The more things change the more they stay the same. Thursday morning I woke up, took my daughter to school, made lunch, and then got on an airplane that took me on a trip halfway around the world, flying past news-worthy cities with names like Baghdad and Allepo and over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Thirteen hours of flying landed us in Dubai where midnight found us riding in a taxi with a driver who explained to us that in Dubai the Old Town is the section that contains all the new buildings. Soon we were sitting in the baking desert heat and eating pizza while watching a Vegas-Style fountain show blast out (among other things) the music of Thriller. Then we went to the mall with the Starbucks and Ikea and Subway. It was all strange and exotic, yet so oddly familiar. It never ceases to amaze me what America has as its chief exports to the world.
A few hours more and another airplane and we wearily stumbled through the doors into the tropical sun of Colombo, Sri Lanka to negotiate with beggars who try to manhandle your luggage for you and then charge you for that privilege. As my nostrils were assaulted by the mixed scent of salt air, exhaust fumes, and the faint scent of decay that no tropical city is ever without the first word that popped into my head was “home.” The looks and sounds and smells all have so evocative of the West Indian island where I grew that I immediately understood why Columbus thought he had had managed to reach the East Indies by sailing around the world. Even the insanity of the bus ride out of the city had an odd sense of rightness to it as we tried our best to abide by the Sri Lankan rule that no two cars may follow behind each other at any given time. It’s a different place in a different world but it’s still so much the same.
There are distinctions, of course. The surf of the Indian ocean roars just a few steps from our lodgings but the sand is an unfamiliar shade of brown not white or black like the coral-laden beaches of Grenada. The people here find their roots in Asia not Africa and the stream of liquid syllables that characterize the Sinhalese language are nothing like that Jamaican-style English pronouncements of my adopted homeland. Perhaps the starkest contrast of all to me is that the religion here is majority Buddhist and though I saw a few signs of Catholicism during the bus ride to the hotel there was nary a Protestant church or mission in sight.
For all the little differences, being here has sent me on a sentimental journey through my past as I sit here basking in a tropical sun (that is strangely hotter during the morning than the afternoon because of where it sits below the equator). I’m sure that by now my traveling companions have long since tired of hearing me say the words “well, where I grew up…” as I compare this island nation to one that my heart has been missing for a decade. Perhaps it’s just some trick of memory combined with jet lag that warms my soul for scenes both old and new. But I’ll take it. I’ll love every minute of it. Sri Lanka may not be home but the feeling that it could have been is never far from the edge of my senses. The Dubai cab driver had the right of it. What is new is old for me. And what is old has once again become new.
Tomorrow we’ll be out in the field and I can’t wait to start sharing with you what we see.