I finished yesterday's blog post by mentioning that we were due to meet a tour guide. I remember his name by thinking of running to get the snacks in Spain. His name is Tapas Dash.
When we met him last night Mike asked if it would be himself that took us on a tour of Srimangal and the surrounding area. He apologised and said he wouldn't be free the next day because it was the 'coming home' day for his sister's wedding. His family is Hindu and he explained that one week after a woman gets married she returns to her parents' house for one last time before she moves in to her new home with her husband.
Well, you may have guessed already, it wasn't too long until Tapas asked if we would like to join his family. We readily agreed but were a little surprised that he should be inviting us before we'd even heard about one of his tours, he didn't know us from Adam.
He introduced us to a young lad who was with him, his name was Shah Jalal (roughly translates to The King). He was about 13 years old and had lived on the street. Tapas said he has set up a foundation to look after street children, give them an education and a better life. So far he has helped 30 children, all very impressive as he must only be in his late twenties.
It was arranged for Shah Jalal to collect us at 1.30pm the following day, a Friday, equivalent to our Sunday in the UK. We couldn't dress smartly as we don't have anything smart to wear.
When we arrived we were shown into a living room with a three seater sofa, two armchairs, a double bed and a television on a chest of drawers. Tapas bought us a saucer of snacks each. There was a ball of rice crispies bonded together with sugar, one of those coconut turnovers, similar to the one I had yesterday, and another pastry with an indeterminable filling. Mike has had a dodgy tum and in order not to offend, I took it for the team and ate all the snacks. Tapas returned with a glass of lemonade each and more snacks! I was a bit dismayed and explained to Mike that he should at least try. There were two golf ball sized snacks on each saucer, one was brown, the other, creamy white. I tried a bit of each, one tasted like sweetened condensed milk and the other had a fudgy caramel taste. They weren't too bad, but incredibly sweet. In for a penny, in for a pound, I got through Mike's as well as my own and felt nauseated afterwards, as though I'd eaten a whole box of chocolates.
As we sat in the room numerous aunties, uncles, sisters, brothers and in laws came through and introduced themselves. After about half an hour we were invited upstairs and onto the roof. The newly weds were sitting side by side with a cloth over their heads. Firstly, grains of rice were placed on their heads, then shoots of grass, then a few sprinkles of water. The groom got quite a heavy sprinkling of water and got his own back afterwards by tipping the water container over his sister.
We were invited back downstairs to the first room for more meeting and greeting. Finally, we were taken back up to the roof and four tables had been set out underneath a plastic canopy. Each of the tables had 8 plastic garden chairs and the table had been set with a polystyrene plate, glasses and a plastic jug of water.
Mike and I were invited to sit at the top table with the groom, brother in laws and the bride's father. There were no knives and forks or napkins so we thought we'd just watch what everyone else did. Tapas came round with rice and dhal, he dolloped healthy portions on our plates, then someone else came round with a bowl of something red, I asked what it was, they said it was a spicy paste made from dried fish. I decided to try some, but we played Mike's vegetarian card at this point. The men were shocked, I think they feared for his survival without meat or fish, but were also worried that they hadn't been good hosts as they hadn't provided vegetarian food. Tapas took it all in his stride, reassured our table mates telling them he'd be fine with dhal and rice. Another lad came round with some dice sized spicy fried potatoes and as Dad had started to eat I took a sideways glance to see how it was done. He was mixing the rice and dhal together with his fingers, squidgeing it into a ball before eating it. I didn't spill any, but Mike's lap was getting quite a rice shower so Tapas bought him a big cloth. The dishes came thick and fast after this and I had a fish curry and mutton curry, both were delicious. Pudding was a sweetened creamy yoghurt, no mean feat for a pair of first timers, served on a plate and eaten without cutlery. We didn't dare drink the water.
After we finished eating we were taken to the section of roof where the water tank was and one of the girls poured water over our hands and gave us soap to wash them. She then continued pouring the water for rinsing. I could have done with hand washing before we ate.
Then a tray was offered with a pile of leaves on it and a couple of tins. I asked what it was and was told it was betel nut leaves and betel nuts. You know the stuff, it stains the teeth a red/black colour and leads to lots of spitting, I think it's vaguely narcotic. Having assaulted my stomach with so much over the course of the afternoon I decided to give it a go. Our hosts laughed and looked surprised when I accepted, so I asked Tapas if it was ok for me to have some. He smiled gently and said. "Of course". Pieces of betel nut were placed on the leaf and it was sealed with some white paste and made into a little parcel. It was explained that I should just pop the whole lot into my mouth and chew. The first three lots of saliva to be spat over the edge of the roof and the rest to be munched, savoured and enjoyed.
"Soon, you'll feel like you're in heaven", Tapas assured me.
What was it like? Imagine chewing a matchstick, woody in texture and taste. The leaf was bitter. I've cleaned my teeth very carefully this evening and fortunately there's no residual stain.
What a brilliant day! We felt honoured to have been asked to join them. I still can't believe Tapas took such a risk by inviting us, after all, not all Brits would give all those new experiences a try with such a 'can do' approach.
One of the relatives was a bank manager and he explained that it was a great honour for them to have foreigners, so the honours were being felt all round.
You won't be surprised to learn that I now have indigestion.