The Sri Lanka Diaries: Fast Forward!

by Adaora Mbelu

In December 2010 we launched exciting new travel blog, The Sri Lanka Diaries  (Click HERE for the debut article). Join Adaora as she continues to chronicle her eye-opening voyage through the her mother’s homeland, Sri Lanka.

I am currently exploring the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. The last time I visited, I was 10 years old. After my time here, I will visit two more countries before my return to Nigeria, India being my next stop. People often mistake Sri Lankans for Indians. The difference in distance is comparable to the distance between the United States and Canada or Ghana and Nigeria.The difference in culture however, is more distinct – like the United States vs. Brazil, or Nigeria vs. Senegal. Yes, yes there is a difference. Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean. This is where the Portuguese settled during the colonial era (feel free to do some reading about the island). It has very fascinating culture and lots of historical places to visit, that’s why it’s a tourist hotspot. My flight was packed with loads of foreign visitors from all around the world.

Apart from the sun, beaches and great food, there’s lots to do – from mountain climbing to golfing, water rafting, scuba diving, shopping (this is where most designer clothes are made, so the factories are located here – Versace, Gucci, Dolce & Gabana, Aeropostale, American Eagle etc). Shopping is real cheap. An original Ralph Lauren polo shirt is about $25 at the factory here to be sold for $100 when it reaches foreign shores. The city life is nice, with great clubs and pubs (for the alcoholics).

All the insects and animals are mega size here. Iguana lizards, spiders the size of birds (ok, a little exaggeration there, but I’m making a point), huge ants, dogs, and I am almost certain that the scratches on my window are from monkeys! (Laughs) On second thought, it could be from a squirrel or Alvin the chipmunk! This is where Jurassic Park meets Mogley, all part of the list of things that makes Sri Lanka so beautiful.

We stopped by the store to pick up a “Rith” (Fresh Flowers) for Grandpa’s grave. Standing by his headstone, I get this feeling of peace and fulfillment. He is happy in heaven. Grandma is sad. She places her head on my shoulder and says in Sinhala, her language. “This is my first love, my everything. In all our years, he never left me by myself. This is the first time he left me to go on a trip, but I will see him soon. He is a good man and I want to go and join him soon. This is my prayer”.

My 90-year-old grandmother is a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Mother Theresa. She is a tough, warm hearted woman. She speaks Elizabethan English (She lived in England for a while with Grandpa). Every time I say she looks good, in her British accent, she replies, “Thank you for the grand compliment my dear”. It’s so cute. Today, as we were getting out of the car, I tried to carry her bag and in return I got a Yell-er “Lilani! It’s my bag. I can carry it”. She insists on doing everything herself. The bag in question is a present from my mother while she wasat university. So yes, this bag is older than me and my brothers! Minutes later, she sits me down and talks about her late husband – my grandpa. With tears in her eyes, she tells me stories of raising my mother and her siblings, sending them to the best schools, and how she is happy to see their families doing well. She feels blessed.

I am proud to be a part of this family. We “run this town” in Sri Lanka. Our family name is very prominent here. Streets and places are named after our family members – politicians; doctors; famous cricket player; a dance star; priests. Prominence here is unlike in Nigeria. Having Range Rovers and Mercedes’ lined up in your back yard does not make you prominent. Here status is commanded by respect – community service. My family earned their reputation, we didn’t have to buy it! My grandfather was a well known Justice of Peace. Apart from my mother and her siblings, he raised some of the great achievers in modern day Sri Lanka, and is thus very well celebrated.

I walk into a grocery store and my money is unacceptable, because I am a grandchild of this Great Man. Grandma walks into the salon for a haircut. The stylist is busy working on hair for the ladies in a bridal train, yet she leaves everything she is doing to attend to grandma first. And her client is fine with it. She refuses to take any money for her services to us, but grandma slips 100 rupees into her hand regardless, and tells me that she doesn’t like to owe anybody.

Owe? Are you kidding me? You’re being celebrated, Grandma! For every time you let someone lean on your shoulder, for every time you fed a hungry stomach, for every time you put clothes on someone’s back! You are old now, you deserve the good treatment, so enjoy it! Bless your heart. Grandma smiles and says “I love you dear. My good heart is from God”. My grandmother is known as the Fairy Godmother in the neighbourhood. She walks around with sweets in her pockets and gives them to little kids on their way to school, and she says blessings to everyone who passes by her every day.

My cousins are amazingly cool. I am seeing them for the first time in 13 years, but thanks to Facebook we’ve been in good contact. My elder cousin is busy with his Masters program and work, so I’m not sure I’ll get to see him often. The other cousins call me “Akki” – meaning Big Sister. I call them “Mali” (Small brother) and “Nangi” (Small Sister). My Nangi is a popular dancer here. She is an amazing dancer and is a member of a dance troupe that goes on world tours. I’m looking forward to watching a live performance. I’m hanging more with my cousin Shamal – a Cricketer. Cricket is the most popular sport here and he is in every sense of the word, a “cricket-ist” (Ok it’s not really a word). He has decided to speak to me strictly in Sinhala. No English allowed. I am brushing up on my Sinhala skills. Gosh, to think there was a point in my life when I spoke more Sinhala than English – I have a lot to work on!

I have great memories of my cousins from our childhood: The days when Shamal was a 5 year old kid chasing me around with a big spider. while I ran around screaming. I was 10 years old at the time, so I rolled with the ‘big kids crew’ (laughs). We spent our time playing cards (If you’re from Sri Lanka and you don’t play cards, you’re not truly Sri Lankan), gambling for candy and pocket money. My grandfather would chase us away each time he saw us gamble. He would, however, pat the winner on the back. I never quite understood that. Was he encouraging or discouraging gambling? I think he just loved to win.

Author’s Note: I hope you enjoyed reading my journal entry! Join me every week as I keep you updated on my journey.

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