riding in cars with sri lankans

thumb_P1010979_1024I’m sitting in an air-conditioned minivan looking out the window watching lush green paddy fields whip by while Psy’s Gangnam Style booms out over the radio. Everyone is singing along and I can’t help but grin. Oppa Gangnam Style!

I think back to life in Canada and how some of the best moments I’ve had with friends have happened during a drive. Whether we are scream-singing along to Beyonce, giving each other relationship advice or laughing at the hysterical bad luck of a best friend, these moments have always been special to me.

The past week has been full of little interactions like this with colleagues all while driving in and around Colombo. With each ride I learned a bit more about the people I work with and by extent my fellow Sri Lankans. Despite language barriers, I connected with people through kind smiles, a love of music and chat over movies.

Picture this: A car packed to the brim, four in the back seat (a typical sight) where everyone is feverishly discussing the new Rajinikanth movie: Kabali! It comes out this Friday. Do you have tickets? He’s going to actually play his age for once! The action scenes are going to be out of this world. Where are you watching it? KABALI-da! I haven’t seen a Bollywood film in years, but I enjoyed watching how Rajinikanth’s name still brings people, young and old, out in droves, uniting them over the love of an over-the-top action movie. For those who have no idea, the teaser for Kabali will give you an idea of what I mean by over-the-top:

All the while there is usually a soundtrack to these interactions. Music is a strong part of life here. I hear my coworkers humming songs constantly. There is nothing more revealing than the music you choose to listen to while driving.

A 5-minute drive to Nashville: I am getting dropped off by one of my senior colleagues after a long day at work. As we pull out of the driveway he flicks on the radio and a crooning Jim Reeves singing ‘I Love You Because’ floats out over the airwaves. I had to stifle a giggle. It was so unexpected to hear that distinct voice and sound here, a genre of music I never associated with this place. I chalked it up to a unique taste in music. I quickly came to find out that Jim Reeves is actually extremely popular in Sri Lanka! Imagine my surprise.

Although I spend most of my time at work with colleagues that are well into their 50s, I had a chance to work with a troupe of Sinhala-speaking 20-somethings on field visits just outside of Colombo for three days. Spending about two hours stuck in traffic together will connect people despite any language barriers and especially over music.

Journeying to paddy lands: Day 1 in the minivan consisted of polite smiles and good morning‘s. It wasn’t until the radio was tuned into 92.7 Y FM that I began to understand the cast of characters I was travelling with. Full of boisterous singalongs and laughter overs stories I couldn’t understand, I could tell this was a light-hearted bunch. By Day 2 I became familar with the top hits on the radio, one of which was completely stuck in my head. I had tried to google the song but my attempts proved fruitless. I finally asked and was excitedly told it’s a song from a new band called Civil Voice. By Day 3 every time the song came on they would point at me – it’s your song! By the end of my small trip with this team we became one voice exclaiming Bappage Akkage Duwa!

A week spent driving around gave me a glimpse into life here. With many more car and bus rides to go, I’m excited at the prospect of discovering more. Now excuse me while I try to get that Civil Voice song out of my head.

colombo, can I put you on hold?

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It’s been two weeks. The city is intoxicating with it’s mix of heat, sweet fruit and cool ocean breeze. But I’m on twitter and I can’t stop refreshing. I hear the sounds of waves crashing against the quay wall. Honking horns and trains blast by below. Next stop: Wellawatte Station. I can see the sun setting, tamil songs float into my apartment and the city is just starting to come alive. But I’m on twitter. I can’t stop refreshing.

Brexit.
Anti-immigrant sentiment.
Anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric.
Innocent Muslim lives taken.
Anton Sterling.
Philando Castile.
5 officers shot dead.

I can’t stop refreshing.

A lot of what has happened has happened before and will happen again but this feels different. I read in horror as I watch people I know and respect disguise their anti-Black Lives Matter thoughts in backwards thinking that lacks any notion of intersectionality. I feel angry. I feel upset. 

A friend here pointed out to me, Do you think that’s how our parents felt? This helplessness of watching your home start to fray at the edges; it’s hidden turmoil bubbling to the surface. Our parents lived a world away while they watched Sri Lanka descend into chaos. I can remember Amma and Appa glued to the TV, waiting for every bit of news, every update. That same yearning to feel connected, to try and make sense of it, I feel it now. I came here to be productive and help build a stronger country, but I feel pulled in two directions.

It’s morning now and I’m rushing out the door for work. The tuk driver is trying to rip me off. Turn right here! Walking briskly beneath ancient trees, I hear unseen birds coo loudly overhead. I sit down at my desk. Colleagues giggling over morning tea. I’m trying to focus but I’m on twitter and I can’t stop refreshing.