shooing monkeys away from my fruit plate

Dear Friend,

If you asked me six months ago where Sri Lanka was on a map, I’d have gestured vaguely somewhere in the region of Asia. And possibly asked if Sri Lanka was the capital of Malaysia.

As an aside, can I just tell you how utterly lacking my basic geography knowledge is? I had no idea how bad it was until I moved out here and have met so many people from countries that I thought were either food items or capitals of other, bigger countries. Now, granted, many people out here have only a vague understanding of the United States and I tell almost everyone that I am from “the Washington DC area,” a term that sours the blood of any Baltimoron (or DC resident, for that matter). And the few that do recognize the name Baltimore ask if it’s just like The Wire. I told someone the other day that I had to retire from drug dealing when I left the city and then immediately had to awkwardly backtrack and rescind and explain that not everyone in Baltimore is routinely passing around plastic baggies of smack. And that the blue stuff only comes from New Mexico. Common misconception,  but I get it.

If you had told me that I would be spending my 32nd birthday climbing one of the 8 wonders of the world, or setting foot in the Indian Ocean, I would never have believed you. And yet, there I was – in a country that is almost borderline passe for people who live in Abu Dhabi.

“Oh, Sri Lanka? Yes, we’ve been four times.”

“You’ve been here four months and you haven’t been to Sri Lanka yet?”

It’s a very popular vacation destination for Europeans and Russians because of proximity, but very few Americans make the trip just to go to Sri Lanka. (And for those who are confused – it’s the small, tear drop-shaped country that looks like it’s dripping off of the southern tip of India.) But for expats in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Europeans and Americans alike, it is THE place to go. First of all, it’s a 4.5 hour flight – and a cheap one at that. Second of all, it’s about a bajliion Sri Lankan rupees to the US dollar, making it one of the cheaper nearby destinations.

Travel is just one of the perks of living where we live. While I’m slowly moving on from bemoaning the ins and outs of moving to a new country and beginning to acquire quite the taste for expat life, a quick 4-day trip to Sri Lanka certainly helped to reframe the context of living out here.

Sri Lanka is a delectable country. For your eyes, your nose, your taste buds. It’s delicious, spicy, colorful, sweet, and welcoming. We ate spicy curry while the Indian Ocean spat at us on the edge of monsoon season in Colombo, then a driver took us deep into the jungle parts of the country where Buddhas sit in the center of small villages and where the roads – the main ones – are single lanes crowded with tuk tuks and cows. We stayed at a beautiful resort built into a rock formation where we were warned to keep our balcony door locked, as the neighborhood monkeys have learned how to open doors that aren’t locked and will trash your hotel room. We climbed thousand year old ruins, ate with our hands off of lily pads, drank Lion beer, and breathed deeply every moment that we could because we weren’t surrounded by sandy desert but lush greenery. The jungle bloomed in every corner it could find, seeping into rocks and splitting them open with green. Gnats and mosquitos buzzed and I understood, in a very real sense, the sheer mastery of co-existing with nature that is forgotten in so many parts of the world. I understood that man is uniquely mortal in nature; and so vulnerable if not accustomed. Just as the forests of the world bloom prettily, so do they bloom poison and things to trap, snare, and maul.

We went on a safari and saw elephants grazing along the banks of the lakefront while white herons pecked up the bugs they unearthed. We saw Buddhas of every size and position – meditating, recumbent, alert. We fell asleep at 9pm and were up at 6 to keep exploring.

On my 32nd birthday, our driver presented me with a gift – a coffee mug with lettering in Sinhalese (one of three national languages in Sri Lanka, the others being Tamil and English from British colonization for so many years). The hotel staff brought me a cake atop a wooden wheeled elephant with a candle to blow out. We had lunch in a sea side resort in Negombo. I bought candles in the shape of temple flowers and a hand-carved wooden stilt fisherman. We climbed to the top of ruins built into mountains and looked over the countryside, dotted with man-made lakes thousands of years old, with the occasional Buddha sitting tall and watching over the country. We entered sacred tomb-like temples and acknowledged statues draped in flowers and small, dark pools floating with lotus. Buddhism, unlike so many of its counterparts, is such a beautiful, peaceful religion celebrated with meditation, prayer, and lots and lots of flower offerings.

We did all of these things, and I felt gravity return to my bones. I felt more connected to the earth, and more aware. I remembered how much I love adventure, how much of the world there is to see and how little we have seen, and how making the life choices that we have made ensure that we will get to see so much more of it.

We returned to sandy, dusty, hot (100+ temperatures regularly now, soon to be 110+) Abu Dhabi and I felt lighter, happier, and better. The struggle and the big changes of the last four or five months are beginning to settle down and the emotional upheaval of moving to a new country is beginning to work itself out. I felt a return to myself in Sri Lanka, and found that in the acknowledgement and enjoyment of the richness of the world there is an acceptance, too. That we are on an adventure. I forget that sometimes. I forget, in the midst of trying to translate metric into more familiar measuring terms or trying to fill out paperwork in triplicate or figuring out how the hell to pay my mobile bill, that we are living an adventure every single day, and that this appreciation needs to be considered.

I rang in 32 with my feet in the Indian Ocean. I smiled at the clouds that were just beginning to pile in preparation for an afternoon of the brief but torrential monsoon downpours, and I wondered where my feet might go in the next year, and what countries we will visit that I once couldn’t have picked out on a map.

And then we flew back to Abu Dhabi and I thanked the universe for delivery sushi and a swift wifi connection.

Much love and more later, in’shallah,

The New Glitterati