“It’s a very simple house, Madam….”

Sri Lanka used to be a British colony (Ceylon) until 1948, and there is one cultural “habit” that decades later, seems to still be entrenched. And that is, the use of  the formal “Madam” and “Sir”.

Having grown up in South Africa, during apartheid, I (Peta) have recollections of hearing black servants  refer to white employers in this “deferential” manner. It is not something that feels comfortable to me. On the contrary… It did not feel comfortable then, and it does not feel comfortable now. I left South Africa at age 20, way before Mandela was released from prison and rose to lead the nation as its first black President.

After numerous “Madam this and Madam that”, I want to make a request of the tuk tuk driver who often takes us to the train station. I ask if he could please use my name, Peta, rather than “Madam”.

Kuttha responds with the confusing head shake from side to side, which indicates “no” to us Westerners, but in Sri Lanka, means “yes”.

“Okay. Fine………… Madam”. And then we both laugh.

“It is out of respect…. Madam.”

Clearly, I will have to get used to this Madam thing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On another occasion, after shopping in town, a different tuk tuk driver calls out,

“Tuk tuk madam?…

I get in and he asks: “Where is your villa?”

Hmmm, I wouldn’t exactly call our place a villa, not even close. But this is a reasonable assumption, as the expat community in the Galle region tends to be on the wealthy side, and most of them live in rather large and lovely villas.

As we pull up in front of our home, the tuk tuk driver says, rather disappointingly, in his lovely Sri Lankan melodic accent:

“Very simple house Madam, very simple!”


And so I respond, “Yes, SIR, very simple house.”

I have found my counter to the “Madam” dilemma by answering, “Yes, SIR”, thereby leveling the playing field.

Ah, how I love these cultural vignettes…

And with this as context, it seems like a good time to update the progress on our “very simple house.”


When we first saw the living room, it was being used as a store room for timber. One needed a decent amount of imagination to visualize what it could potentially transform into…

fullsizerender-133Now; straw mats, tatami-like, throughout the house….. prove soft on the feet. We are living “Japanese style”, and keeping things very minimalist. The less “stuff”, the better.


Two low tables, which we made from repurposed antique window shutters are the only furniture as of now. They can be used separately, or together to create one square table. The open space and white walls lend themselves well to my large paintings.


First “get together” in our house for dinner. All yogis, so no one minds sitting on the floor! Two Australians, two Dutch, one British, one French and one South African….



The main bedroom, created by knocking down a wall between 2 small rooms, yielding one big bedroom…  Behind the bed, my painting of a bull’s head (from Ometepe Island, Nicaragua). This very painting was behind our bed in Nicaragua and then again in our loft in Chicago. Now that some of my paintings are on the walls, the place really feels like home.


View from the bed… French doors to the left open onto lush greenery. (One of my favorite paintings ~ of a friendly goat we met in Rajahstan, India outside a temple.)

img_8433View from our bedroom. This is where the monkeys play.  Just yesterday, we  witnessed what might be described as a “monkey highway”.  Three black monkeys with grey tails,, taking long leaps from one tree to another.  Then two more.  Then another two. In all, there were about 12 monkeys following each other, each repeating the exact path taken by the previous monkey.  We don’t have a TV… but this is National Geographic quality entertainment!


The bathroom garden is growing  nicely. There are two passion fruit creepers on the right hand side (growing up the ropes). There is a small lime tree and a star fruit tree. The ground cover is edible: nutritious purslane and pennywort. There is lemon grass growing next to the bathtub.

img_9208It’s the little things… Sri Lanka is a colorful place.


In less than one month, we have the start of a tropical garden.


A small copper Buddha (from Viet Nam) sits atop the ledge above the bath.

img_8511-3To make a bathroom basin we converted a cement mini fish pond into a sink ~ an antique door for which we had legs made, becomes the counter top.

img_9008Ben’s ceramic lanterns at night in the bathroom create some interesting shadows.

img_8556-2Our industrial pipe bathtub at night… Very romantic ~ especially when the moon is full.


The original “kitchen” was an empty room with nothing in it. It’s compact, but sufficient. We particularly like the concrete counter top, in the same teal green as the garden wall.


Down the street, an old wall was taken down and remnants ~ odd-shaped, colored bits of wall ~ were on the side of the road. It took a few tuk tuk rides back and forth to bring these to the house. Ben is insistent that they will make a mosaic type patio at the back of the house where he can have his morning coffee al fresco.


Heavy stones, uneven ground… It is hard work, but good exercise. Once the mosaic is complete, we will go hunting for the perfect round table and two chairs, French cafe-style.


It’s getting there ~ it is a work in progress.



Mosaic ~ Ben style.


71 thoughts on ““It’s a very simple house, Madam….”

  1. Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To Go

    After selling all of our “stuff” between 2011 and 2012 and then living out of a suitcase and backpack for the next three years we have to agree, Peta, that a “simple” house and life can be far richer than most people (from the US anyway) can imagine! Love all the re-purposed/recycled things that you are incorporating into your home and garden as well as the creative uses you’ve found for so many items that began their lives as something else like your tub and the walkway. Very lovely! Anita

    1. Green Global Trek

      We too lived out a suitcase for two years while travelling and living sequentially in SE Asia and then Europe (where we “followed the home exchanges.”)

      We had no problem living out of a small suitcase for so long, but that said, it sure is nice to actually unpack and have our very own closet. I (Peta) love being nomadic, whereas Ben has a slight preference for having a home base in a region we want to travel in. Plus, having one geographic base, allows for a different kind of depth of knowledge of a country.

      In repurposing items, we satisfy two distinct passions….. Firstly, the search for opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint whenever possible and secondly, to experience the creative process that comes with creating a new life for an object.

      Thanks Anita for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments.


  2. roughwighting

    Simply BEAUTIFUL is what your house is. Thank you for inviting us all to come visit you and Ben in your new place in Sri Lanka. You are educating me, and all of your readers, on the beauty of the land, of the people (and monkeys, etc.) who live there, and of a life lived in lovely simplicity. (And your paintings…! Exquisite, Madam.) (And I agree, I answer those who call me by a formality as Sir and Madam also – helps make us all equal in each other’s eyes.)

    1. Green Global Trek

      Thank you for all the compliments “Exquisite madam.” ~ That had us both laughing out loud!! I like the way you phrased that : “Equal in each others eyes.”

      The town of nearby Fort Galle has much to teach the world about “being equal” within each others eyes. A small town comprised of Muslim, Buddhist and Christian populations that cohabit peacefully, equally in a world where this is rare,


  3. Frank

    Just makes me feel old when they call me “Sir” 😉 During our recent 2 months in Spain I was often called “Caballero” which I thought was really great: not a “sir” but a “gentleman”.

    It must be exhausting but also very exciting designing your home. And to be surrounded by nature all around…I can’t imagine. I can see that the end result will be beautiful.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Green Global Trek

      Gracias Caballero.

      Frank, much like getting called ma’am in the U.S. there is an intonation of age. Here it feels like a Colonial thing more than an age thing though.

      It is a certain degree of effort which is both fun and tiring at the same time. Poco a poco…..Now that the basics are done….we have a bed, a bath with hot water, monkeys overhead…the essentials are covered. The rest will happen in its own time.


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Alison.

      It IS serene, although serene does not necessarily mean quiet. Some of the monkeys have quite a growl in them. And the serenity of our immediate neighborhood changes quite dramatically once we hit the main road after about ten minutes ~ it is anything but serene! Makes for quite a good contrast.


  4. Sue Slaght

    Peta it is coming along beautifully! I think the mosaic patio is going ot be gorgeous and I am sipping coffee imagining it as I type. I love the kitchen counter top too. Amazing how quickly the plants are growing. Here in Canada where the morning temperature is -21C your photos are especially soothing.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Sue. Ben is pretty confident about his mosaic patio. I was dubious at first, but as it is taking shape I have to admit it is pretty cool.

      Who knew that polished colored concrete could be so practical and attractive at the same time? Also it is super easy to keep clean. One of the things I love about tropical climates is how quickly plants grow and so starting a garden is very satisfying.

      Oh my gosh that does sound wayyyy too cold!! Sending you some rays of sunshine.


  5. Joanne Sisco

    Watching this transformation through your photos has been a real treat. I can practically feel the serenity creeping out of the pictures. I especially like the night-time photos of the shadows created by Ben’s lamps. I’m sure in person it would be almost magical 🙂

    I agree with Ben that a special outdoor space to enjoy a coffee in the morning is important.I would go so far as to say it’s a requirement of life 😉 As Sue said, with bone-chilling temperatures here in Canada this morning, I will simply have to imagine myself on Ben’s lovely patio listening to the monkey’s chatter.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Joanne, glad you have enjoyed watching the transformation. The garden and bathroom at night are definitely magical, especially when there is a full moon. Ben is very happy with how his lamps look.

      Ben says “Okay you are invited!!! BYOC ~ Bring your own coffee!” Being a Frenchman, having grown up in Paris, having a cup of coffee outside al fresco at a table, preferably with a newspaper is Ben’s idea of pure heaven. Almost there! He just made a deal with a tuk tuk driver to deliver the English newspapers on the weekends. Too funny. Stay warm!!


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks for stopping by to read us. Definitely grateful to be in warm weather right now and not in Chicago where it is freezing as well right now.

      Not to rub it in… but did I mention the beautiful beaches nearby?


  6. kemkem

    I love the open spaces and the fact that you are recycling and repurposing. The patio looks like it will be really cool upon completion. I hear you with the madam. Currently back home in Nigeria and l feel uncomfortable with it, plus here..they kneel too which is mortifying to me. Respect and deference all in one .

  7. Liesbet

    This is just amazing, Peta! So stylish, so colorful, so efficient and so simple. Just perfect!

    I can’t believe how fast the plants are growing and how homey you have made “the villa” in just a month. I’d take your TV any day of the week as well. We don’t have TV, but we don’t have a view of the jungle either. I like the artwork on your walls and Ben’s creations as well. You are making me dream of becoming an expat in the tropics! But for now, I am happy to follow your progress, ideas and lifestyle. 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Well thank you Liesbet for the lovely compliments.

      I have only worked on the garden in the bathroom so far, but am hoping to create some raised beds soon with vegetables and herbs.

      You are welcome to come and housesit for us when we travel if you are interested… that way you can try out the life here and see if you like it! And there are even 3 dogs that are living here, for you to enjoy!


  8. Sharon Rosenzweig

    Every home you two create has your signature style, despite their wildly different beginnings. Congratulations, you’re at it again. Thanks for sharing.

  9. leggypeggy

    What a lovely home with so much personality. Thanks for inviting us in. We spent several wonderful weeks in Sri Lanka (travelling extensively by road) in 1986. Time to return.

    1. Green Global Trek

      Thanks! Hmmm interesting. That was during the war I assume. If I am correct, tge Northern part of the country was off limits….we are headed there next week (vicinity of Jaffna.) It would be interesting if and when you return, to compare and contrast the changes from how it was When you visited, to how it is now.


  10. healingpilgrim

    Ahh, after living in Bali for nearly 6 years, I had quite the laugh about those “where’s your villa” queries! Drivers here are rather astounded (and malu=embarrassed) when I correct them too.. sorry, bapak, I live in a ‘simple house.’
    In my eyes, your house is already a HOME.. and way way more interesting, and creatively concocted than any villa I’ve seen in Asia. May the gods of art & nature bless you both in your delightful, colorful and cozy casa!

    1. Green Global Trek

      Amit thank you for your beautiful wishes. Makes me miss Ubud and Bali in general. There are similarities between where we live and Bali – The tropical lush foliage, the rice paddies, the climate, island life…. Reading your comment makes me wistful for the scent of sticky rice and incense combined with frangiapani flowers.

      Gracias. Terimah kasih (?)

  11. Liesbet

    We might take you up on that, one year soon, Peta. We both love to get to SE Asia (again) to pick up the pace of life, culture, food and priorities there. 🙂 And being in a place like yours, in the company of three dogs (and meeting you both) that will be incredibly rewarding!

  12. Green Global Trek


    Just to tell you how much we enjoyed the pictures of your new home. It may be a ‘simple house’ (What a good story) but the house really is lovely! I’ve always thought ‘less is more’ and a room with very little in it, is perfect!

    The garden is going to be beautiful, if you can grow mangos (or is it mangoes) you will have replicated the garden in Nicaragua. There is something very special in creating gardens in whichever country you move to. That has always been a comfort to me wherever we have lived.

    You and Ben certainly have a great creative sense in using old artifacts imaginatively. The bathroom sink!.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the story and the photos! We are certainly enjoying having lots of space and even a small walk in closet! Very novel.

      The small garden is growing nicely…the challenge is in the ground which is like clay and needs good soil additives. We have a compost heap started, which will be helpful once it is ready. Amd I am planning on starting a veg and herbs bed.

      We are definitely enjoying finding old pieces to re-create and re-use.

  13. restlessjo

    A little creativity and a lot of hard work and it’s looking like home. I can feel how much you love your peaceful space. Very best wishes for the festive season, Peta. 🙂

  14. Johnny Oh

    Evolving organically, your “simple” house. How beautiful. I like the hanging fabrics in the rafters. I bet they’re never quite completely still.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Oh nicely said Johnny…”evolving organically”… exactly!

      The hanging fabrics are saris…which funnily enough we bought in Chicago on Devon Street (~ Indian neighborhood.) They are so useful in so many different ways!


  15. pmaghamfar

    It may be considered a simple house but it is lovely, I can feel the breeze blowing through the rooms and I love the colored window coverings, just adds so much warmth and life to the rooms. I look forward to seeing the finished mosaic.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Patti. There is a great breeze, due to a multitude of ceiling fans and open windows…helps keep the house cool. The window coverings are a combination of mens’ sarongs and handwoven fabrics, definitely a nice fun element. Cushions and bolsters using the same combination, coming soon!


  16. thirdeyemom

    Beautiful update Peta. I must confess I’m a bit confused. Are you building a house in Vietnam and Sri Lanka at the same time or is this the same house? I am assuming two houses as they look different!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Hi Nicole. Thanks! I understand the confusion….

      We have “refurbished” this house in Sri Lanka. Taken a basic shell and improved it. We are renting with an option to buy.

      In Viet Nam we were renting a little river front apartment. Initially we thought we would have two “home bases.” Here and in Hoi An. After the first “commute” we realised it no longer makes sense as a strategy. So…Sri Lanka will be home base for now, and Hoi An, Viet Nam will be a place we will continue to go back to, just because we love it there.

      Does this clarify things? 🙂


  17. carolinehelbig

    Well Madam, that was another very lovely post! I really like what you have done with the mats on the floor, and I love the paintings in your bedroom (actually I love everything). It is a gorgeous space.

    On another topic, dear friends of mine are making a short trip to Sri Lanka in May (after a business trip in India). I told them about your fabulous blog. Their names are Trish and Steve and they may have a few questions for you as they do their planning. Hope this is OK!

  18. lisadorenfest

    OMG I love your home! It is exactly like the type of place I would want to settle if I traded in my sailboat for a house. How many people have a bathroom garden! And all that beautiful color. I am a total minimalist gal and would decorate exactly as you have! Of course, I don’t have your talent for art so my walls wouldn’t be as awesome 🙁

  19. Green Global Trek

    Lisa, thank you for the flattery….:)

    “How many people have a bathroom garden?” says the gal who lives on a sailboat! We are going to guess that probably more people have a bathroom garden than live on sailboats. But yes, some of us are unafraid of unconventional abodes. 🙂 So glad you love it…

    So when do you dock at the Fort of Galle? (Ten minutes from us….)


  20. gallivance.net

    Peta, there’s nothing like living out of a suitcase for a while to reinforce the idea of how little it really takes to be happy. Have you heard of the “Pareto Principle?” It’s also known as the 80/20 rule. It roughly states that 80% of the results of any venture comes from 20% of the resources. When applied to daily life, 80% of what you do, is done with 20% of what you own. I believe this firmly. And BTW, it really is a very simply house…Madam ;), and that’s wonderful. All the best for a Happy New Year. ~James

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks James. Very true ~ We spent two years living out of 2 small suitcases each, and we were happy as can be. There is a unique freedom to not having stuff and not having to worry about stuff.

      Ben has used the Pareto Principle many times with industrial engineers to identify in a manufacturing environment, the top 20% issues that created 80% of the problems (faced on a manufacturing floor.) Love your application of the Principle to the happiness factor and linking it to the very simple house. Initially I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work we needed to do, but the same principle applies as we started to prioritize the items which were critical and slowly but surely it is taking shape.

      Happy and adventurous 2017 to you guys as well.

  21. Cardinal Guzman

    Very interesting post and an interesting way to live. I lived three months in a small stone house that I rented in a village in Nepal. I had to fill the water tank with a pipe from a small creek, there was almost no electricity (just a few lights and a radio) and I shared the house with a bunch of rats. The rats were nocturnal, so we co-existed fine after I learned how to properly cover all the food.
    I wish you’d flipped the photos, so they all showed the correct way, but except from that: excellent post.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Cardinal for reading and posting your comments. Sounds like your 3 months in Nepal were quite an experience. Nepal is definitely high on our wish list of places to go.

      Hmmm, strange about the photos as they appear the right way up on both our computers and on my sisters, who usually checks photos for us as we publish. Someone else commented this, so something is obviously going on. Thanks for the mention.

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