When Bobbi starts dancing she won’t stop. I’ve taken a little break when she’s grabbing my hand to pull me back up, saying “Wanna dance?” Bobbi is married to Sid’s brother Lanka and they have the cutest little girl named Kiara, who is decked out for tonight’s festivities in a fluffy mango-colored dress. The De Silvas are in full party mode. If they aren’t spinning around on the lawn, they’ve taken to the small tented stage in the yard to play an instrument or sing a Sri Lankan baila song in top voice. They are celebrating Sid’s cousin Samil’s transition to womanhood. A few days ago, he explained that wasn’t happy with the old tradition, even in its modern form. Way back when, families went door to door to announce when their daughters became women and threw a big party for the entire village. It was a way of letting potential suitors know that their daughters were ready for courtship and marriage. These days it’s really just an excuse to throw a big party and this one is just for family only. I think Sid is also uncomfortable knowing that his little cousin is growing up.
Earlier in the day, I watched the party preparations begin from the front porch of the guest house. Tables with umbrellas appeared, the tent rose and the caterer arrived to prepare a meal for 150 people. I spot Sid’s father on the roof of the main house at one point adding lights. I begin to suspect that this is going to be a big event. There’s a little down time once everything is all set and this is when I finally get to spend some time with the De Silva women. We sit in the yard and smile politely at one another for a while, when someone asks about my hair. That’s always a good conversation starter. They want to know if it is all my hair and I admit that it isn’t. I show them how my hair has been braided to meet extensions that form the bun at the top. They marvel and exclaim, “Pretty!” I chat a bit with Sid’s cousin Hashi, who is considering college in the US or the UK. She has to take one last grueling test before she completes her schooling and can apply. We talk about dancing and I promise to dance with her and her sisters Himashi and Tarushi at the party. But it’s my camera that really breaks the ice with Sid’s little niece, Adarra. She likes to have her photo taken and she likes taking photos, too. She looks at photos on my camera and shows me photos on her aunt Iresha’s iPhone. Then it’s time for everyone to get ready and change into their party clothes.
As night falls, a stream of guests start to arrive. The men and the women self-segregate with men taking to tables with bottles of arrack, the local coconut liquor that tastes like cognac, and women taking to chairs along side the house. Little appetizers of warm chickpeas, fish and chicken are served until the buffet opens. I’ve been chatting with another of Sid’s uncles and his German friend who’s been traveling to Sri Lanka for over 20 years. Then I meet another one of Sid’s childhood chums, Sanjeewa, who lives in Finland with his wife and daughter and works at a camping facility. He’s one of many far-flung Sri Lankans. Sid had a younger sister living in Australia. His brother once lived in Switzerland and he has cousins living France. Sanjeewa and Sid used to be in a popular Sri Lankan band together, singing baila and pop music covers in beach town hotels and clubs as teens. It’s the two of them that kick off the party with a little musical reunion and Sid’s sisters and cousins immediately jump to their feet. They sing a song about how they may not be in Sri Lanka, but their hearts will always be in Sri Lanka. His family loves it. The party kicks into high gear when bottles of Lion Lager and champagne are passed around among the dancers. The once segregated men and women are now dancing together, swirling around each other to drum and electric keyboard heavy songs. Baila seems to be a mix of African drumbeats and Portuguese folk tunes. I like it a lot and I manage to dance with many of Sid’s relatives, Iresha, Hashi, Bobbi and the guest of honor, Samil. I’m thrilled when they tell me that I dance nice. One of Sid’s cousins has incorporated some hip hop moves into his dancing and we end up doing something that looks like the snake together. I’d learn later that the Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist MIA is Sri Lankan and it all makes sense. It seems that every De Silva has some sort of talent. Sid’s father sings a sentimental Sri Lankan tune and Sid, Hashi and Iresha perform a traditional song together. (Check out the video clip at the bottom of this post.) Even Uncle Emil gets in on the act, playing a little guitar with the band. They seem to truly enjoy each other, singing and dancing without a care.
Sadly, the evening comes to an end with a fight. A couple of cousins who’ve had a bit too much to drink get a little rough with one another over who knows what. Sid breaks it up and kicks them out. He says Sri Lankan parties always end with a fight. Some would say that’s the sign of a good party. I think it happens no matter the nationality. I’ve seen my share of fights break out at parties with black folks and white folks and alcohol is usually the instigator. The musicians pack up and some go for their last plate of food before heading home for the evening. It’s definitely a party that I won’t soon forget.