By Michael H. Kew
THOUGHTS ON FLAGS, ETHNIC CLEANSING, AND CONNOR LYON’S 5’5” FINLESS
THE LION STARES. Eyes wide, he seems rapt to roar. Like he’s about to walk, lion to Lyon.
His lifted right paw rests on a brown knuckle of stone. His orange mane is big, his whiplike tail swayed right. Washing his body is a low gold hue from a sunrise or sunset. Above his head is 1881 and below his paws are the words Lion Lager, odd since lions have never lived in Serendip. Leopard Lager would be more apt. Or Little Egret Lager. Or Lesser Bandicoot Rat Lager. Or whatever. At least the Brits had brought beer to the north Indian Ocean.
Ceylon Brewery was Serendip’s first, built in 1881 to reflect a boozy piece of home for the Brits while they gazed over their tea plantations in the hilly burg of Nuwara Eliya, 115 kilometers west of where Santa Barbara’s lionish Connor Lyon had side-slipped on his self-modified, finless Spence displacement hull across his 26th wave of the afternoon session that had led to a deeply colorful dusk.
With its subtropical highland climate and spring water, Nuwara Eilya was a sweet spot for a long-term brewery. Nicknamed “Little England,” the town was also an ark for the British civil servants and tea planters, an insular sanctuary where they could improvise Union Jackisms like hunting, polo, golf, cricket. Beer-drinking.
Not a big beer drinker, Lyon does like a good pint, generally of California craft beers. But those are on the other side of Earth. Here in Serendip, he’s sunken two large Lion Lagers before the one he’s now holding, all three bought from the empty rasta-themed bar down the lane, just past the empty beach and the empty tin fish shack.
The carbonated yellow liquid in his brown glass bottle behind the big male lion label is lukewarm. Lyon thinks Lion is better than Bintang, the other Asian beer he’s tried. At best, lukewarm Lion is “mildly refreshing,” he says. At worst, I counter, it’s another limp beer on another hot island. But that’s a topic for another tale.
Dark now—near 7 p.m. Crickets with mosquitoes and other pests that bite our feet. Lyon is lounging on a white plastic chair in front of the room where Kyle Albers was once vomiting so many moons ago. Drinking the beer and thumbing through a copy of Slide magazine, Lyon’s manelike hair remains damp from the late surf. The hair covers his ears, clogged with saltwater, but he can hear the muezzin reciting Salat al-‘Isha, the Islamic early-night prayer, his Arabic words drifting from the speakers on the minaret atop the nearby mosque. We can’t see the mosque; it’s somewhere over the hill, south, in the dark.
The muezzin’s voice is hypnotic, spooky, soothing in a weird way. It’s the fifth and final of the daily ritual Muslim prayers, starting with the first chapter of the Qur’ān, the core religious text of Islam, translated to:
In The Name Of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise Be To Allah, Lord Of The Worlds. Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Master Of The Day Of Judgment. Thee (Alone) We Worship And Thee (Alone) We Ask For Help. Show Us The Straight Path. The Path Of Those Whom Thou Hast Favored; Not The (Path) Of Those Who Earn Thine Anger Nor Of Those Who Go Astray.
Allah is Arabic for “God,” who in Islam is the prophet Muhammad (his full name: Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim), from the Arabian hamlet of Mecca. He launched Islam 4,794 kilometers and 1,391 years from where Connor Lyon sits with his warm beer and wild hair and magazine and bugs and the small mosque summoning him through the twilight.
But like 91 percent of Serendipians, Lyon is not Muslim.
“I ain’t religious, dog.”
Serendip mosques seem a bit quaint, though Islam has existed here since the 8th century and is represented on the national flag, the one Lyon admired three hours ago as it flapped in the offshore breeze in front of a small roadside restaurant. (Its fish curry was superb.)
Called the Lion Flag (more lions!), the Sinhalese ethnicity is repped by a yellow lion clutching a sword over a red rectangular background with a fig leaf in each corner. Around the background is a yellow border, and to its left are two vertical stripes—one orange, one green. The orange represents Tamils, the green represents Muslims, who are the majority ethnicity 'round the beaches we’re surfing. To us, they’re nice, friendly folks—fishermen, farmers, merchants, taxi drivers—but not everyone agrees.
Back in the late ‘80s, because Muslims were believed to back the Sinhalese government, the Tamil Tigers began attacking Muslim towns, forcing thousands from their homes, torching buildings and killing residents. In August 1990, during this very same Salat al-‘Isha prayer that Lyon is listening to, the Tigers murdered 147 prostrating Muslims in attacks on four mosques in Kattankudi, 93 kilometers up the coast from where Lyon has just now sank his third Lion Lager of the evening. In October 1990, the Tigers expelled 95,000 Muslims from Serendip’s north, calling it an “ethnic cleansing” to help reach the Tigers’ goal of creating Eelam, their monoethnic state.
Perhaps they should’ve built a brewery up there and made Liberation Lager or Attack Ale. Something like that.
Me: “Should we go get more warm beer?”
Lyon: “Hell no. Shit tasted wack. Like, double wack.”
Recently, Sinhalese nationalists flipped their ire from Tamils to Muslims, and, led by Buddhist monks, they’re attacking mosques and Muslim-owned businesses as well as churches and clergy.
Allah Ale? Islamic IPA?
Buddha Beer? Sinhala Stout?
Connor Lyon would sink those. But he’s not. He’s going to bed with a lion-sized headache.