This post is in response to a photo I saw today. One that has gone viral, one of a little girl putting her hands up to a journo with a DSLR. She thought it was a weapon. A Syrian girl. The BBC is calling this “the photo that broke the internet’s heart” What a load of codswallop. It breaks peoples hearts. YES. It does. LOOK LOOK at this girls eyes and then ask yourself why you as a good person can’t get together with other billions of good people on this planet and do something about this.
Anyway I blog about my life – this photo has affected me. If you don’t like it don’t read it. It has also highlighted some issues of life here in wonderful Sri Lanka. “Real issues”:
There maybe issues in lots of countries…I have friends globally from the UK, Germany, Russia (yep even those buggers) to Nigeria to Fiji (and obviously Holland). Most complain. Nowhere is perfect. Holland may seem idyllic – oh except for the fact that Pim Fortuyn was assassinated during the 2002 Dutch national election campaign for being a racist asshole basically. And good riddance. At least we have a cute Royal family. And orange rocks and cheese and heaps more.
Sri Lanka is of course paradise, only it had a bloody 30 year civil war, with possible war crimes still pending – one will see. And while one waits the presidents brother dies in an axe attack. A local politician was shot in my home town days ago.
People are nervous, I am. Not just for my beautiful life here but for the world at large.
If I had a euro (or even a rupee) for every time somebody told me that I was so lucky to live in paradise, how happy I must be and how that person wished they were me, I would be, one, quite bloody rich and two, probably quite a bit happier.
Many expat/travel blogs will bore you senseless with fantastic adventures made away from home, cool things done outside of a comfort zone, eating weird ingredients, pushing ones boundaries and finding ones inner Zen blah blah. This is not one of them. Yeah I have good times, sometimes even very good, but sometimes I just feel like punching smiley people who pontificate about how wonderful it must be to live in a beautiful tropical island and freelance from home in the face.
I know, not nice. Still I would like to see those same people say the same thing after experiencing some of the lesser evils of this little bundle of fun in the Indian Ocean 🙂 I have moaned before here and here I will moan again and give you 5 inevitable grievances of living in Sri Lanka.
1) Random shit
Take today for example. I wake up to a beautiful day, do my morning stuff, switch the kettle on to make a cup of coffee… and… no luck, the power is off. I check the sockets, check the fuse box, listen out for the Singhala radio station which usually bursts out of my neighbours house at this time. Nope: “light ne”. Or translated: “power cut”. Ugh. Grab my phone 30 minutes later to call the electricity office and check what’s going on and just as the guy answers (after the third attempt may I add) the kettle springs into life. Fine fine, no harm done you say – only bloody 45 minutes doing things I didn’t have to. Forget working in an office and turning up on time…no chance. Still I’m lucky there so actually no real harm done.
Two hours later I eventually get ready to go out as I have some bank stuff to deal with. Need to see the manager and have been putting it off. Get to the bank. It’s closed. The guard apologises “sorry madam, today is [insert unintelligible name] holiday, bank closed”. Me: “but the wine store is open” (yes I know that is a completely random thing to say but you would understand if you lived here). In fact every single shop is open except for banks. It is a real “bank holiday” in the bloody sense of the word. Only nobody seems to know why.
I go to a wedding in the afternoon, a woman comes up with a tray of glasses of water. I’m not thirsty at all but I’m afraid to appear rude so I accept a glass and just as I am about to drink it it is snatched out of my hand. One person frowns, the snatcher is grinning “no, no you no drink, touch, touch…”. Eh? Another person appears and touches the glass with both hands, or actually barely touching and then holds his hands together as in prayer. “Like so” the snatcher whispers. My partner has stepped outside for a cigarette. I am mortified. Why didn’t anybody tell me about this custom, am I just supposed to guess this stuff? I see it happen to another foreigner a bit later. Maybe they do it as a joke, to make us look stupid, I brush that thought aside only for it to re-surface when somebody laughingly tells me and the other hapless looking foreigner are the guests of honour at this wedding. I barely know the wedding couple. Random shit. Random annoying shit.
2) Being white (aka suddho or suddhi (male & female))
Every man and his dog thinks it is fine to ask you your name, age, occupation and marital status just because you are white (well… a foreigner). Some are genuinely interested, most are just nosy or practising their English. Annoying. Having to pay 10 times as much for any tourist attraction, including dubious places, is perhaps acceptable for bona fide tourists from wealthy western countries in a poor third world developing country, but given that those “definitions” are so blurred nowadays (especially in Sri Lanka which is no longer classified as third world by most standards), and that residents on the same local salary still have to pay those rates by virtue of their skin colour is just stupid. It’s racist. And that is just the regulated price discrepancies. “Regulated racism”. Gah.
This would be acceptable if it was a common practice globally. It is not.
Don’t even get me started on the opportunists I come across in my day-to-day wanderings. I once heard a story of some Russians being charged 10,000 rupees (+/- $100 USD) to cross Bentota bridge by tuk tuk in 2008 (this journey takes 5 minutes on foot). The driver had told them he was risking his life crossing the bridge because of the war. Got to give him 10 out of 10 for ingenuity.
You are also often referred to by “suddha” or “suddhi” (which means white, in male and female form). By friends and foe alike, referred to as “the white person”. Yes, literally.
3) Loopy shit
My neighbour has been having pujas at night to exorcise bad spirits – it is a Hindu religious ritual. Now I am wary of religions full stop so anything that is in the slightest bit strange I dismiss as utter madness (I do not mean this in any way derogatory – I am a non-believing, non-practising Catholic and fully believe Catholics are the craziest people on the planet). So, imagine when I am confronted with not only chanting, incense burning, coconut throwing, bell ringing, head oiling and bindi annointing activities, but also high-pitched wailing and something I can only describe as body jerking when the deity being revered in the puja to exorcise the bad spirits has taken possession of a human being – a kind of spirit possession I guess (don’t quote me on that, my sources are the village gossips!!). From wiki (just to give you an idea): “The Coast Veddas, a social group within the minority group of Sri Lankan Tamil people in Eastern Province, Sri Lanka, enter trances during religious festivals in which they are regarded as being possessed by a spirit. Although they speak a dialect of Tamil, during trances they will sometimes use a mixed language that contains words from the Vedda language. This is bigloopy shit. This is my neighbour. I am proper freaked out.
They also have extreme horror films on the bottom shelf in the DVD shop – completely unrelated but just saying. Chilled out tropical island lifestyle? Think again.
4) Gecko shit
Precisely that. Many geckos live in my house. They shit everywhere. A nuisance. Sometimes they have diarrhoea… need I go on? Gecko shit.
Let me finish with probably the most controversial of all:
5) Karma. Yes, that notion which the majority of you will perceive as that fundamental doctrine in Buddhism, that law of moral causation; “what comes around goes around”. Yes that one. You know the one where you think oh dear that will come back to haunt them when somebody does something bad and you read about it in the newspaper, or when an ex-lover gets ceremoniously dumped by their current beau and you think “YES karma matey!”. You would think that living in a place dominated by this very notion of karma would be pretty damn fantastic right? Well you’re wrong.
Picture this: It’s 9am in the morning, you have a full day planned. The power goes off (see number one). You don’t panic yet…no need. Only then you receive a call from your other half to inform you this power cut will last until 5pm. Your mouth goes dry – you have a deadline due at 4pm and your laptop battery will not last the distance to complete the work anyway. You panic. You demand some answers from the electricity board – no luck. You moan to your other half: “what to do?” he exclaims, meaning there is nothing we can do because it is all caused by a higher force which we have no control of. I am here driving myself crazy but the locals have accepted their fate, even if it inconveniences them greatly: there is nothing we can do so we will not be bothered in the slightest. I have a headache and high blood pressure, not to mention an increasing urge to commit murder, yet they are having a cup of tea gossiping with their friend across the road. Sri Lankans embrace karma. This is fantastic if it prevents you having high blood pressure, surely?
Yet, karma has a dark seedy side. This very thing which should make living our lives so much more simple also makes our lives so much more unbearable. This very notion of moral causation has evolved into quite a disturbing phenomenon – the absence of motivation. Accepted apathy. More worryingly, the absence of good and bad. The absence of any feeling of guilt. Much has been written about ethics and morality since the early Greeks. How the hell do we, as mere humans, know whether something is good or bad? Well to avoid getting into too deep waters here I will make a probably insane assumption that most of us do actually know the difference. Yes we do. Increasingly though I notice that this notion of karma is being used as an excuse for laziness – “I can’t really do anything about it so I won’t”, “my actions won’t change the outcome much so I won’t bother”. Also as an excuse for bad behaviour – “it wasn’t really my fault… it just happened that way”, “nothing we can do about it now, it’s already happened”, “it’s not my fault, he brought it on himself”, “if he didn’t do that to my sister five years ago then I wouldn’t have felt the need to steal his car”, “if she didn’t kiss that guy last night, she would not have a skull fracture today”. I have heard these kinds of things and have occasionally been shocked. People here often hide behind their religion and particularly the notion of karma to avoid the repercussions of their actions. Thankfully, this is something that is changing with better education and it will continue to change just like it did for Catholicism years ago. For me it can’t change quick enough. Religion doesn’t do a whole lot of good in my book.
A controversial piece. Feel free to argue and criticise in the comments. I’ll only delete it if it is outright slander :). And for all you lovely people of Sri Lanka please don’t think I am having a go at you and your homeland. I’m not at all, far from it. These are my opinions of my life here. I love the country and its people most of the time. We all have our grievances – I just took the initiative to air them. I would do the same anywhere else, even in my own country – probably ten times worse. Freedom of speech and all that – been a long time coming here 🙂
A blog about freelance translation as a digital nomad, travel, food & drink and all things Sri Lankan and Dutch.