This was written for the latest issue of Montage magazine, out now at bookshops and gas stations and stuff
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we all love this country, regardless of our position on the war. Too often the peaceniks are so shrill and the warmongers so angry that they forget what they have in common. Sometimes you wish you could just pile the whole country into a van, drive to the beach and pledge our allegiance to king coconut. Because it really is a nice place to live, besides all the death around.
Sri Lanka is a failed state and a very successful island. The land is fertile and things grow. If you know how to relax, the lifestyle is not bad at all. There are beaches everywhere and – being an island – you can simply switch coasts as the seasons change. When the sea rises in Hikkaduwa you can drive straight across the country to Arugam Bay. If it’s too hot you can drive up-country to Nuwara Eliya. You can munch achcharu on the corner or sip thambili on the edge of a national park. There is a great beauty to this country, made all the more poignant by the ugliness of war.
Even Colombo – the State’s battered wife – still has her charm. Step out of the car and there are hidden shops, fantastic properties, street food and enough to explore. Behind the security barriers there are quiet avenues, shaded by the canopy of trees. The great neighborhoods (Fort the foremost) are mostly high security, but any private home with a garden can be an oasis. If you look down on Colombo for above (but not within 2 km of the President’s house!) you’ll see that it’s still quite green. The city is packed with people, but it’s also full of trees and flowers and fruit. If you drive out of Colombo you can be in paddy in no time, which is really quite a luxury.
Sri Lanka is still not the most culturally fertile (both locally and internationally) but what it may lack in the quality of its music, arts and theatre, it makes up for in community. The theatre is still an opportunity to see and be seen, and every school event or fundraiser or dinner will be packed. People take their sports very seriously, and their schools, and the arts. Some of the events are pointless but – besides the point – there is a concept of fellowship which is quite sweet.
That can also get a bit cliquey, but then you can always go back out into nature and the stars are simply there and you can fit into any constellation you please. If you get hot you can swim and if you get hungry you can always find a pang and pol sambol somewhere. You can climb the hills, you can hike, you can see leopards and any number of things which are package tours for the rest of the world. And we live here.
At this time of national insecurity, we should try to remember why we live here at all, and why expats keep coming back. This is a great country. Great like eating rice with your fingers. It’s a big messy treat that makes you sweat and suffer, and you can’t help but love it. Sri Lanka isn’t a tourist destination or ‘paradise lost’ or anything so mundane. It’s a beautiful place whose failings make it human, and thus lovable. And it’s OK to love your country, whatever your position on the war.