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Sri Lankan Arrival: a Team and… Unexpected Company

4:45am Thursday morning. I arrived in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka felt calm. Somehow, it didn’t overwhelm my senses as usual. I’m not sure if this is the result of growing acclimation to Sri Lanka or if in fact it was more mild than usual. But whatever the reason, it was calm and welcoming, and all the fears and anxieties that had surfaced on the 32+ hour transit subsided as I found myself at home. Arriving at the wee hours of the morning, the sun was just rising by the time we had cleared immigration and collected our bags.

As we rolled our bags to the dilapidated taxi van I felt both at ease and excited, knowing that I was back to the rhythm and lifestyle I adored. Yet, I also knew that the rhythm of this trip will be quite different: we now have a team. Charlotta, an amazing girl from St. Lawrence University rolled a cart near me. Dilini, a dedicated and compassionate Sri Lankan attending MIT, will arrive next week. (To give you a sense of her dedication to Emerge, she has been meeting me at 8am on Saturday mornings to tutor me in Sinhala all semester). Beth from England is already here. My role is shifting, from visioning to facilitating, from doer to coordinator (well, coordinator and doer). I am thrilled and yet will also admit that I am terrified, as my dreams are literally becoming the realities that many hands are working to craft.

The colorful but frayed garland hanging from the rear-view mirror swung back and forth as we swerved in and out of traffic. Charlotta made observations of Sri Lankan life: the difference between Sinhala and Tamil characters on signs and billboards, the lush greenery, burning piles of trash, countless stray dogs, and the common barefoot tuk tuk driver. Just in driving and talking to Charlotta on the way to our house, I felt like I was sharing a piece of myself. Sri Lanka has shared so much with me and I am finally able to bring some of its wonders to others.

As we pulled into our road, Suranga, the tuk tuk driver who is perpetually parked at the head of the road glanced up and with a quick double take let out a big smile. I nearly shrieked! I was back. The gatekeepers remembered me too. Charlotta took her first tuk tuk ride along the beach as we headed to the grocery store to stock up on food and toiletries. The sea breeze frizzed my hair as we drove. The weather was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Not quite as humid as usual and not nearly as hot. Just right.

* * *

“Hello? Anyone home?”

I leapt up. I had passed out at about 10am on the bed of our locked apartment. Suddenly a man was staring at me in my room.

“Oh, sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m a friend of Mil’s and we have a key because we needed to pick something up.”

I was so confused in my jetlag. He was blocking the sun’s intense rays that were streaming in through the window so I couldn’t see his features very well, just his profile. Wait. The sun was shining intensely through the window, just over the ocean. What time was it? And, wait. Who is this man standing in my locked apartment cheerfully asking me all sorts of questions?

It was 4:00pm. I had slept all day. Thank goodness someone woke me. My “awakener” turned out to be one of two guys who had stopped by the apartment, both friends of our host. The intruders were definitely harmless. After drinking beer since 9am and watching cricket all day, they definitely had quite the buzz. We all sat around and talked about the unexpected lives that we have developed as a result of our experiences on this island. What started as a few months of volunteering has shaped all of our life directions. As we talked like old friends, I remembered one of the many reasons I adore this place: the community of global citizens it brings together.

I’m not sure what this trip will bring. So far, it has brought perfect weather, sunshine, incredible smiles and greetings, and… unexpected friends.

I see my girls later today. I can’t wait.

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