Journeying Sri Lanka Episode 1: The long way from Tbilisi
A few nights ago, while settling down in my apartment in Tel Aviv, I found a thick notebook on the corner that seemed to have a familiar cover. I browsed the notebook and found a day by day account on my two-weeks in staying with a host family and teaching English in Sri Lanka. I wanted to share it here so I am planning to publish it every time I find the power (and appropriate timing). Here’s the first installment and I hope you’ll follow this series!
11 January 2017 - Colombo[us_separator style=”dashed”]
I didn’t feel the heavy weight of the flight – thanks to my airline’s business class upgrade. I now arrived Sri Lanka, where I will be spending 5.5 weeks in and hopefully, once again, discover something about myself.
I’ve been told that Sri Lanka’s Immigration is notorious when it comes to two things: (1) return tickets; (2) tattoos. The former, I don’t have and the other, well, obviously screaming on my shoulders, arms and legs. I had my Virtual Assistant (VA) arrange a dummy ticket for me so I guess I am all set. The tattoos? Hmmm, I managed to find a way. I came from Georgia so I still have my winter stuff on hand. Even if it was 32 degrees outside, I wore a thick jacket to lessen the tattoo view.
Immigration line was short and the only question the officer asked me was “Where are you staying?” I told him my friend’s family lives in Panipitiya Station Road and I am staying with them for a few days.
“Good area.” He said. He stamped my passport and let me go. That was easy! A Whatsapp announcement was necessary: “I’m in, mot&erf*%ker$!” I copy/pasted it to all my groups and even if they were all from my different groups of friends, they all said the same thing: “You lucky b*tch.”
I have a very bad history with lost baggage and when it’s taking a while to show up, I have this fast forward button in my head: “Ma’am, we are very sorry for the inconvenience. Please fill out this form and we will send the bag to your address.”
I know the drill. It was very unlikely for this to happen because I flew with a “top” airline but since my history with luggages are always the same, I couldn’t help but prepare myself mentally. It has been 30 minutes and I still couldn’t see my bag in the conveyer. The “last bag” sign didn’t come out yet so there is still hope. After a few minutes, there came my bag, followed by the “last bag” sign. Goodness, gracious!
I pushed my cart towards the “no good to declare” lane and when the door opened automatically, I was greeted by feckloads of men who were carrying signs in their hands. None of them were for me as I wanted to arrange my transport myself. But first… money.
I have $200 USD in cash and though I haven’t had the chance to check the cost of living in Sri Lanka, I am pretty sure I will be able to survive a few days with that amount. All the money changers are offering the same rate so I chose the window with the shortest line. I handed $100 USD first and he immediately gave me 14,500 rupees (Like India, rupees is the currency in Sri Lanka): I gave no idea how far this money can take me but I remember what my Filipina friend, Pancake said about taxi rates: 3,000 – 4,000 rupees.
Wait, that’s a lot no? I only have 14,000+ rupees and if I pay the taxi to the city, I will have 10,000 left (yes, doing the math is normally hard for me) but f*ck it. I am really tired and I don’t have the energy to take public transport. Taxi it is.
I sat down in the waiting area outside the airport where feckloads of men bugged me to death: “Taxi?” “Taxi madam?” “Taxi?” Every time I land, I usually take my time so I lit a cigarette and Googled a possible place for coffee. I like taking my time. I don’t have a schedule to follow. I’m not in a hurry so coffee will be great.
A man approached me and asked, “taxi madam?” Arrrhhhh when will you guys stop! I don’t even know why I repeated it again: “I am taking my time. I am just relaxing and having a cigarette. If you want to wait, be my guest.” I was hoping he’d say, “okay, smoke in the car!”
Instead, he stood beside me and waited. I kind of lost my patience and said, “okay, let’s go.” I’ll smoke in the car anyway. He took all my stuff and we went to a parking lot where trolleys are forbidden.
When I was new to traveling, I would usually keep my guard up when arriving a country I haven’t visited before. I was walking behind this man who said he’s a taxi driver but seriously, he could be anything. I don’t know this country. I never researched prior to arrival. I watched him carry all the important stuff in my life (laptop, camera, drone, etc) and I did the math in my head again – these things are fecking expensive! Sometimes, I have weird thoughts about people running away with my stuff. My mum said that’s okay because I still need to be careful 50+ countries after. This time, I didn’t have this thought. There was a good energy circling the taxi man.
When we arrived the car, a guy in a white uniform assisted him. He put all my stuff in the trunk. He’s super thin and way younger than the taxi man so let’s call him taxi boy. He looked super alert. This means taxi man is the boss.
“Good morning, madam.” He greeted. I just smiled as I don’t have the mental space to be social.
He went to the driver’s seat after loading my styff. He was careful on doing it so I didn’t have to say, “please be careful. I have my computer in that bag. And my camera. Oh and my drone. And shitloads of hard drives.” I figured I will just make a buzz if I tell them what’s in that bag. So, I shut up. I am not sure how I was able to afford all that’s in there but I promised myself to take care of them for the next…. 10 years maybe.
“Madam, my name is Lal and this is _______, your driver.” taxi man said.
“You’re not coming with us?!” I asked.
“I am, madam. But not all the way to Colombo.”
So I concluded. Taxi man is the boss. Even if I was in danger of being ripped off, I gave the go-signal to carry-on without asking how much the fare will be. Fecking stupid, Trisha.
Lal told me about his taxi business and shamefully plugged all his other businesses hoping I’d sign up. He has a tour agency, too.
“Save my number,” he said. F*ck, please don’t call me and whatsapp me all the time like all the creepy guys being friendly when I am traveling. PLEASE!!!
I pretended to write his number on my phone and while I was at it, he peeked and volunteered to type it himself. He even called himself through my phone (Viber) so I have nowhere to run to. Another addition to the already exploding contacts that I don’t even remember.
We stopped at a coffee place. Without asking me, Lal went down, ordered coffee and a bunch of bread. I knew what was coming. I have to eat. In about 14 days, I will be on vacation with my super fit surfer boyfriend and I will look like a tadpole who’s struggling to swim. I gained so much weight in Israel and Georgia because people eat nothing but bread. This is an emergency – I need rice.
We didn’t have to go inside the cafe. Everything were served taxi doors open. We looked like one big happy family who was on a road trip, stopping for coffee. I wasn’t hungry because of the very generous meal in my business class flight but knowing my capacity with food, I dug in.
Coffee was horrible and I was shocked to learn that Sri Lanka is a tea country. Okay, no espresso for 5.5 weeks? Not cool. I had the idea of asking my boyfriend to bring the Nespresso machine at home. I knew he will freak out. I still asked. Just to try if he would.
Lal was interviewing me. He asked me a lot of stuff about traveling and when caught in situations like this, I always change my stories. “I’m a scientist and I am here to do some tests and research about Sri Lankan elephants.”
“Madam, you’re not married?”
“Yes. He is coming tomorrow. I will definitely call you to pick him up.” Truth is, he will come 14 days after me.
That was the perfect way to change the marriage subject. Cockblock, as they say. Like India, I knew there was no way a “boyfriend” is valid in Sri Lanka because they weigh husbands more here. Boyfriend is an unknown term that’s not in the dictionary. I had to say my boyfriend is coming. Though I know I can take care of myself, it made me feel protected. I also observed that the subject about my relationship stopped when I declared my status.
Taxi boy approached us to collect the plates and cups. I almost didn’t touch the coffee but he insisted that he’ll wait for me to finish. I said he should take it because I’m done. Even if he said he can wait, I felt like I was being rushed so I told him, “it’s okay. I’m full.” I touched my belly with my hands in a circular movement because I wasn’t sure if he can speak English. Sign language is the best way to survive situations like this. He took everything and went inside the cafe.
I saw Lal gave him some coins so it’s safe. It means I don’t have to pay. Or maybe they’re going to add it to my taxi bill?
Lal bid us goodbye. He isn’t joining the ride to Colombo so it’s just me and taxi boy. “If anything goes wrong, Viber me.” Huh. Viber me. His exact words were “viber me.” What a cool dude!
I thanked him and said goodbye. I shut the door strong because I was really tired and had no idea how far the drive will be. Just before he was about to leave, I stick my head out of the window and asked, “how much should I pay?”
“7,000, madam.” What, wait?! I thought it’s just 3,000?!
“No, you said 4,000.” He didn’t say anything but I’d like to be firm when shit goes down. I wanted to sound right.
“Really madam? Okay, then give the 4,000 to your driver.”
Huh. We win.
Not even halfway the drive, taxi boy asked me to move in front.
“It’s fine. I’m okay here.” I said. My mother always told me to sit at the back of the driver as it is the safest part of the car. He didn’t insist that I move to the front but he was driving like crazy! Not just him but the whole city! Colombo traffic is insane. I also hail from a heavy traffic country but ever since I left, I am not used to it anymore. This traffic is driving me nuts and I don’t have the patience for it. Can you imagine people driving fast despite being bumper to bumper? That’s Colombo.
I was about to fall asleep at the back when taxi boy asked me, “Madam, how old are you?”
“28? Why are you not married?!”
Are we back to this again? No. Please. Don’t.
I noticed it is unimaginable for Sri Lankans to meet someone like me – “unmarried’, “childless”, “alone.”
From one of my Georgian girl friends, I learned a social experiment called: if-you-cant-beat-them-try-harder. I tried it with him, the reverse psychology: “why are you married?” No harm, it’s just a question.
It was probably the first time he heard someone ask him this. He couldn’t respond mainly because, in this situation, neither of us were right. He realised he couldn’t be the righteous one just because he is married at 25.
And I know very well I can’t act like what I am doing in life is the right thing because there are no right or wrong life choices. There are only choices. Who decides what’s right or wrong anyway?
Through the silent ride, I really believe we both reflected on those choices, and that, we learned something from each other.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Trisha is on Instagram!