What happens when you shift from foreigner to friend without actually moving to a place? Such has become my reality in Sri Lanka, my husband’s homeland, as we have travelled there repeatedly over the past 15 years. I wrote this reflection for She Loves Magazine on my experience of returning year after year to the complex and beautiful country where my family and I love and are loved deeply. While it is not our home, it remains a precious piece of our life together.
I enter the train station trepidatiously. A foreigner-with-fancy-suitcases-and-tennis-shoes, I stand out against the locals in a sea of sandals, sarongs and saris. We board the train without incident and peer out the windows, eager to begin our journey. The train jolts and lurches forward; we travelers settle in.
We peer our heads out of the windows, breathing in a combination of warm-wind and train-smoke. The train clacks and bounces, while the intensity of both the beauty and the poverty rolling past our windows leaves me silently choked up.
How do people manage to live like this? I wonder. But they don’t appear to be asking themselves any such questions.
“The people seem happier here,” my ten-year-old daughter observed. I have not spoken with them – I don’t know if this is really true or not – but from my train window, I notice the same thing: there is a contentedness to simply be that I do not often see in my wealthy-and-developed-world.
Shop owners chat. Children walk alongside mothers. Three-wheeler drivers await customers. There is no urgency to hurry or consume or buy.
Who am I amidst this place? I wonder. My external trappings carry no label except white-and-wealthy-foreigner. There can be no other put-on identity – funky, classy, intellectual, hip – except for this very obvious one.
It is undeniable that I do not belong here; but in spite of this, I cannot shrug the sense of strange belonging that comes with being a foreigner-wife. I am not merely a tourist in short-shorts trekking the ancient ruins and soaking in the breathtaking shores, but a family member, returning to the same people journey after journey, eager to see the small changes, check out the new developments and embrace the arms that have held my babies. We may not share language or culture or skin or fashion, but we share the same love for the same hearts. This bond holds us steady.