukka she had been a bright student at the Padukka Kotiyangoda Maha Vidyalaya. She had obtained what in today’s terms a pass at the the ‘O”’ level exam, passing  8 or so subjects including English, Mathematics, Geography, History, Literature, Sinhalese, and had even done a short hand and typing course. Her one ambition was to be a Policewoman.   

But her dreams were quashed by her parents who put their foot down and said No, no, no – no daughter of theirs was going to be a copwoman. She was told that she was educated so she would know to read a prescription etc, but not to go to work.   Totally dejected she had refused to continue her studies and so was married off at 21 years and went to live in Rathmalgoda, Horana.  A common story no doubt of the fate met by quite a few smart women in the country.



















Nearly two months later today, I found her still reading her favourite paper. Now 65 years old she has five children and says she has lost her English skills. Life is not easy for her as she leaves home at 5:15 am to get to market to  set up her stall.  Sriyawathi says she earns anything from LKR10,000  to LKR 15,000 ( approx US$100-150) per month and that is without accounting for her travel costs. 

I couldn’t help but think if she was in the Police, she would be earning a pension and reading her newspapers from an easy chair.

Text and All photographs© Chulie de Silva

10 thoughts on “Selling Bananas and Discussing Climate Change

  1. Brilliant, Chuli. Does Gallage Sriyawathi know you have done a story about her and it has been read by someone in Delhi?!

    Keep it up!

  2. What an excellent photographer/journalist you are to have the curiosity to notice the conversation taking place, inquire, take the marvelous photos that so perfectly reflect the beautiful vegetables available. Oh for a tomato that tastes like a tomato. So wish she could read your piece and see the photos.

  3. Marvelous Post…Just to add a bit to this.. I met an Australian medico who was doing a part of her internship at the general hospital..From what she said, it was quite easy to work with Sri Lankan people, especially women as they were very intelligent and it was very easy to explain the illness and treatment.. I believe her as she has done some of her internship in south america as well… it seems that the average sri lankan citizen is very intelligent.

    I guess, we should be damn proud of ourself to have a very intelligent, educated society….

  4. Chuli , congratulations on another excellent profile of a Not Hi magazine lady (I mean a real lady).
    Sachith, you are right in saying “I guess, we should be damn proud of ourself to have a very intelligent, educated society….” But can you explain then , why we let ourselves be led by the likes of Dr. Vermin Silva?

  5. He…he…good question…. I guess one weak point of our people is that they are used to been manipulated by others…in ancient era;the kings, the colonial rule;the british and now the politicians..
    we trust them on what they tell that they’ll do…but i like to make a point that the “vermin” was not elected by vote…he got only around 2000 votes..which explains that the general public are more sensible than the people in power who has given undue status to these rogues…

  6. Thanks all for the comments that are good to see. I think I need to do more of these but the problem in Sri Lanka is taking a camera and going out. I was questioned at Kiralaponne market by 4 guys and cops who surrounded me — — and asked if I had got permission from the municipality to photograpah. Quick thinking of Dharshana, Manoj and Chaminda who have a veg stall, that I regularly buy veg from saved the day. They came to my rescue and said they asked me to come with the camera to take some photographs of them. So the question now is — do we have to have a camera license like a gun license of yesteryear?

  7. Thanks Chuli, for bringing Sriyawathi into our lives with your elegant pictures and words.

    I’m disturbed to read about your bad experience in photographing in a public place in commercial Colombo. Kirulapone is not a high security area as far as I know, and the last time I checked, Sri Lanka was not yet a police state (or have I missed something?). It is patently absurd to have to obtain anyone’s permission to take photos, but the policemen are apparently interpreting the law differently. This is something all shutter-bugs – professional and otherwise – must immediate take note of…or soon we’ll end up having to seek the permission of Mr Goon (‘clear-orf!’) to take photos at our weekend market.

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