SRI LANKA'S HARSH TEA INDUSTRY


A spoonful of vattalappam (baked custard) is all I need to confirm my Portuguese roots are still ingrained in Sri Lanka’s table. Besides some of the recipes, I notice yet uncanny resemblances to my Brazilian background, such as the colonial architecture, people’s and street names, and chaotic traffic-jams. Wandering chickens, cows, mongrels, and colourful tuk-tuks share dilapidated roads exhibiting equal priority. And despite the chaos, there is a sense of understanding and calm upon all travelers, including the four-legged ones, that is quite reassuring.

Invariably opposite to Sri Lanka’s noisy capital is the serene country side (or upcountry, how the locals refer to Sri Lanka’s highlands). It takes five long hours to cover 100 kilometers through winding roads, reaching the tea plantation area. At 1260 meters above sea level, high altitudes, long rainy seasons and humidity make the perfect condition for growing high-quality tea leaves. And as the most consumed beverage in the world after water, tea productions have fast grown in the tear-shaped island, specially after the end of a civil war that plagued the country for thirty years.

Sri Lanka’s tea industry employs one million of its twenty-million people, predominately females from the Indian-Tamil community. Tea pickers colour the vast green fields with their vibrant saris like a brush of pigments on a canvas. The strenuous physical job requires them to work under the scorching sun, while suspending large bamboo baskets.

When I approach some of the humble, grey-haired women, their kind eyes smile at me, trying to say something in Sinhalese I cannot understand.

Speaking to a local later that day, I realise that they were asking for moneyin exchange for taking their portrait. Being the cheap workforce of the country, and underpaid for generations, they earn a daily average of US 5, so it's not surprising.

Sadly, seems like Brazil and Sri Lanka have yet other similarities: - inequality and deep poverty.

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