A Personal Invitation
“I am a New Zealand born, Sri Lankan Australian. “
I know that today that is neither unique nor uncommon – however it is something that I didn’t properly appreciate growing up.
Having spent most of my life in Australia, being ‘Australian’ came without effort or thought – my accent is strong and my use of colloquial abbreviations such as ‘GDay howya goin’ unapologetically murders the Queen’s English, as it does with all good Aussies! The beauty of what it means to be Australian has been apparent, and taken for granted all my life, never needing clarification.
Being a Kiwi is easy. Having left there when I was a toddler, I could claim the connection when it suited (ie when I’d rather wear the more elegant All Blacks jersey than the less fashionable Wallabies’ green and gold). This fluidity also seemed to be easily accepted, perhaps because so many well-known Australians tend to have been born across the Tasman (like Phar Lap, Russell Crowe, the Pavlova? Okay so that last example may be just a tad controversial).
But Sri Lanka? The colour of my skin made it clear that, if not Aboriginal, I had my roots outside the land Down Under. When asked about my background, I would answer ‘Sri Lanka’ – basing that response on a few important details: my parents were proud Sri Lankans, my Sri Lankan friends and family were some of the most wonderful people I knew, the tea was great, the food better, and there had been a Cricket World Cup win in the ‘90s… but that was where the connection began and ended. It never felt personal.
Then, three years ago, my life changed, my world was turned upside down and I found myself in what Christians call “the wilderness”. Thanks to the love, support and generosity of my family – I found myself visiting Sri Lanka on a regular basis. It was over these three years that I started to truly understand Sri Lanka and its people, hospitality and wonder. In many ways the people are some of the most hospitable I have met in my life. Sri Lankans are warm, friendly, welcoming, loving and generous in spirit. They love a laugh, a chat, a drink (tea and otherwise) and extending their kindness in any way in which you may need it. In short, they love life and want you to as well.
As a country, Sri Lanka is stunning. Despite a devastating tsumani 14 years ago – the country has not only recovered but flourished. The beaches – Bentota, Mawella, Nilaveli, Hikkaduwa, to name a few – are simply beautiful: The sand is soft, the water, a perfect temperature and the sunsets provide the most magnificent backdrop to each of your memories. No filters are needed to capture beauty in your photographs – no photo can ever truly do justice to the sensation of being there, in the moment, witnessing the magic of this place in all its glory.
Photo Credit : taruvillas
The heritage of the country is found throughout the land – from the Villas and Small boutique hotels to the homes of the people you visit. There is a chic style that is distinctly Sri Lankan and flows through most homes you see or visit. There is something cultural to see wherever you go, whether it be the cities of Colombo, Kandy or Galle. The ‘Cultural Triangle, spans across several cities in the centre of the teardrop-shaped island, includes 6 out of 8 of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and brings adventure and an understanding of the heritage and depth of a country with a strong and interesting history. From the tea country to the jungle, the beaches to the towns – there is something for everyone no matter your age or interests.
Photo Credit : Tiyani Fernando
The food is outstanding. You may dine on a traditional Sri Lankan meal of rice and curry that has been made with the locals special blend of exotic spices. I personally like to sometimes substitute the rice for a delicious alternative “carb” like hoppers, string hoppers or roti. There really is food for everyone – even a wimp like me who has never tolerated spices or chilli. The world seems very small when you get to Sri Lanka and realise that most delicacies have made their way into the country and been given an amazing twist.
Photo Credit : taruvillas
The flights to the country are just the right length to give you a decent amount of time to sleep or watch a couple of movies and then stopover in (my preferred route) Singapore – where the world’s best airport keeps you occupied without having to spend a cent.
Yes – it is very easy to see why Sri Lanka was voted Lonely Planet’s 2019 top travel destination.
But what has compelled me to write – what I’m sure is starting to sound like a paid review, which it is not – is that I was in Sri Lanka at the time of the Easter Attacks. It was horrid, unexpected and above all else – sad. Sad for those who lost their lives and their loved ones. That sadness can never be removed and the lives of those taken must be honoured.
That honour must ONLY go to the lives lost, not to the attack itself – for that attack was not reflective of either the country, its people, the current climate or even the political situation in the country. The attacks surprised everyone. They didn’t make sense…. and they still don’t. But sense can never be made from random acts of evil.
However, what was equally important to me at the time – though not covered at all by the world’s media – was that the country’s response to the attacks was absolutely amazing. The security levels kicked in almost immediately – in a way that only a country that had overcome a civil war could activate. The freedom to move around as normal was only restricted at times of well thought-out curfews – that kept people indoors at night until the state of emergency of the country was under control. There was not a moment in and through the whole situation that I ever felt unsafe or concerned… and this is coming from someone who was in a Christian church service at the time of the attacks and was scheduled to lunch at the Shangri-La straight after.
Yes, airport security was a little more exhaustive but no more than travel to New York, London or Paris has been or still is and just like those Western cities, visits to places that could be possible targets for anything have had ramped up security. Yes, introduced as a result of the attack, but more in place because of a world we now live in.
Photo credit: taruvillas
So it surprises me to hear that one month on from those attacks, while the situation in the country is back to normal – back to the way it was when it was awarded that glorious honour of #1 Travel Destination in the World – that travel to this spectacular island has halted. What’s even sadder is that given how important the travel industry is to the nation, this sudden and rapid decline is adversely affecting the lives of so much of the population – people who make their living welcoming and serving visitors from all over the world.
Photo Credit : taruvillas
If this is true, then the result of the Easter Attacks is that the terrorists themselves have managed to walk away having taken more than just the lives it took in those fatal 20 minutes on Easter Sunday. Yes that was their plan. Twenty minutes of pain and suffering and they achieved that and more. What the world can’t do is give any more oxygen to that pain and suffering. When planning a trip, safety is paramount – but that safety is in place in Sri Lanka today and has been from almost the minute the attacks happened. The times we live in today makes it no more certain for us to survive stepping outside our front doors than it does to travel overseas. Bombs go off, planes disappear, cruises overturn, people get shot, sharks attack, flu gets more intense and cars crash.
None of these are avoidable if they are to happen – but we don’t plan our lives around them. In the same way, I urge the many people who had always hoped to visit Sri Lanka to do so. Don’t let the plans of an evil few – spread throughout the world – stop you from experiencing the wonders of Sri Lanka and its people.
Because of something that is happening all around the world today (a random, unexplained, unexpected attack) – don’t miss out on seeing for yourself what all the fuss is about. There is far more reason to visit the exotic and stunning paradise Isle than there is to stay away. So don’t waste all that research you had been doing, the planning to mark this beautiful part of the world on your ‘scratch map’ and the chance to be the envy of your Instagram following. It’s all still there. Sri Lanka is just waiting for you.
The passion with which I share the above comes from an inner need to speak up and call for you all to visit the exotic and stunning paradise Isle. This plea is from someone who has found their personal connection to the country.
Finally I know what it means to be – a New Zealand born, Sri Lankan Australian and boy I am a proud one.
Written by Sarla Fernando
Principal Consultant – SAF Media Consulting.
Regular visitor to the Paradise Isle