(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

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Tall Buddhas, Orange Coconuts, and People Talking

Sri Lanka Part Four

Sri Lanka Part 3
Sri Lanka Part 2
Sri Lanka Part 1

We left the island’s south-south-west coast a little before one o’clock with our only goal to make it to any hotel in Tissamaharama (Tissa, for short) outside Yala National Park before five the next morning. It was the one real event we had planned (read: paid out the nose for, in advance) — a hired Jeep to take us into Sri Lanka’s most famous nature preserve where elephants and monkeys and buffalo and leopards roamed free. We had only 200 kilometers to go and easy directions: keep ocean on right.

Heading out of Midigama, we passed the fishermen perched in their traditional fish-hunting post, baking in the sun and waiting to spear fish in the water. And slowly but surely, traffic on the roads eased. After we passed the bold-on-the-map town of Matara, the pressure of the capital seemed to dwindle — our lightly battered Nissan cruised at fifty or sixty kph. The roads still had curves in places the land didn’t, but at least driving no longer felt like fighting off the evil Empire in the assault on the Death Star in the first Star Wars.

Click, listen and read the next ¶

In a park near Tagalle stands a stone Buddha hundreds of feet tall. Cows graze nearby and visitors bring flowers to lay in offering. Camera in hand, it was more than impossible to blend in. Even in a sarong, even standing silently in meditation, our faces did not fall in the very narrow spectrum of local looks. I had no idea whether or not my picture-taking or my stupid, loud plaid shorts (I bought them in your country!) were offending anyone’s spiritual sensibilities. I didn’t know the customs — how could I? So, I tried to tell myself, anxiety doesn’t help anyone. And neither does worrying about when we’re going to get somewhere. The giant statue served as a reminder — don’t stress!. With the smell of incense and birdsong in the air, the jingle of a passing ice cream truck made one thing very clear: anxiety is culturally insensitive.

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