If I had to describe the people of Sri Lanka in one word or phrase I would have to say hospitable and insistently generous.
Man they are so generous with their food, time and resources and they are so proud of their country and their ways of doing life. Being invited to their homes or to share a meal with their families were some of my favorite moments.
The face of a proud owner of this house which he had built by himself
Meet Thomas. He works in a guesthouse in Nuwara Eliya and from the moment that I arrived he had showered me with kindness, care and treats. One afternoon on my way back to the guesthouse I walked past him as he was heading home. He insisted that I first come for tea and meet his family before I knew it I was on a bus with Thomas to his home. Welcomed by his wife, daughter and grand daughter I felt right at home and together we drank tea, ate some cake and watched the 6 o’clock news. And then this kind man walked with me all the way back to the guesthouse.
Meet Rishad. He is a tuk tuk driver in the town of Kandy. He has a “passenger book” where every person he transports writes a small message and where they are from. Every week he print small flags for each new country in his book and after hearing I was from South Africa he immediately stopped the tuk tuk to see if he had ever driven a South African. I was indeed his first passenger and he was so excited! He, and so many other drivers I have met, have lost families or friends in the Easter Sunday bombings but driving his tuk tuk is his only form of income and thus he couldn’t stop working. Even in the midst of sadness and loss they still welcome you with a smile and desire for you to see the beauty in their country and the love in their hearts.
The orange stained teeth comes from the act of Betel Chewing. A piece of betel nut gets wrapped in a betel leaf together with some lime stone paste and a pinch of tobacco. This burrito/ pocket gets chewed or placed next to your gums and gives you some sort of high, but not particularly strong I have been told. When you are in the business of betel chewing your saliva becomes bright red staining your gums and that teeth in a way that no amount of tooth brushing can remove. Not the best habit I’d say.
The public transport options in Sri Lanka are endless and very cheap. The bus system takes a few times to get used to but the locals are quick to help or push you out of the bus when its your stop. According to my South African road safety standards, the drivers here are all reckless and impatient but yet somehow everyone simply follows the rule of hooting.Their hooting is repetitive, loud and constant. They hoot when approaching another bus/tuktuk/scooter and passing that bus/tuktuk/scooter. They hoot when passing any and all pedestrians and then they will hoot at the oncoming traffic while they are passing another bus and there isnt actually room for us, the blue bus we are passing and the red bus that is approaching. Over stimulating? Yes indeed! But I have noticed their hooting does not seem to be out of anger or irritation, but rather politeness and almost like the one driver saying to the next “hey, I see you” or “hey old pal, make some room”. No need for road signs, they’ve got it all figured out.
I think its safe to say I have never eaten so much curry and rice in such a short period of time, I was afraid that I too might have yellow stained teeth from all the turmeric. And yes, they know how to make it reeeeally spicy, but I’ll take the sweaty forehead any day, if it means I can have Jackfruit curry and dahl for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A typical “plate” of food can feed more than 3 people and normally consists of rice, poppadoms and 4 to 5 different types of veggy curries.For the curious folk, being vegetarian/vegan in Sri Lanka has been hassle free. The fresh fruit supply is endless and every menu includes vegetable curry, vegetable kottu [ basically a rotti cut into small tiny pieces and stir-fried together with the veg], vegetable fried rice and noodles and deviled vegetables [don’t let the name scare you, its the best plate of vegetables you could ask for] Every shop/ homestay/ cafe or restaurant has the same menu and guaranteed a list of fresh fruit juices like pineapple, watermelon, apple ect. They even have avocado juice, but I decided to rather have it on my toast.
Digging a little deeper:
Being the first country that I visited on my own, I was quite fearful and anxious. My heart was racing the first time I had to take the bus and figure out this whole public transport thing but trying my best to look calm and confident. Moving from one destination to the next requires some multi-tasking as you try to communicate with the person next to you using google translate whilst following the route on google maps and mapsme so as to ensure you don’t miss your stop, that lasts a whole of 2 seconds (not kidding).
Every time fear wanted to take hold of my thoughts the Holy Spirit reminded me that He can be trusted, that He has and always will be my protector and that I am not alone. Being the gracious God that He is, He sent countless English speaking angels my way during those moments where I felt lost, unsafe or lonely. So many times these angels approached me out of their own, went out of their way to help me, paid my bus tickets and kept me safe. Angels in the form of passengers on the bus, children in the street, hostel owners, foreigners and kind tuk tuk drivers.
As many of you have heard, on Easter Sunday 3 Churches and 3 luxury Hotels were targeted in a series of coordinated suicide bombings in the city of Colombo and Negombo. I was in Sigirya at the time and was unaware of the happenings until a worried and concerned friend gave me a call. It was a terrible and devastating time for everyone in Sri Lanka and as much as people wanted to stay calm, I think as the security and concern rose among the locals you could feel the tension rising and fear spreading throughout the country. Tourism is the countries biggest form of income and an event like this will sadly have a terrible effect on the country.
The safety situation of course meant that many tourist where confronted with the difficult decision of weather to continue traveling or weather to go home earlier. Frantic phone calls from families and negative news reports made it all the more difficult to stay and thus so many tourists decided to leave earlier and very few tourist came to Sri Lanka after the bombings. This of course meant that nearing the end of my trip the hostels were empty and the beaches quiet. At times I was the only person in the whole hostel or restaurant and under normal circumstances it would have probably been fine but given the tenseness of the country, I felt alone and slightly unsafe being the only girl in an area surrounded by local men. Its sad to reflect on that time but it was of course a time that I needed to soldier on and stay positive. I realised that I have been quite busy and occupied and my heart longed to just be still and spend some time with God so that time provided the space for me take slower mornings, do some reading and practice some calligraphy. Even traveling/ being on holiday can sometimes prevent me from pressing into God and searching His face in all situations and emotions.
There were many moments where I found myself wondering if I should be more scared or concerned about the current situation and if I should stay or leave, but I can really testify of Gods faithfulness in those moments. I went for a walk and while I was praying about this He reminded me of Psalm 23 and then God brought me to this spot in Sigirya . I immediately felt peace about me being and remaining in Sri Lanka and felt I need to try love, support and mourn with those that have lost loved ones.
So far I have enjoy the solo traveling, but it has become clear that this Ochsie’s heart longs for constant contact with people, weather with friends, foreigners or locals, so I am looking forward to being surrounded by more people again and talking about the history of Israel with new friends over a bowl of hummus.
Till next time,