Three Wheeled Tuk-tuks are numerous on the streets in Sri Lanka
Credit Carl Wernicke
The seaside town of Galle is popular with tourists & natives alike.
Credit Carl Wernicke
One benefit of travel is how it connects you to the wider world. But that’s not an unmixed blessing. Last week my wife and I were in Sri Lanka. We exited the country a day before the tragic bombings that killed hundreds of innocent people and paralyzed the island nation. Apparently, the bombings were the result of religious tensions, with the Islamic State terrorist group targeting Catholics. Sri Lanka is primarily Buddhist, with smaller populations of Muslims and Christians. In driving to the airport through the capital city of Colombo, we saw and commented on a concentration of Catholic churches. I believe at least one was a target of the bombings. When we told people we were traveling to Sri Lanka, the main question was, why? Tourism is a major business in Sri Lanka. It is blessed by nature, with much to offer, including a high concentration of U.N. world heritage sites. It is a regional surfing destination, and the interior is rich with wildlife, forests and rivers. Still, it wasn’t high on our bucket list. Our reason for visiting was a family gathering. A nephew on my wife’s side is with the State Department in India, and Sri Lanka was a convenient place to meet. At least, as convenient as 20 hours on airplanes can be. As I said, travel connects you to other people, to cultures different than your own. What we have learned is that amidst all the differences people are much the same everywhere. As we have so often in our travels, we were gratified to find how friendly and welcoming the Sri Lankan people are. Everywhere we went we found gracious, polite, cheerful people. They seemed genuinely happy to see us, and were unfailingly helpful and pleasant. It can be intimidating, but educational, to find yourself in a culture where you are in the minority, where most people don’t look like you, and English is not the primary language. But we quickly came to appreciate the Sri Lankan people. That’s what makes the bombings and the senseless deaths so much more tragic to us. The Sri Lankans we saw, from the airport that was our first contact with the country, to the staff at the house we stayed at to the drivers of the ubiquitous three-wheeled tuk-tuks, welcomed us. Amid a societal structure that to our eyes could seem chaotic, they create order. The beaches in Weligama, where we stayed, are marked by surfing schools and small cafes. The instructors and waiters were unfailingly polite and attentive, without being pushy, and the food was good. Early one morning we accompanied the chef from our house to the fishery dock where he shopped for fish, crabs and shrimp for our meals. It was a bustling lesson on basic economics, supply and demand. The fishermen display their catch on the docks and bidders inspect the catch and negotiate prices. We were something of a curiosity there, but again we felt accepted and just another part of the scene. By U.S. standards we saw much poverty. But we also saw resilient, hard-working people doing what it takes every day to make a living. To have been exposed to their cheerfulness and genuine welcoming nature, to have felt their hospitality, for us makes the bombings so much sadder.