PARADISE AMONG PERILS IN SRI LANKA
Dahn drives us through densely populated, jungle covered mountains. His eyes beam with a smile when talking about Sri Lanka. “We have everything here, like paradise.” He stops the car while monkeys come to the road. “People should never feed wildlife. Now they get hit by cars and even attack people for food.”
Let’s stop for some mangosteens, red bananas, and what our driver calls “rambutans.”
Manicured fields of tea drape the crest of the mountain, and we stop for cup.
I recall a sign posted at the Sri Lankan airport, “Transporting Illegal Drugs into Sri Lanka Results in the Death Penalty.” Dahn confirms that it is true. “If you get caught smoking weed, you just get three months in jail and a fine. Sell or grow it, you get death.” He explains that smoking cigarettes in public is also illegal, as is drunkenness. I refrain from asking about homosexuality being illegal. Yet…these folks smile and seem so happy.
After a ten course curry lunch in the charming town of Ella, we finally roll on straight roads to Arugam Bay, a surfer hang out. Dahn hooks us up with his friend, Dhanuka, who has three rooms for rent. We take the cement square with no windows, but air conditioning. Realistically, the waves are not that impressive for surfing, but makes it a good place for beginners. This analysis from me, who knows nothing about surfing.
“We used to have 14 rooms before the tsunami,” Dhanuka says. He tells the story with a smile on his face. It goes like this: Many Sri Lankan families come to the beach every Christmas, and the 26th is also a holiday. The tsunami hit ten years ago on December 26th. They had no prior experience with big waves, and were not warned. When the ocean receded after the first wave, many people thought it a wonderful gift, and went out to claim their own piece of “new beach,” and pick up fish trapped in pools. The wild animals instinctively migrated inland, but nobody paid attention. When the ocean started coming back, Dhanuka ran with his mother, through waist-high water, and made it to safe ground. The wave took his father, who was sleeping.
Dhanuka smiles and explains that Sri Lankan women all have very long hair. The young girls wear pigtails. As they were caught in the wave and tried to escape, their hair became entangled in barbed wire fences. They drowned when the water level climbed to 20 feet high. Bodies were collected from the tops of trees also. “When we returned, we had absolutely nothing.”
Sri Lanka lost 30,000 people in the tsunami. Instead of bringing the two sides together, the war intensified. Both sides fought for the foreign aid. “We lost even more people.” Dhanuka smiles, and then thanks us for the aid sent from the United States.
“Dhanuka,” I ask, “How can you tell me this traumatic story with a smile on your face?”
“Because it’s our culture to smile and be happy on the outside. Never show bad feelings. We cry on the inside.”
It has been ten years since the tsunami, and the war is over for four years now. North and south are joined, and work together rebuilding all they have lost. Smiles abound. People are grateful for better times and look forward to sharing them together. Tourism is growing, as is the economy. Mare and I are smiling too. Thank you Abundant Universe. by Ron Mitchell