I know I’m lucky.
My ‘office’ today faces the Indian Ocean. I hear music and cheering and drums and, of course, automobile horns, a cacophony as ceaseless as the waves.
We are on a ‘quiet’ stretch of the beach. The hotel owner greeted us personally and welcomed us as if we were staying in the guest room of his house. We are learning the names of the staff, who are so gracious it makes you feel guilty asking for more coffee or a roll of toilet paper. They are very kind people and they look out for us — making sure we don’t get ripped off by scammers. When my daughter and I turn off the balcony lights so we can watch the stars, security walks by to check on us. It is an incredible feeling of safety, knowing there are people interested in our welfare. I don’t take it for granted.
I’ve never really been to a developing nation. When we were in Jordan, we were whisked past the people living in the dirt, and ensconced immediately in the Movenpick, where there was little to no contact with people who lived there.
Sri Lanka is different. It is two weeks of talking with the staff, to the shopowners, to the tuk-tuk drivers (many who speak German with us), the bartenders — people who’s lives depend upon this sandy stretch of beach.
Most places here seem to have a lack of organization. Or maybe I’m just too used to German standards. I don’t understand their system of waiting tables (where multiple waiters come and go) and Sri Lanka’s one real traffic rule appears to be: “Please, drive mostly on the left.”
Despite the ambiguous rules, I am falling in love with this place. I am completely aware that I’m in a position to fall in love with it. That if I lived here, I would become frustrated when the power goes off, or when giant insects make a nest in the rafters, or when microscopic ants invade the bathroom. I have the privilege of taking a tuk-tuk to the grocery store and buying bottled water. I can buy blankets from the old lady in the shop and not worry about the price.
The sweet old lady with her antique sewing machine, a pair of pants under the needle, greeted me kindly as I walked in. As I perused her goods, she showed me pictures of her daughter; a newspaper clipping of her shaking hands with the President of Sri Lanka; a certificate on the wall, well laminated, proudly displaying her excellent work. I bought a lot from her and brought the kids back to meet her the next day.
This trip is a mental health break — for me and for the kids. To escape the grayness that sometimes settles into the soul in early spring. My goal is to sleep, to soak in warmth and come away refreshed.
Everything is warm here. The ocean. The pool. The ‘cold’ water that comes from the shower. It is like being wrapped head to toe in a fuzzy blanket all day and night.
I’ve done a couple things here I’ve never done before. On the boatride through the mangroves to the Cinnamon Islands, our captain stopped at a place where we could have our feet nibbled by fish. This is one thing I vowed never to do, ever since I saw a report on it about someone contracting salmonella or some such thing.
However, I felt pressured to relax (I know, that sounds like an oxymoron). The fish “pedicure” cost three bucks, so, as people keep saying here: “Why not?”
I admit: I squealed and giggled until I got used to the fish bodies slipping around my feet and the light scratching at my heels. It felt good. I could’ve stayed there longer. God knows the fish had plenty of work with my runner’s feet.
The second thing I’ve never done is smoke Shisha.
I know smoking is bad for my lungs. I know tobacco kills people. However, it was a good experience, and I don’t regret it. I don’t think I’ll be suddenly addicted to shisha, nor will I pack a hookah in my suitcase.
I have to set the scene for you.
Imagine a bar atop the sand overlooking the ocean. The bar is made of white-washed treetrunks that reach to the sky, connected by a thatch roof. Basket lights the size of State Fair gourds swing from the peaked beams. Beanbag chairs are clumped around tables in the sand, and a deck by the bar has heavy wooden chairs with square tables.
The dance floor is a swept area of sand with a tree trunk in the middle, also bedecked with basket lights of various shapes that sway in the breeze. Along the far side, a woman in a gauzy orange dress sits at a keyboard and sings popular American songs. She is from the Ukraine, it turns out. The DJ and other members of the group are from Russia. They travel the world hosting parties — playing music and basically spreading happiness.
With this backdrop, it’s no wonder I had to join in.
At the bar that night were two large groups of women. One group was a bachelorette party: Irish women who were raised in Dubai. They had flown in for a few days (one of them from San Francisco) to celebrate the upcoming wedding of their friend, the triathalete. They wore matching white t-shirts and jean shorts.
The other group was celebrating their friend’s birthday. This group of women from India was decked out to the max with shimmery dresses, jewlery and thick makeup.
Everyone jumped and danced and lifted their hands to the beat of the music. When the DJ played Indipop, the Indian women showed us how to dance with our hands and our hips like they did. Different songs had different movements, and I tried to move along with them. It was rare for me to feel so relaxed and unihibited. I was so happy in that moment. One of the Indian women came up to me and said, “I love the joy I see in you!”
What a beautiful thing to say. It made me feel even more joyous. That night was an incredible comraderie with these women. I could share in their joys: the wedding, the birthday. We could laugh together and dance.
I feel so incredibly lucky to be here.
It marks a new chapter for me. I can’t wait to see what comes next!