halpewatte tea factory tour~or~think for a second about what you use

view from ambiente guesthouseThe previous night (16 March 09) we’d arranged for a car to take us to the tea factory and Dunhinda Falls. Andrea had done well finding a place in town with much much better rates than Ambiente (as a rule when traveling, unless you’ve money to burn, always find your own driver/guide. Eliminate the middle man, especially if it’s the hotel). I insisted we do the tea tour. I like tea. I like factories. If nothing else, it reminds me how luxurious my life is, even when I’m crammed into a subway car and people are snarking at each other.

We ate an enormous Sri Lankan breakfast of hoppers and curries and sat mesmerized by the view (see the last ten photos of the slideshow iii, if you haven’t already), which made up for our mediocre dinner the night before. It was so breathtaking. So good to be out of the city and so amazingly beautiful.

We made our way down to town and met our driver for the day. We started at the UVA Halpewatte Tea Factory, which looks amazingly flash in the website. On our tour, well, the picture below is a bit more accurate. The guy we organized the tour with was cranky with us and rude to his employees. There was no photography in the factory, which was fine as it was dark, and flash photog is generally miserable in dark places.

UVA Halpewatte Tea FactoryThe process of making the tea was interesting and amazingly greuling and hot for the women doing it. There might have been a few men, but it was mostly women. And this was probably easier than picking the damn leaves, which women do from 6am to 6pm, in addition to caring for their families and being bossed about by the man of the house. Sigma has an interesting blog post on the life of a tea planter, and Cerno offers a caricature (perhaps best read first) of this colonial legacy. Definitely worth a read.

Knowing the labor behind what we consume is important, I think. The world would be very different if we all had to put that kind of labor in for even one day. Puts a different light on the groans of a day job when I consider what could be. Often I go back to the conversation I had with a young guy selling lemonade drinks outside the gates of Khiva in Uzbekistan. I was complaining about the tourists (I was their guide and had momentarily escaped them) and the kid told me that I had quite a good job, actually, even if I did work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, because I would leave Khiva and eventually Uzbekistan. He could not.

In Sri Lanka, I missed the aspect of learning about what was going on behind the scenes, what workers really experienced and felt, which took time, contacts, and trust to learn firsthand in Central Asia. It’s just not possible on a quick country tour, which is why I’m so glad to have come across blogs that discuss this, and their comments as well (thanks for the links, Kirigalpoththa).

At the tea factory, we were again the only tourists around. We didn’t get to try their tea, as they didn’t have water that day, or were having problems with it (huh?). So after our tour, we left and headed off to Dunhinda Falls, an hour or so away.

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