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Home Thoughts From Abroad: A True Sri Lankan Writes With Refreshing Positivity About The Island In the Sun at This Dark Hour


Sarah Jameel

Dear Fellow Humans,

Some of you may know Sri Lanka from the recent news, some of you may have tried our exquisite cinnamon or world-famous Ceylon tea, some of you may have visited the island on holiday, some of you may have left during the civil war, some of you may have chosen to come reside on the island and make it your home, some of you may have been born there, and for some of you this maybe the first time you’re hearing of this island nation, lying off the Southern tip of India, and aptly named the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

I write to you all.

This is the story of my island in the sun.

The little and well known facts and figures about my home, my people, my forever paradise.

I love that my island home has more cultural heritage than any other island of its size can ever boast, because that is Sri Lanka.

I love that we have national holidays that reflect the significance for every faith (i.e. with the most number of national holidays in the world), and that we get the best of festive food from our neighbours because, that is the diversity of Sri Lanka.

I love that people will stop and help you on the road if you’ve lost your way, even when they are busy themselves, because that is the simplicity of Sri Lanka.

I love that we don’t need a reason to celebrate and have a good time from coast to coast, to the blessed hill country, because that is the feeling of Sri Lanka.

I love that we understand when one of our friends is fasting during Ramadan, one of our friends is observing Lent, one of our friends is observing “sil” in temple, and one of our friends is doing a Pooja for Maha Shivarathri, because that level of understanding and friendship, is the glory of Sri Lanka.

I love that we all have the same local remedies for a cold or cough or headache or stomach ache, and that it has Panadol and Sidhalepa balm and kothamalli as its core, because that is what it feels like when you’re having the flu in Sri Lanka.

I love that we unite against anything for a game of cricket, because 1996 will always feel like yesterday, and where Susanthika’s Olympic silver medal in 200m women’s track will always be ingrained in our memories, that is unity in Sri Lanka.

I love that we have extended families that are probably more up to date with our social lives on their CNN (curry news network) than news channels are with breaking news, because that is the comedy of Sri Lanka.

I love that we are a nation, a people, a place, where food makes everything go around, and that you won’t go hungry — not even your enemy will, if they come home, because these are the values of Sri Lanka.

I love that it’s always time to have a cup of freshly brewed Ceylon tea and “put a chat”, because that is the beautiful attitude of Sri Lanka.

I love that even the poorest farmer will cook you a meal and give you his bed to sleep on if you’ve got no place to go — regardless of if you’re foreign or local (my friends who’ve visited and travelled around the island tell me the stories), because that is the humane spirit of Sri Lanka.

I love that grandparents automatically and voluntarily become babysitters who are paid by love and not by money, because that is what family is like in Lanka.

I love that we can’t even make eggs in the morning without spicing it up or having it with some coconut “pol sambol”, because that is what breakfast is like in Sri Lanka.

I love that the gift of giving through “dansal” (free food stalls during full moon Poya days) or and regular charity and zakat (annual % of your wealth to charity) are part and parcel of everyday life on the isle. Because that is what everyday generosity is like in Sri Lanka.

I love that every city and town feel like they are celebrating Christmas and New Year, and, if you have seen our lights and decor you would realize that we love “overdoing it” in Lankan style, because that the grandeur of Sri Lanka.

I love that anyone can be your “machang” or friend, even if you’ve just met them because friendship and community matters and will always be the threads that build the bulk of our social fabric. Because personal will always be universal, and we know that in Sri Lanka.

I love that we all agree that we have one of the hardest and most beautiful national flags to colour in primary school, with the most courageous lion tribe on it — our tribe. Because that is what it is like being a kid and going to school in Sri Lanka.

I love that we can have the ocean and the wildlife and ancient relics and the waterfalls and the tea plantations and all its breathtaking views — all in one day, because that is what a long weekend is like in Sri Lanka.

I love that no soul is left behind regardless of age and gender, and that every sole is on the dance floor especially when the Baila (Portuguese influenced musical genre) music comes on, because that is what every party is like in Sri Lanka.

I love how everyone “puts in their two cents worth” in on everything even when they are not asked of their opinion. — we colloquially call it “pana pana service”, because that is the freedom of speech in Sri Lanka.

I love that you can wake up to watch the sunrise on the east coast and wind down to the sunset on the west coast and that no Instagram filter can ever capture its majestic light. Because you have to actually see it with your own eyes, and that’s the serendipity of Sri Lanka.

I love that we all agree that east or west, “kottu roti” (The street food you can dance to the sound of it being made, you need to try it because you’re missing out) is the best. Because that is how a good night always ends in Sri Lanka.

I love that we always invite our global friends to come visit our stunning mosaic of serendipity and then offer to be their personal tour guides around the island, as we have so much to show them of home, because that is what national pride looks like in Sri Lanka.

I love how Sri Lankan parents don’t inflate you or talk about any of your achievements while you’re around, because they always instil humility in you, but will be ever so proud of you in their social circles, because that’s what parenting looks like in Sri Lanka.

I love that unlike anywhere else in the world, we can proudly identify as Democratic Socialists because after all, we are the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, where your healthcare (including dental care) and education, will always be free, because they are basic human rights in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

I love that we have a “paradise island complex” that is so real that you get withdrawal symptoms when you leave her shores, and nothing ever seems to match up to it, no matter what highway or Broadway you experience. Because this is where our souls are most at home — in stunning Sri Lanka.

I love that we’ve been born into the tradition of Ayurveda and healing and that ingrained in our social systems, is the aligning of body and mind, and which has been practiced for millennia, because this is what mindfulness looks like in Sri Lanka.

I love that we smile through successes and failures alike, our pains and sorrows alike, and even through the tears, synonymously all across the island, not because we have to, but because the most radical and rebellious choice you can make in life is to be optimistic, because this is who we are in Sri Lanka.

And I hope you have your smile on as you read this.

Because above all,

I love that I can say, I am Sri Lankan.

And, I know you do too.

To my fellow humans across the shores,

Firstly, thank you for sharing your heart warming stories of your time on my isle and for letting me know that these recent events won’t stop you from visiting this paradise, again. It speaks volumes of how you appreciate the beauty, simplicity and humane values that we possess as an island nation.

If you’ve been one of lucky ones to visit Sri Lanka or have lived here, you may have experienced some of these things, as did I growing up here; and if you haven’t, know this. I can assure that that my island will always welcome you because this is who we are. “Sri Lankan hospitality” has always been a thing and will always be a thing to you can come home to.

To my islanders, I say this.

There will always be evil around us. That is the reality of anything that tries to surround and the capture beauty and grace of a people, of a place, of a part of this universe. Always remember that an attack of any sort on one Sri Lankan is an attack on all Sri Lankans. Because we are all living — breathing — human cells in the body of our precious island.

So at this time of unsurpassable grief, as we put our lives back together, here are some of things my heart hopes for right now…

I hope that if you’re a religious leader, you protect your interfaith community fiercely, with love. Let New Zealand inspire us.

I hope that if you’re a local community leader, you know that you don’t need to have been elected to do and spread goodness within your neighbourhoods and communities.

I hope that if you’re a teacher, teaching the impressionable future minds of society, you use your superpowers of making someone understand a concept to open their minds to the concept that diversity is strength. You are also the moral compass in a class, and I hope that you use that to guide to ensure that bullying of any sort is not tolerated in your classrooms. Have you heard about what happens when you talk to plants kindly?

I hope that if you’re a doctor, you remember why you decided to become one — to do no harm and to save and change lives.

I hope that if you’re an engineer, you use your intellect and skills to help rebuild the communities affected by these mass atrocities.

I hope that if you’re an entrepreneur, you use your capital leverage to create and facilitate spaces of good will — and make these places as inclusive — as Sri Lankan as it can get.

I hope that if you’re a sports star, you use the universal language of sport to bring everyone onto the field and entrust them with the principles of sportsmanship for life — both on and off the pitch.

I hope that if you’re an artist, you use your creativity to build and reinforce bridges of harmony through your art — and tell the stories that matter. Because the arts will always matter — it is what we stay alive for.

We have to put back the displaced segments of our social fabric together one piece at a time. But before we do that, we need to identify our wounds.

Take your time to heal, and let your minds, bodies and souls go through the phases of wound healing — hemostasis, reparative and remodelling. It’s important that you let that happen.

I choose to tell and share stories of the harmony of my people and I will amplify these stories. Because these are the stories, I choose to hold close to my heart during this time of grief. Because like attracts like — that’s physics.

You may want to do that too to remind yourself of who we are at our core being.

Let our island and it’s fun living, laid back, (over)achieving humans inspire a thousand stories of comradeship and gratitude throughout the world. Because always remember, that the power of the people will always be greater than the people in power — that’s what a living — breathing — compassionate democracy is all about.

And let us spread that love and kindness above all through example, by the way we live our daily lives.

Because you can try to break a Sri Lankan’s heart, but never our spirit.

We shall rebuild.

Sri Lanka has given me the foundation of principles upon which I have been able to build my life and my values, and for that I am eternally grateful to my umbilical connection with this piece of magic in the Indian Ocean.

Ayubowan. Wannakkam. Assalamu alaikum. These are all just different ways we say, may peace be with you, and good vibes all the way.

Away from where it is sunny 365 days of the year (a.k.a. Sri Lanka),

Sarah Jameel