Silibiris and the sisters were entered into Ambarawa School soon after. The school consisted mainly of two buildings with low walls and corrugated iron roofs.
Ambarawa School was awfully poor. The school could only offer the basic subjects due to lack of teachers and facilities.
On rainy days the roof leaked -making it impossible to sit in the class.Children didn’t mind this inconvenience as they did not have to attend the boring lessons then. Unluckily, the rain was not something they saw very often except in July and August .
Lokumahaththaya wore white shirt, white long trousers, black trouser belt and shiny black shoes.Male teachers mainly wore national dress and the female teachers were clad in saris . The students came from the old Ambarawa, Galthamabrawa, Siyambalawa old village population and also from the recently settler families.
Silibiris realized the local children didn’t mix easily with the settler family children for reason unknown to him. He didn’t really wanted to be there. He would have much preferred to roam around, climbing mango trees, catching fish from the lake and to swim with the rest of the boys.
Even working with Haramanis in the hena was more preferable than going to school.
However, it did not take long for Silibiris to make some school friends, and get to know the local girls. The girls liked his easy-going-goofy-talkative manner. Most of all, receiving gifts of wild fruits he brought daily to school. They, in turn, helped him with the homework even if he didn’t really want. Silibiris learnt from them that the new settlers were not liked by the local Sinhala villagers nor the Tamil villagers in the surrounding areas.
The colony people were Pitagamkarayo. They were trouble-makers with no roots, or did not belong to the local villager’s castes. Silibiris eventually became friends with their brothers as well.
But,nobody ever invited him to their homes lest they get into trouble with their parents
Ambarawa Temple was built on a rock outcrop. Though small in size it had a long history.
Lokuhamuduruwo was not only the spiritual guide he was also the local medicine man, the judge and the leader in the community. Three podihamuduruwos learnt Pali and Buddhism from him.
Most days after school, Silibiris helped Haramanis and Siriyalatha in the hena. Harmanis had managed to expand the cultivated area with the help of his family. Like most settlers, he grew miris, wambatou, bandakka, cowpea, wattakka, labu and watakolu that grew easily in the area. The produce was sold for a pittance to the Mudalali who came by on the local pola days.
Watering the crops was no easy task. They took water from the small stream that was running through their land when it was flowing. Otherwise water had to be drawn from a deep well.
Haramanis built a tree house on a tall tree top accessible by a makeshift ladder. Silibiris kept a wary eye on the monkeys and birds from the tree house occasionally taking aim at them with his catapult. Silibiris and eight-year-old sister Kamala had learnt to cook so that Siriyalatha could spend most of the time helping Haramanis. 5-year-old Wimala played on the swing tied to the Kohomba tree, talking to her imaginary friends.
On poya days, the whole family would visit the temple to worship and meet other settlers exchange stories of hardship…even exchange some gossip or information on the latest Government Aid Program.
Little by little, Silibiris and the family got used to the hard life in Ambarawa.
Illustration by Saranga Peiris