SRI LANKA, April 10, 2013 - Air stopped moving, heat began to set in for the day, the slightest movement warped his energy, and the sun just began to throw itself all over midday Colombo, Sri Lanka. Beads of sweat rolled down his chest as he sat in a café and took hot tea to calm his body. Next door soot from city buses spread across the street, seeping into the café. The drivers jerked the buses back and forth to find the correct gear, finally, driving away with a full load of people, bags, and sacks stacked on top. Food stalls, always cheap next to public transport, seem to have more than enough characters to share a conversation. That is one thing he learned from his years on the road: a place a traveler can share conversations with strangers, and soon after, they become close friends.
“Tea friend?” the waiter solicited. He tried to balance himself, holding a tray of mutton and lentils in one hand, hot tea in the other, and money falling from the pocket of his firmly starched button up French cut collared shirt.
The temperature expanded to consume the slightest bit of cool breeze. Suddenly, the electricity shuts down. A small ticking sound hums through the café and the single insignificant fan, giving some sort of life to the stale air, slowly glided to a halt. He still said he wanted the tea, even with the fiery oven, warm food, crowded city streets, and the rest of the discomforts of being on the road.
“Yes, thank you,” he told the waiter, and without missing a moment asked, “How much for the tea?”
He had to ask before he took the tea, since the price may change after he finished. He routinely established a price before he sat down. This way he could decide if he wanted to stay, or go find a new place that would not gouge him for money.
“The lights, yes,” the waiter declared, swinging his head side to side, “come back on in a moment.” He finished with a gentle smile and went on to ask, “You smoking?”
He had it all: smokes, sold in a pack or sold individually, mutton curry, hot tea, and a smile to go along with colorful lungi, the local attire for Sri Lankan males.
“Tea and fill the empty bowl with mutton please.”
Men walk in, touch their forehead then their hearts, as they greet one another, sitting to share tea, sipping it from the saucer.
“It cools quicker, pouring it in the saucer and taking it this way,” one Sri Lankan man said with a beaming grin. His teeth and gums looked like they were bleeding. “Come, sit with me and visit. I am Ahmed. How do you enjoy the tear drop of our country?”
Plates clang in the corner of the café as young kids swat their necks, continuing to wash plates, and others boil the tea. As mosquitoes swarmed the dirty water, one boy slaps the boy next to him, delightfully revealing the bloody mark on his hand. It gives them something to do besides drip sweat on the plates they cleaned. A basic itch on your neck, in that heat, feels like a bug bite, burning after slightly being itched. Other boys clean the tables with the same rags used to wash the dirty plates. The older men who work there serve the food. Strangely enough, there are no women in the café. Men finish taking their meal, reaching for a pitcher of water to fill their glasses. They hold their right hand above their empty plate, pouring water over their hand to clean it. Boys offer each man old newspapers to use as their napkins. To fight the heat outside, one man asks for a sugar cane drink to go.
“I just woke up,” he said.
Ahmed said with surprise, “It is the afternoon, how did you sleep so long?”
“I slept sixteen hours after flying in yesterday and sweat has not stopped leaking from my body,” he said to Ahmed as he wiped his neck with a handkerchief. He continued, “I have no idea why I came. I am at the point of going to random countries. It is a bit Viking-like.”
Ahmed had no idea what Viking-like meant, but smiles, and waves his head, moving it like a bobble head pivoting around.
Ahmed signals to a young boy to come over and says, “This candy he sells is the rock candy. Solid,” he emphasized. He began again after stopping to make sure he was understood. “It would break a lions tooth. I do not recommend you eating it anytime. Also, do not begin to eat this betel nut,” pointing to his mouth as he continues, “It will give you a headache and make your mouth turn red.”
From the back room, a bell rings through the tiny window, indicating a serving of rice and prawns is up. The cook throws dough in the air like a pizza chef tossing pizza dough. He tosses it down, on a table, flinging flour all over it, then flattens it out, twirls it in the air again, rolls it out, and finally pitches the naan bread in the clay oven. The heat from the clay oven migrated through the café. Everyone could feel their clothes soaking up the sweat, draining from their damp bodies.
Behind the man carrying curry and tea is a tiny boy looking around, asking, “Naan or rice?”
He told Ahmed, “I never dig directly into the Basmati rice. My first trip to Kashmir, I burned my fingers the first several times, eating with my hands.” I learned the hard way to work around the outer portion of rice. It cools faster and far easier to eat with my fingers.”
Be prepared for enjoyable chaos. The Indian Subcontinent delivers exactly that, enjoyable chaos on all the senses. Relish it or sit still to possess the calmness of not moving and possibly not growing emotionally.
“Why would you travel to Sri Lanka?” Ahmed asked.
He began explaining to Ahmed, “Traveling does not teach me about cultures, but in the situation, traveling educates me about myself.”
Traveling does not withdraw anyone from the world, but rather take time off from what the world says is important; allowing people to focus on their internal thoughts and what is important to them. There is a map to the heart and the open world leads people to it. Be forever grateful upon this discovery and never let it leave.
“How do you escape from the heat?” he asked Ahmed.
“At some point you feel you could walk faster than the train, but visit Kandy,” Ahmed said with a chuckle. The only escape Ahmed offered with sarcasm, “Travel roughly seventy miles in a nearly record setting three and a half hour train ride to the mountain town of Kandy, Sri Lanka.”
The description of the crowded train, with dust floating through the cabin, and in basic 3rd class accommodations, sounded far too pleasant to miss on this voyage.
“Where do I buy my ticket?” he asked, while smiling at Ahmed.
“I was joking about the 3rd class wagon. It is not generally recommended for visitors,” Ahmed said in terror, as if he was really going to listen to him.
When he left yesterday for today, somehow, traveling is what taught him to grasp at such delicate tranquility. The traveler dives in a different world, one where the subtle experiences begin to mean so much.
He reached for his money to pay as Ahmed grabbed his hand, “It is my pleasure. I pay for you, as you are a guest. Enjoy our country.”
A man, sitting at the next table gasped with disbelief. “I have known Ahmed fourteen years and he has never bought me anything. You have known Ahmed an hour and he is willing to pay your bill.”
“I know,” he answered, while quickly going on to say, “I am lucky.”
“No,” the man emphatically stated, “You have a lucky face. That has everything to do with you being able to speak with people so easily.”
The mind to a traveler, who explores, means more than any material item, and ultimately becomes an accepting mind, delivering experiences, which remain, forever, locked in the mind of the truest soul, safe, and maybe possibly never shared. That may be the mistake, not sharing the experiences. To him, life’s journey has been, by far, the best and no destination shall ever compare.
He would leave the heat, the soot, the tea, the café, the magical guesthouse with no toilet seat, and Colombo’s crowds; replacing that appeal for the hordes of people on the train. He would climb to a cooler elevation, but really it was to have an experience on the Express Train.
Is anything in Sri Lanka express, and why would he need to arrive earlier? He is traveling, and nothing needs to be accomplished when exploring, except enjoying a journey becoming the destination.
“Enjoy the time in Kandy,” the man said.
They leaned, to the right, and gave an openly honest hug. They could feel their hearts beat. They became friends in a remote part of the world.
A hug is a complete enlightening conversation without saying a word, as a warm look is a hug without physical contact. As they held each other their hearts hit through their chest and beat together. No More Heroes, Chapter X
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