Warrior of Two Worlds

by Jane Martha Momme (Germany)

Making a local connection Sri Lanka


When I met Mamoos’ eyes for the first time, I immediately understood that I would never forget them. I sometimes can’t remember the smell of Colombo or the sound of the Indian Ocean but I always remember his eyes. They were doors to a different life and told the same stories as the scars on his body. He was a silent man, but he answered with brutal honesty, whenever someone dared to asked him a question. And only the brave came back for a second one. ‘It is because I don’t hide parts of me anymore’, he told me that night, when we were waiting at Akurala beach for the turtle. It was silent except from the promising sound of the waves. ‘It was not always like that’, he added in a tone pointing to bitterness, whilst hiding it under a nearly toothless smile. Machetes cut deep but I knew that for Mamoo, the most painful memory was that his old life circumstances had taken away parts of his humanity he longed to get back. Since I met him, I am asking myself if humanity was possible to restore. A soft breeze went through Mamoo’s Sarong and for a second, his machete flashed in the moonlight. ‘Old habits. Actually, no, still very needed habits. You never know what is out there. Or- well, I know. Haha.’ Mamoo clapped me on the back. Hard. Despite the situation, he was making fun of me. That was him though—he could be a scary warrior of revenge one second and the next, he was laughing like a kid over cat videos. I loved that. Suddenly, even I sensed that something had changed. I caught Mamoo’s gaze. He nodded slowly, unrecognizable from a distance. ‘They are here.’ I felt fear creeping up my spine. ‘Breathe through it’, he just said. And then, here was movement behind us in the bushes. Silently, Mamoo smiled and his hand moved to his machete. His muscles tensed; the instincts of a hunter awakened. Poachers were everywhere at night. I had known some of the risks of these nightly rescue missions. But it is completely different to think you know how something feels than to experience the tingling sensation of danger growing in bushes behind your back while waiting on a Sri Lankan beach to fight the good fight with a man that carries a machete everywhere he goes… But the dark promise in Mamoos’ eyes had a weird effect on me. I almost felt safe. ‘I want them to see me. You stay down.’ The noises were louder now. In the moonlight breaking through the darkness I could see the leaves of the palm trees shaking. They were moving quickly. ‘Stupid’, Mamoo whispered and smiled again; however this time, it seemed contemptuous and I understood why. These poachers didn’t realise the jungle could be their biggest ally or worst enemy depending on if they understood it. One coconut kills a man quicker than a machete fight if it falls down in the right moment. When they finally broke through, it was six of them and they were all armed. Mamoo was waiting, calmly breathing, the ocean and moonlight in his back. Suddenly, I didn’t know anymore if I was more afraid of him or the poachers. The first man stopped and hands started shaking, while Mamoo eyed him down full of satisfaction. ‘It is you?’, he asked in Singhalese and I could hear frightened whispers. ‘Mamoo?’ ‘Yes. My village, my beach, my eggs. Leave.’ Mamoo turned around, as if he knew that was enough for the men to disappear. It was. I didn’t realise I held my breath until I gasped for air. He looked at me, his face unreadable. ‘Fear isn’t bad. I made myself forget sadness but never fear because it protects you. Look’, Mamooo said and pointed to the ocean, smiling again. ‘Don’t forget beauty in the face of danger. It is always there.’ I followed his gaze and saw her: beautiful and strong the turtle had fought her way onto the land. Finally, Mamoo moved his hand from the machete and touched my shoulder briefly but comfortingly. The first time that night, I smiled too.