Where the Grass is Greener

by Yara Zgheib (United States of America)

Making a local connection Sri Lanka


Lunch was a sweaty, sticky, fly-laden affair. A storm would be coming in, we were promised by the old lady who had cooked. Communication was a challenge in this place where English was a luxury. As were toilet paper, Internet access, and non spicy curry. We did not need too much language though; our oohs and aahs sufficed to rave to our host about the spectacular meal we had just had. A rice and curry classic, where coconut had been king, picked fresh a few hours before. The children had run out the back door, ahead of me, barefoot and nimble across the rice field, knocked a few bright orange ones off the tree and sliced the top parts off. One for them, one for me, cheers, and we had drunk the coconut water out. They had then chopped open the receptacles and we had scraped the white meat inside. Rich, plump, and sweet. Exquisite. The rest would be pressed into oil and milk. Those went into the simmering pot, under which dry coconut was lit. Coconut shavings were tossed in for seasoning. There was rice, mellum, some roti. We ate together, well, with our hands. Five hungry strangers shared a home cooked meal that cost less than a dollar a head, Bohoma stutiyi. Thank you. Our host beamed with pride, and I was in love with Sri Lanka. An abundance of juice: papaya, mango, watermelon, avocado, coconut and passion fruit. Apples are a delicacy here while exotic fruits grow on trees. Children and monkeys climb those and laugh, dangling upside down from skinny legs. Skinny legs, skinny arms. Skinny cows, rare in the fields. Their meat is just as rare, and expensive. Dairy is more sustainable. Milk and yogurt can be drawn daily, stored in fridges where fridges exist. Where they do not milk is stirred into tea, powdered, and children chase colored carts for ice cream. The Sri Lankan life is one of hard work by day and evenings flying kites on the shore. Collarbones protruding, but hands clapping, voices singing over the sound of stomachs grumbling. Colorful saris washed by hand in the river, backs bent into curves over time. Hard feet and soft hearts, hard times and warm welcomes. Wrinkles earned with smiles and sun. Here, in this village whose name has too many vowels for me to pronounce, happiness is a small house, small kitchen, two pots and a happy, shared lunch. The old lady was right; a few clouds in the sky. A small breeze had already picked up. It tousled the eleven-year old’s silky black hair. There would be rain that night.