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It was with an open heart that I took public transportation in Sri Lanka. I clambered onto those buses with curiosity and a keen eye. I scrambled onto the trains thirsty for a glimpse into Sri Lankan life and I was deeply rewarded.
Eye contact, knowing smiles, taps on the arm, shimmering saris, chatter in Sinhalese, Tamil and Arabic created a sense that I was connected to these strangers. There was an invisible thread tying us together. Was it merely the common experience of getting from point A to point B?
I believe it was a reciprocal curiosity about different cultures and humanity. I was the recipient of inquisitive glances in equal proportion to my seemingly subtle observations.
There were offers to share food, a request to explain my hand sanitizer, a man who found me a seat on a long trip and countless smiles and waves. Those journeys made me feel alive, they filled my soul with delight and paved a way for Sri Lanka to steal a piece of my heart.
Don’t get me wrong. Sri Lankan public transit is not for the faint of heart. There was the train ride where the man’s pot belly behind me was literally propping me up in a sea of people crammed together.
There were hot, dusty bus rides where I stood and held on for dear life around the corners.
There was the train trip that began at 5 am. I was still standing three and a half hours later. I might have sworn to never take another train. Good thing I already loved Sri Lanka by then!
This kind of travel is a microcosm of real life. There are jostling crowds, monks, newborn babies and grocery bags. Hot wind blows through open windows. You are momentarily stepping into their world. Soak up what is offerred.
On the buses, there is a silent dance up and down the aisles making room for everyone. There are endless amounts of school children. Backpacks stacked upon laps. You sway as one as the bus careens at warp speed. Buddha or Saraswati rides with you every time.
On the trains, it is similar yet different. The clickity clack of the rails is soothing. The views are spectacular. There is more leg room and everyone loves hanging out the windows.
Sit back (or stand!) and enjoy the ride! The most fleeting of connections and conversations will transpire, some that will stay with you forever.
When You Go…
“Travel is an art, and one must practice it in a relaxed way, with passion, with love.” Tiziano Terzani
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