From Sri Lanka to South Puget Sound: My first nine months in Puyallup

Sri Lankan Independence Day. Photo by Dinouk Colombage.

In Sri Lanka, Independence Day is celebrated with a show of military strength that keeps most residents of the capital city locked in their homes for the day. Frederica Jansz’ first Fourth of July in the States was just one of many things that felt familiar, yet oh-so-different.

It took me nearly two months to get my tongue around pronouncing the name Puyallup. I challenge any Sri Lankan to pronounce this name correctly. The fact is, I have had many Americans ask ME how to pronounce it. So here goes: – It is pronounced pew- our- lup and means Generous People.

The author's son, Kieran, attended summer camp for the first time this year. Photo by Frederica Jansz.
The author’s son, Kieran, attended summer camp for the first time this year. Photo by Frederica Jansz.

Our arrival in Puyallup – a fast growing city to the south of Seattle – was accidental.  Having left Sri Lanka in a hurry with only three suitcases, our throats constricted with unshed tears and the flu, my two sons and I arrived in Seattle.

Initially the plan was for cousins to sponsor us to come to Canada. But that plan misfired and my cousins were forced to leave us at the border and drive back home to Vancouver. I had no idea what to do. I was stuck with the two boys in a country where I had no family and no friends. And going back was no longer even a choice.

My cousin then contacted a Sri Lankan family they had met briefly, and who lived in Puyallup, appealing to them for assistance.

Help they did. They were amazing. Inviting us to come and stay in their home before convincing me to settle in Puyallup. During which time they cheated me of a large sum of money…but that is another story.

And so while I struggled to stitch my tattered life back together, my heart heavy and homesick, I met and made other friends. This time, they were Americans.

Toasting smores around a campfire July 4th. Photo by Frederica Jansz.
Toasting smores around a campfire July 4th. Photo by Frederica Jansz.

I had been “warned” (by Sri Lankans who live in America) that Americans will be nice, but that they could be two-faced. Rarely hospitable. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We have been in this town now nine months. The American families who have hosted us to dinner and breakfast (yes, I kid you not – breakfast – cooked in a crock pot! – unheard of in Sri Lanka) have been quite a few.

Sri Lankans pride themselves on their hospitality. But, you know what? I could not have survived these past nine months – so far from home, my family and everything familiar – without the warm and caring Americans that have surrounded me and my boys.

That said, I have come across the iffy ones as well. There was the “interior decorator” who ran a staging company – who seized on my “plight” with a promise of full-time employment – only to reveal she had not much work and was determined to limit my hours to five or six a week.

Then there was the time my seven year old got bruised in a scuffle with a classmate.  When school authorities separated the two boys the other Mum took umbrage – blasting the class teacher and principal. She even put up a post (in foul language) on Facebook! That almost felt familiar: recently the Sri Lankan press reported that a parent forced a school principal to kneel before him and apologize for having disciplined his son!

Frederica Jansz.
Frederica Jansz.

I am often asked what the “big” differences are I find living in the US in comparison to Sri Lanka.

A first for me was the online offers to stay at home and work – earning an income off online postings.

I was skeptical but decided I must investigate the authenticity of these claims. A phone call resulted in my phone ringing off the hook (well more or less – it is a mobile) from people who tried their best to persuade me to sign up and “purchase” one of these home own kits. Which promise you an hourly income ranging between $37 – $47 dollars.  But before you start earning, you have to pay anything between $44 – $ 47 dollars or thereabouts to buy the kit.

The promoters of this scheme then promise you a monthly income averaging between $2,500 – $4,000. Depending on how long you are prepared to sit in front of a computer and post advertisements for $15 apiece, encouraging America’s shopaholics to shop.

To this day, my inbox is flooded EVERY SINGLE DAY with mail from people? aliens?? whose names I now actually recognize! There is a Mary Taylor, a Skylar Black and an Adrienne Brooke (who even asked me to marry him! then got mad – when I for obvious reasons did not respond – and is now sending me repeated emails asking “why I ignore him” that he is “pissed” and “what is it that I don’t get.”) Only this morning I had an email from Adrienne “Thanking” me for have “reached out to him last night” WTH? I wonder if Adrienne knows that men usually prefer to spell it “Adrian.” 

I have NEVER had an internet proposal EVER in Sri Lanka.  And I lived there for 45 years.

And then came July 4th.   America’s Birthday. Toasting marshmallows and making “S’mores” late night around a campfire after being treated to an exclusive and lovely fireworks display. It was the first time in 30 plus years: at Independence Day celebrations in Sri Lanka we were forcibly gated into our homes. Just so a bunch of politicians could flex muscle with a show of military strength all in the name of a national celebration.

February 4th is Sri Lanka’s Independence Day. For as long as I can remember, it begins with the ENTIRE capital city under house arrest. The masses are gated in their homes while politicians led by the reigning President together with special invitees – consisting of a smattering of diplomats, politicians, family of politicians and their stooges – sit in the sweltering heat under a canopy of sorts watching Sri Lanka’s military parade with feigned interest.  The heat is so bad that one year the police chief actually fainted as he stood to attention behind the President. The official explanation was that he was wearing shoes a size too small!

The display is telecasted LIVE on State TV for the benefit of those lesser mortals who consist of the masses.  I remember having to actually secure special “passes” from the local police station to get to work – being in the media- to actually report on the extravagant display of men and might.

What a difference to July 4th this year when I joined in celebrations with “normal” Americans – enjoying a homemade barbecue, fireworks and plenty of laughter.  Barack Obama was nowhere in sight – not on a single one of the 700 plus TV Channels we all watch. Neither was America’s military. Although they were probably visible elsewhere – in Baghdad or Kabul.

4 Comments

  1. Hi there! This is random but do you know of any Sri Lankan community in the Northwest, namely Portland? I’m getting married there this summer to my fiancé who is Sri Lankan. We would like to add a Sri Lankan element to our wedding. We live in LA and can easily find Sri Lankan food and musicians but we haven’t found anything in the NW. Any ideas??? Your help is greatly appreciated!!

  2. HI,
    i want to know why the Australian govt refused asylum, this is not right. Unless Tony ABBOTT is worried about the boat people issue.

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