EBENESER IN COLOMBO
I woke up early in the morning to silence. The engines were shut down. I began to hear other sounds through the porthole, and a faint light of dawn seeped in. I got up and went out on the deck. Our sea journey was over. We had stopped.
I watched as the first light of dawn changed colors and the bright sun rose behind the palms on the shore. We were just outside Colombo harbor. I heard a familiar sound among the trees. The sound rose stronger as the sun rays reached the treetops.
The crows cawing had woken me. The sound was familiar from our earlier years in Ceylon. The journey from Helsinki to Colombo on the transformed minesweeper had taken seventy-eight days. A pilot arrived and guided Ebeneser into the harbor. Our white boat looked tiny among the massive cargo and passenger ships. The blue and white Finnish flag waved in the aft and attracted curiosity among the crew of the other vessels.
Soon the most curious came to visit. This was just what Dad had hoped. He was able to convey his message both by telling the guests why we had traveled so far. He gave each visitor something to read. In London, dad had acquired Bibles and other literature in a variety of languages from the
Scripture Gift Mission.
A reporter from the English Daily News newspaper wrote about our arrival, so the news spread rapidly. A woman with severe pain in her legs had a dream many years earlier. In the dream, she saw a white ship arrive in Ceylon. She dreamed that her family had carried her to the boat and that she recovered from her severe illness there.
When she saw the picture of Ebeneser in the newspaper, she asserted that it was precisely the ship she had seen in the dream. Her family brought her to the ship, and she was healed after prayer. She who could hardly move earlier could walk without difficulty.
The news spread and even more people came to the boat. I did not think it was much fun when so many people came to the boat at all times.
Hubert de Mel was a rich old man who had a high position during the British colonial era.
He owned a large house, almost like a palace, on the seashore of Moratuwa, about thirty kilometers south of Colombo. He offered a part of his residence as a place for recreation for the crew of the Ebeneser. Mum was very tired from the sea journey. She was glad to be able to stand on solid ground after the weeks and months on a moving ship.
The rooms we were allocated were not so palatial, but we were still impressed by the house. Its days of greatness were passed. The large rooms, filled with stuffed furniture, smelled of many years of dust under the wall to wall rattan carpets. In one huge sitting room, all the sofas and armchairs were covered with pink brocade. There was an identical sitting room at the other end of the house. Their the sofas and chairs were covered in blue brocade. It seemed as though those rooms had not been used since the British left Ceylon in 1948.
In the part of the house where we lived there were no carpets, only concrete floors.
We had the use of two rooms. The room furthest in served as a kitchen.
Mum cooked all our food on a primus stove.
A porch stretched all the way across the front of the big house.
Hundreds of coconut palms grew in the vast grounds, all the way to the seashore.
At the seaside, fishermen pulled up their nets early every morning. The entire male population of the village seemed to be involved in drawing up the fishing nets. Everyone pulled.
Sometimes they got fish weighing up to sixty kilos and more, sometimes they only caught small fish. The women and the children waited with their baskets to collect the catch and take it to the market.
We were often on the beach and wanted to go for a swim.
It was not much fun when the whole village was there and stared at us, pale-faced foreigners.
In front of the palace, there was an extensive lawn. Dad set up a tent on the grass to hold meetings. People from the surrounding area were curious and came to the tent to hear a choir consisting of about twenty foreigners singing their songs in an almost entirely Sinhalese environment.
We could not stay in Moratuwa. There was no school for us.
Mom traveled up to Kandy where we lived between the years 1950 and 1953, to find out if we could return to the schools there. We were welcome.
My three brothers could continue at Kingswood College.
My sister and I could return to Girls' High School.
We traveled to Kandy the day before the schools started in January 1956. We had no home.