A pink sunset and the smell of the ocean greet me on my ride home from work. There are cargo ships on the horizon patiently waiting to port. Buildings along Marine Drive play host to the daily bustle – another day, another wedding. The streets are all lit up at this time but there is something obscuring the view. The picture isn’t coming in clear. Sri Lanka, where you at? Colombo life got me trippin. It was time to get out and I did.
Four weeks ago.
The city tumbles out of view in favour of forest and farm. I’m on my way out east towards Batticaloa and the journey itself is a destination. My eyes feast themselves on distant mountains and colourful streetside kadeys as they whiz by. Dense green foliage part and give way to glimpses of the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa. The ruins call out to lives lived long ago. This reverie is briefly interrupted by conspicuous military monuments shining in the face of everyone who drives by. Young men in training. For what? I ask myself.
I’m brought back to the present moment by the sight of hindu temples and shrines that begin to take over the landscape. Tamil script shifts subtlety to the tops of signs and a familiarity washes over me. A great Pillayar sits atop a temple looking out over the road – no obstacles here. It’s a straight shot to Batti. We arrive safely.
Over the next five days I feel like I’ve been transported. There is a duality in every moment. A tug of war between where I am physically and where my mind takes me.
At night we take a break from work and walk about town. The lagoons follow me around every bend and curve of the road, a constant reminder of how these calm waters once brought sheer terror and great loss to people here.
At the top of the old fortifications we watch the sun set. Tamil songs from the 80s float across the water from a nearby boat and I’m hit with a pang of nostalgia. Again as we walk along the boardwalk, the same music is on loudspeaker for everyone to enjoy. In these moments I am carried to my childhood family car, a grey Ford Tempo, where the only music that was played came from a set of two cassette tapes of my father’s favourite cinema songs. At the time, my sister and I groaned. Now, while standing in Sri Lanka I think back on that time in Canada fondly.
Sari hunting the next day requires a trip to Maruthamunai. A coworker knows a place. We enter a small living room and proceed through the ritual of pulling out vibrant handloom saris from carefully laid out piles, judging the material, the colour, the weight, the intricacy of design – What would Amma think of this? – searching for the one. This could easily be any one of the basements in Scarborough where I have done the same.
Here in the east, my terrible rudimentary spoken Tamil is instantly recognized as from Jaffna. A place, up until this point, I have never been to and a language I never learned here.
The mundane becomes exciting as the differences and similarities between here and Toronto become magnified. Where is home? What is home? I’m not sure, but I think it’s somewhere between a physical place and a mental state. Definition pending.
Heading back to Colombo I can’t wait to leave again. The Colombo bubble has a way of keeping you satiated and stagnant. When I leave I am invigorated by the people I meet. A clearer picture is formed of this country and myself with every step I take outside of the city and my comfort zone. Where to next?