Monday, November 23, 2015

Sri Lankan journey: some Colombo sketches

Janet asked me if I dream here in a Sri Lankan context and my quick answer was that this place is like a dreamscape while I'm awake. Can't tell if I'm dreaming about it because just our walks and bus rides have felt like a dream. 

Then I realized. Just last night I had a dream about Galle Road. I was going slower and slower in front of each building. And each building became more well proportioned, more softly featured, and more beautiful as I passed it. It was exactly as Janet asked. I was here in the dream. 

But the dream had a connection to my waking time here too. A few days ago in my search for "composure" I started to see Colombo in a new light. Streetscapes that had looked chaotic, dirty, and ugly began to soften and become orderly as I looked at the shop fronts one by one. And last night's bus ride home in the dark rain provided an even nicer perception. Beside being more orderly I started seeing the buildings in a stronger relief. One that reflected their history, construction methods, and materials. 

So if we look past the oversized signage, if we look away from the grime, if we challenge our perceptions, which tend to harden as we look once, twice, ten times, and then stop looking, we can start to see things in a new dimension. I think that is seeing things through the eyes of Sri Lankans. Seeing past the ugly to groove into the lovely. 

That was my bus ride. But then I got off in the rain. The streets were pretty well flooded and I was dressed for a summer afternoon. Shorts and sandals. People here dress much more sturdily for the work day, for sun and for rain, I guess pretty much the way we do at home. I'm definitely not dressing like a Sri Lankan. 

I stood under an awning for a few minutes waiting for the rain to lighten up. It did. A bit. So I decided to walk. It was dark and I was in no hurry. I walked behind a slow procession of two or three umbrellas. As we snaked our way past puddles and potholes the gent in front of me, someone I suppose was in his early 50s, kept slowing down. I could tell he was looking at me out of the corner of his eye. It kept raining. We kept walking. He'd slow down. I'd slow down. Finally he turned around. "Come along with me," he said, as he made room under his umbrella. Characteristic behavior on a rainy Colombo night. A city with hidden beauty in the built environment and the social environment. 

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