After almost three years of waiting, three years of anticipating, three years of worrying, three years of wondering, I finally managed to get on a flight back to Sri Lanka. It’s safe to say, it was worth the wait.
Nowadays, COVID is no stranger to us. But at its inception in 2019, my family and I had little knowledge of the continent-spanning, seemingly invisible barrier it would form, keeping us distanced from our beloved Sri Lanka. In the past ten years that we’ve lived in New Zealand, we have always made an effort to go back every year. This annual vacation had been a consistent companion to us. It provided a space to rest, restore our drained batteries and digest the ebbs and flows of the closing year, all whilst bathing in the sun-soaked shores of an island paradise, surrounded by the ones we hold most dear. But just like that, it was all ruthlessly ripped away from us without any warning. We were frustrated, mad, furious. We had a worldly grudge but no one to hold it against. It’s one of the worst feelings – to want to blame the world but knowing it’s nobody’s fault. So, we waited, because waiting was all that was left for us to do.
The wait ultimately came to a close and we were on the dreaded 16-hour journey from Wellington to Colombo. It’s funny how quickly the enthusiasm for a plane ride dissipates and you find yourself eyeballing the journey planner every 2 minutes thinking the plane will go faster if you just keep staring. But as soon as you step out the doors of Bandaranaike airport and that hot, humid air wraps around you, like a hug from an old friend, any lingering remnants of fatigue all drift away – those swollen ankles are worth it!
We spent most of our 50-day trip catching up with family. Whether it’s lounging around at our home in Pandura, talking for hours about all the drama that’s materialized recently or on a snorkeling trip in Hikkaduwa, meeting new members of the clan; family is ever-present. As much as my parents and I enjoy the downtime when we are back in Sri Lanka, it’s our colourful, chaotic family that keeps us coming back.
One thing that never fails to amaze me are cousins. Cousins who were a whole two feet shorter than you only a few years ago are now towering giants, having to talk down to you. Your little cousins, who used to be delightfully amused by something as simple as a selfie camera, are now angsty teenagers with serious social lives and never-ending sagas of relationship troubles. Then there are the new baby cousins popping up by the dozen, all with names that sound a little too similar so you can’t help but feel embarrassed when you inevitably get one wrong. Cousins getting married, cousins leaving the country, cousins coming back home – what would a Lankan family be without cousins!
One of the highlights of our holiday is the trip to ගමේ. Our journey starts in Elpitiya, winds through Aluthwala and Gonapinuwala until we emerge on the south coast in Dodanduwa. Normally this is a whole day affair, but this time around the list of relatives to visit grew exponentially, resulting in our day trip becoming a 2-day trip. The whole event is a whirlwind of warm hugs, hellos, delicious foods, unavoidable conversations about politics, long, difficult goodbyes and tea – lots of tea, so much rich, sweet tea that by the end of it you really do feel like you’ve been through a literal whirlwind. But ultimately Sri Lankan’s show their love by acts of service, and if the weight of those acts could be measured by teaspoons of sugar and milk powder, I’d say there was enough love in those cups of tea to move mountains.
Our 50-day deadline ultimately caught up with us and soon we were back on a plane heading to Wellington. This trip had taken us all around the country, 5000 kilometers, from Colombo to Yala, from Pasikuda to Kandy – east, west, north, south, we had covered it all. And along the way we talked to as many people as we could. Sri Lanka, as you all know, is in some trouble, but our people are resilient as ever. Wars, tsunamis, political challenges – our country has waded through an ocean of relentless turmoil for years but always finds a way to keep its head above the water. But the people are getting tired of kicking, so let’s take this opportunity as Sri Lankans living overseas to send out a life raft. Apologies for the corny analogy. But in all seriousness, if you are in a fortunate position to travel overseas, I urge you to visit Sri Lanka. Whether you want to visit family or take in the scenery, she will welcome you with open arms and the most beautiful smiles. Just don’t forget to always save some room for a few extra cups of tea!
By Rahul Rahubadde – Wellington