Unawatuna Blackout

I woke at 6.30am in a sweat, silently cursing Toni for turning off the fan in the night. Again.

I lazily reached up to the dial on the wall, twisted it. Nothing. Twisted it the other way. Still nothing. Pressed the main switch. Nothing.

Toni hadn’t turned the fan off, it had gone off. There was no power at all.

I tried to doze off again in spite of the heat but it was impossible.

Surely the fan would come on soon. This had happened many times during our stay in Sri Lanka, these temporary power cuts, glitches. Normally they lasted ten minutes at the most.

7 o’clock came. No change.

I dragged myself out of bed, went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I wished I hadn’t. Oh God, I looked like a greasy rat. Getting all that crap from yesterday’s spa treatment out of my hair with only cold water would be impossible.

I twisted my hair up into a donut so I could forget that problem, at least for now. Anyway, the power will be back on any time now, I thought.

Toni was stirring. He grunted something about “what time is it?” and fumbled for the dial for the fan like I had earlier. Then the switch. Coming to the same conclusion as me he sat up wearily.

We decided to go out and find breakfast then come back for the much needed hot shower when there was power again.

At 7.30 on a Sunday morning the streets of Unawatuna were deserted. All the businesses were shut up and there was no one about, save a few tuk tuks zooming around breaking the silence of the already scorching day.

Although it was daylight it looked dark inside the homes and shacks where some people did stir. Not a light was on, not a fan went round. It was looking like the power cut was general.

We reached the roti hut where we were planning to eat. It was all boarded up too. Across the road was another small restaurant with a few people having breakfast. On closer inspection though, no one was cooking. The people were eating bread and cakes.

We reached the main road where there were a few buses thundering up and down, but it was much quieter than we’d seen it before.

unawatuna blackout

Breakfast in Unawatuna

We came to a charming ramshackle hut that had five tables inside and was displaying samosas and other pastries. Well, we thought, at least we could have short eats. We went inside.

The owner could do much better than that: short eats, fresh hot roti, hot coffee. This guy was cooking with gas. Literally.

As we were munching our way through incredibly spicy short eats and trying to cool the fires in our mouths with hot coffee we got to talking about the series “Blackout”. Have you seen it? It freaked me out at the time and sometimes even now still haunts me.

What would happen if we got stuck in Sri Lanka? Would our families know what had happened? There’d be no media coverage. Would there be a rescue effort? Or would every country be in the same boat?

I suppose there’s be worse places to be stranded in the world. I mean here in Unawatuna we had a nice beach. It was clean – at least for now. We wouldn’t get cold.

I thought about our accommodation. Right now we had a room. A good room. How would we pay for it? Would they let us stay?

I thought about it carefully. We had about 5,000rs at the moment. The rest, useless euros. ATMs wouldn’t work. That would make us among the poorest people in Unawatuna. Suddenly from relatively “rich tourist” we would have nothing to offer. We couldn’t even speak the language.

But the people here were good people: kind, open and no strangers to suffering. People would pull together and support each other. At least I like to think that. The reality is I know that desperate people rebel the world over (except maybe in Japan; the Japanese remain orderly no matter what). There’d be anarchy. There’d be looting.

Who’d be in charge? The police? The guys that deal drugs on the beach? Would people conform? Would there be rebel gangs?

What about in other parts of the country? The 26-year war only finished eight years ago. And from the brutal way it ended surely there are rebels biding their time. This would be the perfect opportunity to launch guerilla attacks and try to take power.

As I was lost in my fantasy, mentally plotting where I’d be able to hide my useless euros, a humming sound was getting louder, interrupting my thoughts. It was the ceiling fan going round. There was a flicker and the light in the fridge went on. Yay!

We cheered. We paid. We walked back to our place for that much needed hot shower. We did stop to change some money on the way though (just in case).

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