Amma’s Memories

I asked Amma why she had bothered to move to a place that was so foreign and so far. It wasn’t easy for someone who had lived their entire lives in one place to suddenly be uprooted and move their entire lives to a whole new country. The first thing to note about her is that her English is very impressive. Her parents were big on speaking English around the house and making sure that their children had an edge over the other kids in the neighborhood. I was always intrigued by my grandmother’s accent whenever we conversed in English as opposed to her native Malay tongue. She pronounced her consonants with a hard edge, but caressed the vowels in her melodic voice.

Amma explained that the temperature in Canada barely grazed the heat waves that they faced back home. Sri Lanka rarely had days that fell below 20 degrees Celsius. Their daily average usually sat at a humid 30 degrees. It was incredibly difficult to take a deep breath without feeling like you were choking on the heat radiating off every surface of the country. Staying in my parents’ home country always made me miss mine. As a born and bred Canadian, I craved the winters as much as my mom craved her summers.

So one day, I asked her why she came here.

“Why did you choose to live in a country that makes your joints ache with pains every winter season and tease you with too-brief hot spells every summer?”

“There are opportunities here that you would never have gotten there. But when you are done, I will go back. Back to my home.”

I often catch her when she stares into her memories of the jack fruit and banana trees that grew in her backyard and the fresh curries that my grandmother would make every day. The smell of cinnamon and nutmeg would float in the air when you take a stroll down the street, the spicy smell wafting from each home to greet your taste buds and prompt your mouth to water. She would describe the smell of the fish market, cods and crabs at every stall to take your pick from when the night’s recipe called for Kool.

I asked Amma if we could have Kool that weekend. She smiled at me and told me to call all our cousins over, after all Kool is a social dish. The rest of the week was spent coordinating with uncles and aunties to see who would bring the tamarind and the crab, who will buy the squid and the fish, and who had a stock of jack fruits for dessert. Soon, the house filled with family and the smell of prawns, chillies, and cumin. The aunties chopped the beans, peeled the jack fruit seeds, and ground the spices together as the uncles set up the large pot to hold the broth and shelled the seafood to prepare for cooking. Soon, the ingredients swam in the pot, the shrimp looking as though they were still alive and attempting to jump out of the heat.

We all sat around the pot, taking turns spooning full ladles into our bowls. The conversation flowing, only to stop as our mouths were occupied with the soup. The Kool could feed a small village if enough was made, and it’s the dish that truly reminds us of our homeland, our island.