An unfortunate number of people seem to think that you’re either black or white.
Beautiful Sri Lanka, beaches for miles, thick jungles, majestic wildlife, a haven for the senses and the smiles of kind people.
Tortured Sri Lanka, a history of violence and pain, now fighting to keep its head up, everyday people struggling to live their lives.
Do you really know you if they’re only seeing one side of your story?
You are beautiful, that is without doubt, and in the smallest things about you, you take my breath away. Yet to erase the darkness in your history would be to smear at your visage, to forget a part of your identity. Beneath your sweeping landscapes of green, blue and gold sit the wisdom of the years gone by, lessons learned for the years to come.
You have known pain and your heart breaks every time your children flee your shores, crying that you have nothing to offer them. You’ve had tears spilt and blood shed in your name, what sorrows have your eyes not seen, but you remain steadfast in calling out to them; stay, has your warmth not made for them a beautiful home for these many years?
Your skirt of blue, rising from the darkest depths, home to the magnificent giants of the ocean floor and slowly ebbing away against the soft sand, tickling the toes of the young who run further into the depths the more the water rushes away from them.
Where the voices have died down, muted through a dense growth of coconut palms, sits a quieter strip of beach; a ghost down. Hesitant feet step over frames – skeletons- of homes that once were. Concrete reduced to rubble, walls reduced to floors, empty doorways.
Your people have lived and died by the ocean, yet they run back to it as if it has never caused them any pain, as if its beauty alone has granted it forgiveness for its sins.
Rising in countless greens, mountain peaks that tower to the clouds, their peaks invisible in the lingering fog. The sun plays through the slope forests, shadows falling in a patchwork of black and emerald on the mountain face. Far away, sounds of rushing water; a river, flowing down into a still pool of blue glistening in the sun, the passing clouds reflecting on its mirror surface, the perfect symmetry between sky and sea. And then there’s the tea; miles and miles of green gold waiting to be savoured.
For every bit of grace that the seamless line of peaks exude, they are treachery lying in wait. Remember then that the steep drop around the bend has to be navigated by skilled feet, that both young and old make the pilgrimage among the inclined forests and trails on a daily basis. And then there’s the tea – someone has to pluck it, to brave the biting heat or burning cold to set in motion the process that will bring the perfect cup to your table.
If only we afforded them the same respect we do the fruits of their labour.
The sun drops down over a vast jungle, uninhabited, bearing the scars of a darker time. Darker than the evening shadows that fall re the stories the land tells, the faces it has seen – some still alive, some possibly not, and the blood that has seeped into the deepest layers of the soil. A hush falls over as memories of a louder, more violent era of this place swell up and for a moment, what’s left of you is this time of sorrow.
A laugh breaks through that slowly-descending cloud, cutting right through your past of darkness to shine light on the simple beauty of today. It was a child, a school uniform that was once probably pristine white but now gives away the story of an eventful school day through tell-tale red dust and soil patches.
People stare open-mouthed in quiet grief at the ruins of your once-perfect beauty, conjuring up moving images in their head that bring to life the news stories that once blared on their television, talking of the horrors unfolding in your heartlands. They replay the video montages of blurred faces and broken bodies as their eyes rove across bullet-riddled buildings and towers reduced to debris. Poor you, they think, how terrible it must be for her people.
Five minutes down the road, history is being made. Spectators watch, holding their breath as he runs forward, his arm making a swift circle before he flings the ball forward; it connects with the wood of his opponent’s bat and it flies into the brambles growing across the ‘cricket pitch’. Teammates scramble, barefooted in the thorns, to retrieve the ball as the game comes to a close. They all join in a cheer, a good few jokes and laughter till they realize they’re getting late and take off running home – mum will probably have a good scolding waiting for them.
Shadows fall on the blackened face of a once-majestic house of god. Stories etched on storeys of stone and wood, the jungle growing wild through the windows and hardy vines twist through the cracks in the foundation. All those who venture this way do so with heaviness in their hearts, and I do too, but I hear something else.
The quiet chanting of a prayer, rising from the re-genesis of today, creeping through the destruction of yesterday and rising with the hope of tomorrow. They still have hope; in you and for you, they know that your story didn’t end all those years ago, when the poison of battle still ran through your veins.
Your children have bled for months, cried for years and will live in fear, because fear doesn’t leave just when someone tells you that you have no reason to fear. They’ve had pieces of their heart taken from them and days when nothing is given to them in return. Some of their bodies and all of their minds will carry these traces, like wounds that don’t always heal completely.
But they still smile. Some smile brighter than those who have seen and suffered a lot less. Invite you into their home and one cup of tea later, you’re practically family. It’s true, what they say about your people, about them being some of the friendliest in the world – knowing that they’re smiling despite many reasons to do otherwise, that makes their kindness resonate infinitely more.
I know it’s too early to think I ‘know’ you, that I’ve got every part of you figured out, your secrets laid bare and your mysteries solved.
Do I want to know it all? I can’t decide, because discovering something new about you leaves me breathless; as roads give way to blue oceans or bends drop down to sheer mountain cliffs, you will continue to surprise.
And I’ll watch, quietly content as the sun drops down to rest, leaving you in a last bath of warm light, thankful just to call you home.