What’s that sound? The crank of a wheel, powered by a young boy, spinning out yard upon yard of filament made of coir—the fiber from coconut husks that forms the basis of a major cottage industry in Sri Lanka. He was hard at work, along with two older women, in the late afternoon recently in the village of Bambaranda where many women help support their families by turning coir into products like rope, door mats, and sacks.
Since the tsunami in 2004, when the industry suffered heavy damages, Oxfam has been helping coir workers here and in other coastal villages recover from their losses, organize themselves, and find new ways of marketing their products.
When it comes to coconuts, you get the sense that little goes to waste here. Coconut shells become serving spoons. Palm fronds become roofing materials. Sap becomes syrup. And coconut “milk,” clear as water with a hint of sweetness, is the favored drink on a hot afternoon—and certainly a superior choice to the concoction we toted in our sticky bottles. Warned about Sri Lanka’s sweltering climate, we came fully equipped with orange-colored, berry-flavored “portable electrolyte hydration” packets. How silly. And we knew it the moment the women of Bambaranda passed us golden yellow coconuts, their tops lopped off and a straw bobbing in the cool milk inside. Gatorade has nothing over a King coconut.