Through paved roadways and chopped up back roads, we pass shack after shanty and witness the scattered remains of a Tsunami’s battered footprint. Regardless of the time passed since its initial devastation, its impression is still evident and real. But bygone disasters aside, the human landscape still seems unfamiliar to me as I’ve sheepishly grown accustomed to the creature comforts of a developed (yet often uncivilized) world. Attempts at westernized commerce in a decidedly eastern environment stand as a testament to the desire of prosperity. And at first glance, it misfires the synapses inside my head.
Initially, it’s shocking and perhaps an example of what it means to be homesick nearly 9,000 miles away. How could so many people live in such desperation and how can I not know what this looks or feels like? I knew we’d be in a third world country, but were all the images of paradise simply a distraction from this part of the experience? Was I naive enough to block this out of my mind? Questions like these flourish until this scene and others like it melt into the thread of this beautiful landscape.
The fresh fruit stands begin to burst with flavor and color. Newly caught fish glisten as men proudly corral buyers to their bounty. A woman sweeps dirt from a roadside stand and readies for a day’s work while another tirelessly unfolds a handmade traditional batik cloth. And those westernized attempts at commerce – the flashy trinkets and automobile-centric products – they too quickly fall into the hot and humid backdrop and become a part of the experience as we dive further into the country. Each image comes alive as I interact with the people I shoot. I talk to them and learn from them and partake in the one universal language we all share – laughter.
Look, this is not Manhattan, but this is also not desperation or poverty and it is certainly not the result of any misfortune as I naively observed before. This is the world living in balance without the interference of things that live outside of that balance. This is the world laughing at our definition of what it means to be developed. This is a species, (although we often forget that we are still a species) living as we were meant to with the resources we’ve been given. And within the cracks are smiles. Beyond the walls are communities and further so are the people, animals, and places that make this country what it is. Everything else is ancillary and irrelevant.
Sure that’s an easy observation from 5-star hotels and an air-conditioned vehicle simply passing through. But it’s an honest observation; an honest first impression of a place that I will almost instantly fall in love with.
Check back soon for much more on Sri Lanka…