The next morning I awoke early as I wanted to film a ‘day in the life’ at the Galaboda Tea Factory. It started with the arrival of the workers. Those that lived on the estate walked to the assembly area while those that lived off estate were brought to Galaboda by truck. Once all the workers were present a roll call was made by the Field Officer, Mr. Pateran. He was an enthusiastic chap with a long history in tea. Dressed in shorts, smart shoes, spiffy shirt and a brolly for the sun and rain he doled out the days work details. The structure of the event reminded me of my army days and I could immediately see the organizational side of the business kicking in. The workers were a chatty bunch and there was a distinct social side to the days doings.
When role call concluded and the workers had left for their assigned areas Pateran took me on a tour of the tea fields. As we set out I was again reminded that Sri Lanka is a tropical paradise with different plants and trees occupying the same real estate. Today there is a lot less jungle then there used to be, but that source of green foliage had been replaced by tea, bananas, rubber, coconuts and other exotic crops so that one is never far from a vibrant setting, if they aren’t already traveling through one. We meandered down behind the factory and followed a road, then a path up the other side of the small valley into Field #6. Even though it was still early in the day the sun was already sweltering above and sweat began to run to my eyes as we climbed to the highest parts of the estate. When we arrived at one section pluckers were already at work plucking the ‘two leaves and a bud’ from each bush. Pateran had sent the pluckers to this area so I could film which was much appreciated. I carried on my business as the social atmosphere I’d picked up on at roll call carried on in the fields with chatter carrying across the leaves.
Tea bushes, which are in fact trees, are planted a certain distance from each other and pruned every three years to maintain a consistent waist height to aid in the plucking process. The pluckers each had a large basket on their back and a smaller one at their waist and worked as a group moving through the bushes. They would rest their sticks on the bushes in front of them and use them as markers as they plucked the leaves and buds. The leaves would go over their shoulder into the larger basket while the buds were deposited in the smaller baskets. As I filmed them at length three things stood out in my mind. The first I’ve already touched upon, the social side to the process, the second was the pluckers attire which was very colourful and usually included a form of headdress to counter the direct sun, and the third was the presence of strategically placed trees in the fields to offer shade to workers and bushes alike.
Once I had the footage I needed we started to make our way down the other side of the hill at a leisurely pace. It was a beautiful walk. Sitting above us on our right was a beautiful Buddhist temple that caught the early morning sun while down below to our left the tea factory was framed by towering trees and everywhere in between were tea bushes with paths that dissected them at random. There was a rural flow to the scene that made me want to whistle, don’t ask me why, just did. And of course we had a cuppa with the workers on the way down during a tea break.
Back at the factory I grabbed some more footage. I’d already covered a black tea factory with Dilmah but explored Galaboda's all the same. Not everything is always carried out the same way between estates and the Galaboda factory itself had a very interesting history, in fact it wasn’t even meant for Galaboda when it was first built. I say 'meant' because quite a few of the old tea factories were designed and built in packages for clients throughout the country. Orders were submitted, materials amassed then transported to factory sites where they were assembled, only the tea factory that now stands at Galaboda was meant for a different location. The problem was when they designed this particular factory they didn’t take into account the difficult roads that led to the original buyer's property so an entire tea factory started a journey to a destination it couldn’t reach. This worked to Dr Sanjeewa's grandfather's favour as he received a brand new factory at a discount rate as the builders tried to cut their losses. Originally it had been a two story factory with the lower floor dedicated to the rolling, fermentation, sifting and packing processes while the upper floor was dedicated to the withering process. The doctor's father added the third floor, a second withering floor, at a later date. As it stands today the Galaboda Tea Factory continues to produce ‘Orthodox Black Tea’ from leaves plucked on site and from independent producers in outlying areas. The bushels are brought in at the end of the day from the fields at Galaboda and by tractor from the outlying areas for weighing before being put in the withering troughs on the second and third floor before the estate winds down for the day.
As I finished poking around the factory floor Pateran told me the pluckers were coming in from the fields so we made our way outside to catch them as they brought in the days pluckings. I had to admire their strength and stamina. I had sweatily laboured up to Field #6, only a ten minute hike, and here they were at the end of a scorchingly hot day coming into the weigh house with full bushels on their heads chattering away like school girls talking about the upcoming weekend. It was amazing to see.
What an interesting day at Galaboda it had been, one which gave me an in depth understanding of how such an estate operates on a daily basis, and how one particular estate had operated on a daily basis for three generations, and hopefully for three more.