–Story – Pizza Pizza

Some years ago, I was working in Sri Lanka with two other guys, installing computers and training the end users on the applications my company had developed for them.  I liked being in Sri Lanka despite the heat.  We were there around March or April, but that close to the equator, it was truly hot.  Our hotel had the biggest pool I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen some big pools.  I spent some time outside searing my skin while swimming and making certain I drank enough water.

One of the people we were training was a scuba diver, and since the other two guys on my team were also divers, they set up a dive trip.  I hadn’t dived for years and wasn’t interested in that, but I went along for the ride and to get out of the hotel on a weekend.  I was glad I did.  I was lying on the front of the boat after swimming in the Indian Ocean.  I was almost dry when I heard a funny noise.  I assumed it was bubbles from the divers but realized it was coming from beside the boat.  I heard it again and opened my eyes to see a humpbacked whale gliding through the water next to us.  I gasped and shouted “Whale!” to the boat captains.  The whale had slid under the water by that time, but resurfaced with the peculiar sound from it’s blowhole about thirty feet away from the boat.  It’s back slid along the surface of the water until its fluke surfaced and slapped the water as it prepared for another dive.  By the time it surfaced again, it was far from the boat, barely discernible as a whale.  An exciting twenty seconds, let me tell you.  Totally worth the sunburn I got that day.

Since it’s so close to India, Sri Lanka is greatly influenced by India and its culture.  Practically everything had curry sauce on it.  I like curry, and I like Indian food, but most of the curry we got was so spicy and hot that I after a day or two of it, I gave up and stopped eating it.  Breakfast was easy.  The hotel had a large breakfast spread for the guests and I could choose from dozens of items.  I tended to load up at breakfast so I could skip lunch.

Lunch was brought to the office building by the hotel we were staying at.  That meant that lunch was mostly meat, rice, and vegetables covered in whatever spicy/hot curry sauce was on the menu that day.  Sometimes it was flavorful, but most of the time it was HOT.  I suffered through this for a week, before realizing that I could order sandwiches at the cafeteria where we ate.  They had a whole menu I could choose from.  I was going through a modified vegetarian phase at the time.  Modified by the fact that when the meat urge struck, I gave into it fairly quickly.  So I started ordering lettuce, tomato, and cheese on toast with a side of French fries.  That was my lunch for the next three weeks.  It was good, light, filling, and inexpensive.  The other two guys started helping themselves to my fries, knowing that I’d never finish them.  It was a good system.

The capital city where we were working, at that time was starting to become more modern.  Their civil war was still going on, but it was mostly removed from the populace areas.  So there was growth in business, infrastructure, wealth, and it was showing.  The people we saw on the street all looked healthy, and all seemed to have some place to go.  No one was wandering aimlessly.  I looked but didn’t see any homeless people, or anyone asking for handouts.  The concierge at the hotel explained that right next door was the new shopping mall that had just opened a few months before our arrival.  The indoor shopping mall was a new concept for them then, and they were justifiably proud of this icon to their new modern outlook.  We dutifully trooped over to it the second night we were there to see what was available and look at their new food court.

That food court gave us a lot of chuckles.  There were the “American Standards” such Tennessee Fried Chicken (not kidding), and Pizza Shack.  There were other restaurants, as well, but I don’t recall their names.  There was no time while we were there that the place was busy.  Admittedly, we only went there a few times, but not even the mall was ever very busy considering it was so new and such a novelty.  We ate dinner at the hotel, or with one of the staff we were teaching, things like that.

One Friday, late afternoon, we were in the taxi heading back and one of guys suddenly said, “I’m sick and tired of curry!  Who’s up for pizza?”

I knew immediately what he wanted.  “Sure, I’ll go.  You’re talking the food court, right?”

“Yeah.  I want a sausage pizza.”

The third guy already had plans so declined.

As we were riding the elevator up to our rooms, I asked, “When do you want to do this?  You want to hit the gym first or what?”

“No,” he replied.  “I want pizza now.  I’m tired of not having a solid bowel movement.”

I laughed at him.  “You know, there is such a thing as too much information.  Meet you in the lobby in twenty minutes?”

“Yeah, that’ll be fine.”

So, thirty minutes later we were standing at the pizza counter trying to make the guy understand that we wanted a whole pizza and wanted sausage on it.  The primary difficulty, apart from the language barrier, was the fact that they sold pizza by the slice, not the whole pie.  We finally got him to understand that we wanted the whole pizza and would buy every slice off that pizza.  Once that hurdle was crossed, and we were certain there was a whole pie coming, we had to ascertain what was going to be on it.  I had perused the brief menu above the counter and sort of knew that sausage wasn’t going to be available, but my coworker’s frustration was mounting to the point he kept repeating “Sausage.” in ever growing volume.

Finally, the kid behind the counter said, “Sau?” and my coworker smiled in relief.

“Yes!  Sausage! Please.”  He turned to me and asked, “You want anything else on that?”

I laughed.  “After all that?  No way, sausage is fine.”  I was relatively certain we weren’t going to see sausage, but I was also very curious to see what was going to turn up.

We sat down with our large sodas, and waited patiently while hashing out the details of our travels, our company, our lives.  He still didn’t believe I saw the whale.  “No picture, no proof, no whale” was his logic and he stubbornly refused to be moved from it.  I didn’t care; I knew what I’d seen.

After several minutes, the kid called us over and started stacking individual pizza slice cartons on our tray, four for him and four for me.  It smelled so good, full of cheese and oregano, and something else familiar but I couldn’t place.  Yet.

We sat down and each opened a box looking at the cheesy, gooey goodness.  “No sausage.” he said in deep disappointment.

“You wanna go tell him?” I asked, knowing what the answer would be.

“No, let’s just eat.”  Simultaneously, we lifted the pizza to our mouths and took big bites.  The puzzled expression on my coworker’s face almost made me choke with laughter and food because I recognized the familiar scent immediately.

We had curry pizza.  It was a sweeter curry, not so spicy, but curry nonetheless.

“What the hell?” he said softly.

“I think when he said ‘Sau’ that he meant sauce.  Around here, that means curry.  You wanna take it back?”

In bitter defeat, he replied, “No, I’ll eat it.  I just won’t be happy.”

It was an interesting pizza, to say the least, but it was different from what we’d been having up to that point.  But it wasn’t that “taste from home” we’d been hoping for.

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