Our Christmas Angels in Sri Lanka
Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a good festive season and are finding the start of 2019 promising. We certainly are!
We had a lovely couple of days over Christmas in between Eiras’s hospital trips– we visited Patrick’s family on Christmas Eve and had my brother, sister-in-law and mum over on Christmas Day. I somehow managed to win the seasonal lottery by having the day at ours (read, not getting out of PJs all day) and mum doing the entire Christmas dinner so the only thing I had to think about was the kids.
It was a perfect no-pressure day: no make up, no getting anywhere on time, no expectations. Just family, fun and an epic game of Nerf Gun Wars using the sofas and beds as bunkers.
We had a no-presents Christmas this year (the adults, not the kids!) so we didn’t have to think of things to get and wrap for each other, and it was wonderful. Each year we’ve got a little more tired of the obligatory gift-giving; feeling like we have to think of something we want and simultaneously purchase something we hope someone else will want. It’s one Christmas tradition we are happy to say goodbye to! The kids of course had presents, but we kept it to one main present for them (Playmobil to share) and we bought it second hand on eBay (setting an alarm for 3am to win a bid is well worth it when you land two epic castles with loads of figures for £20!).
Mum did slightly ruin our no-presents Christmas by- well, buying gifts– and then acting as if she hadn’t, like we wouldn’t notice. She mentioned this two days before Christmas, as she was telling me about wrapping up a bottle of whisky that she’d bought my brother. I did a double-take.
“Mum, I thought we were doing a no-presents Christmas this year? Why are you wrapping something for Lew?”
Mum does this thing, which she did just then, where she raises her eyebrows and shakes her head as if it’s going to distract me enough to forget what I’ve just asked.
“I’m not doing presents- it’s not a present. It’s just something to open on Christmas Day.”
Give me strength.
“Mum, if you buy something for someone, and wrap it, and give it to them to open on Christmas Day, that’s a present. In fact that’s probably the exact definition of Christmas present.”
“It’s not, it’s only small. it’s just the whisky and a bottle of moonshine. And I got some plants for them because I know they like them.”
“Mum, we said we weren’t doing presents- you agreed, we all agreed- because if one person does it then there’s pressure on other people to buy for that person, and then we all may as well buy for each other.”
“No, it’s not a present- it’s just that it’s nice to open something on Christmas Day isn’t it?”
“You haven’t got Patrick or I anything, have you?”
More eyebrow raising and head shaking.
“Not a present, no.”
“Just ‘something to open on Christmas Day’?”
Argh. “So you want something to open on Christmas Day?”
“No, no! I just thought it would be nice for other people to open something.”
“Urgh, Mum! If you think it’s nice for other people then surely you think it’s nice to have something yourself? It’s Christmas Eve Eve, and now we’ve got to get you something, and all the good stuff will be gone so it will be the worst kind of Christmas shopping!”
“No, I said don’t get me anything! I haven’t done presents this year!”
Cue Patrick running down to get a bottle of botanical hipster gin for Mum, (which she liked), and- surprise!- us all receiving presents from her on Christmas Day. (Does anyone else’s family ignore a no-presents rule?!)
Anyway. Something that the Christmas season inspires in many is acts of kindness and thinking of others, so I thought I would tell you about two people who I’ve been meaning to write about for over a year; a couple who quite literally saved us from being stranded without anywhere to stay on Christmas Eve, with nowhere to give birth to the Messiah- wait, no that wasn’t me, that was Mary. Well we wouldn’t have had anywhere to stay, anyway. Here’s what happened.
If you followed our mad adventures through Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka you may recall that our flight from Thailand to Sri Lanka was a tad hellish (read the full ridiculous story here). We had just finished a few weeks staying with a charity on the Thai Burma border and were flying overnight on Christmas Eve to Sri Lanka, where we would check into our homestay in the early hours of Christmas morning. As we were about to get into the taxi to leave for the airport, I got a whatsapp from the homestay owner saying that it was now unavailable. Literally as we were leaving for the airport, to fly there, on Christmas Eve.
A frantic search for accommodation showed up nothing (no surprise there as it was Christmas), and we had never been to Sri Lanka before so had no idea how to get about or where to find somewhere to stay. I posted a pleading message on Facebook asking if anyone knew of any empty property that we could rent in Sri Lanka, in, like, eight hours. A friend who had previously volunteered in Sri Lanka with a charity shared our post and messaged the friends who owned the charity.
Cue our real life Christmas angels, Sam and Mark. Not only do they run an incredible charity working with and neutering the stray animals of the island (and providing breakfast every single day to local schoolchildren), they are also the kindest and most selfless people we’ve ever met.
Without any regard for their own Christmas Day, we received a Facebook message from Sam saying that we could stay with them, as if putting up three adults and three kids wasn’t a big deal, let alone on Christmas Day! We asked for the address to give to a taxi from the airport but they insisted on picking us up at 2am on Christmas Day. They were at the airport, bless them, smiling and ready with a big van for our luggage, and gave us a cheerful nighttime tour of the local area as we drove to their house. We had no idea where we were going and I was really nervous that we would be really intruding on them, as I couldn’t imagine a house big enough to disperse the noise of three kids, however hard we tried.
I’m not sure if our jaws actually dropped as we got to Sam and Mark’s home, but it certainly felt like it. Their house, which they look after for an English businessman who built it himself, was like a contemporary mansion, with one side completely open to nature. The rooms were ginormous and there were enough of them that we all got a bit lost at one point or another. It was like being in the world’s coolest Air B&B.
We all dropped into bed and woke to see the sunrise coming in through floor-to-ceiling glass windows over the swimming pool and a lagoon that stretched from the ocean right up to the garden fence. After the super stressful journey it felt very surreal to be somewhere so luxurious, and the next couple of days were a bit like a dream.
Sam and Mark (and their awesome dog Suggs) were the most warm and lovely hosts and cooked a fabulous Sri Lanka Christmas dinner of delicious curries and chutney. The kids jumped on space hoppers around the huge living area, splashed in the pool and played with Suggs. Mark then took us on a ride in his tuk-tuk which the kids thought was the best thing ever! We visited a posh local Sri Lankan tea shop and at sunset went for a walk on Sam and Mark’s local beach, where they told us about the work they do with stray dogs.
The stray dog population is huge in Sri Lanka and are left un-neutered which means more puppies are born, neglected and left to suffer and die on the streets. Dogstar, Sam and Mark’s foundation, neuter and provide medical care for the dogs as well as education for the community about the importance of vet care for pets, and preventing breeding. They also sponsor a proper breakfast for local schoolchildren to ensure that children are getting fed and able to learn well, and they teach schools about how to care for dogs so that the stray dog problem will reduce with each generation.
Sam and Mark’s warmth and care was obvious in everything they said and did for us, and the fact that they left good corporate jobs in London to help (largely unappreciative) stray dogs in Sri Lanka is a testament to what amazing people they are. They insisted that we stay over on Christmas night, and on Boxing Day took us to a beautiful beach restaurant where we soaked up the rays and enjoyed our first hot, sunny Christmas.
Travelling is often intense and things can go very wrong very quickly- but it is also during these times that you come across the kindest people and experience the absolute best in humanity. Every Christmas we’ll remember Sam and Mark and their immense kindness as one of the highlights of our family travels- and who knows, one day we might be able to pay it forward and save someone else’s Christmas!
Check out Sam and Mark’s amazing project, DogStar, to find out how they care for the people and animals of Sri Lanka.