It’s easy to see why, in the past, so many nations fought to make Sri Lanka part of their empires. I’m not condoning colonialism or any of its implications; this, however, does have the air of an island blessed with precious things.
I can’t remember the last time I saw such astonishingly beautiful scenery. I know this has been a recurring theme throughout my Sri Lanka diaries, and it will be painfully obvious when I upload my photos, but I think pictures will be the only way of completely communicationg the beauty of this country. Peaks as seemingly high as those in, say, Switzerland or Austria, vegetation so lush the air must be the most oxygenated in the world, flowers every colour of the rainbow and more besides and, on the fringes, white beaches and clean, clean seas. I think if I was an explorer in years gone by, I’d have certainly settled here too, believing it to be paradise.
And yet, and yet. Every day you are reminded that it isn’t paradise, but something altogether more flawed. The tsunami devastated, utterly, parts of the south and east coasts. Talking to people who live there, they point out, almost nonchalantly, where walls were swept away, or the tree they climbed to save themselves, or the hotel a few doors away where people died. I hold my hands up and admit that, when I was in Mirissa on the coast, I didn’t sleep very soundly. Every big wave, every gust of wind, had me snapping into wakefulness, heart racing. I had to give myself a mental slap round the face and tell myself that not only would anything as devastating as that probably never happen again in my lifetime, but also I was being a real coward. I was there for a few days only, and yet I was surrounded by the people who had survived the disaster. and who were re-building their shattered lives on the same spot.
A combination of the tsunami and the political situation here seems to result in a lack of tourists. This then has the knock-on effect I described in an earlier entry, where tourists are either hassled a lot (in particular the women – men that I’ve spoken to have had nowhere near as much), or treated like the most honoured guests. A real paradox, and I hope that as more people visit, the super-nice Sri Lankans win out. Because they are very, very nice people indeed.
On the plane over here, I remember reading that one of Sri Lanka’s names is ‘Serendib’, from which the word ‘serendipity’ is derived. This is one of my most favourite words. Not only is it a treat to say out loud – try it, and feel it skipping from your tongue – but what a lovely meaning. A fortunate accident. Things going your way, unexpectedly. This made me smile on the way here but now, leaving, I’m smiling again because I have experienced some wonderful serendipity here. Mostly through the people I’ve met – Tina, Sarah, and especially Anna in Ella and Petra and Detlef – wonderful new friends. In addition, a few serendipitous , brief encounters with other people have really struck home, and will keep me thinking for a long time to come. And it is this serendipity that will be my lasting, happy, memory of Sri Lanka.