An Untold Story of Sri Lanka
It was after midnight in Sri Lanka airport. I was about to attend the 3-day conference of South Asian International Education Summit 2022, where I would be representing my country, Bangladesh. Along with my three team mates, I was waiting at the airport for Mr. Ranjan K from the host country to receive us. At that late night hour, Sri Lanka was half sleeping, but the atmosphere at the airport was engaging and soothing at the same time. In spite of all the recent happenings, we were looking forward to the next few days.
Like everybody else, I too, had heard about the crisis that was on the news for the previous months. The Lankans were running out of fuel, out of gas, out of paper, out of electricity supply and what not! The people went crazy because of the economic crisis, but they protested and strove to survive.
We still decided to attend the final summit believing in the kind president of the association, Mr Janaka K. He and his team were very supportive as advisors in every session that we conducted together online. At the airport, however, we were a bit apprehensive in thinking if they would be really as communicative as they seemed on WhatsApp. Then like an angel, Mr. Ranjan came to pick us up and dropped at the hotel.
On the first day of the conference, our guide took us to the auditorium where a group of gracious Sri Lankan ladies greeted us in their traditional way. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served throughout the conference days in the best possible manner. We were having problems with buying a sim card which the local teachers solved in no time. We had enough dollars but not a single Lankan Rupee to spend! Neither could we locate any money exchange services. The ladies, without a second thought, gave us 1k rupees for emergency use and took us to buy the sim card. In an unknown country, this act seemed angelic to us. You have to remember that we were in a country going through an emergency situation.
Even though schools and government workplaces were shut off for two months, local buses, auto-rickshaws (locally called Tuk Tuk) and private cars were running on the roads as if nothing was amiss. Everybody around us seemed concerned about the crisis, but they handled it calmly and sincerely. The whole country was following the rule of 2 hours of power cut, 2 hours of restricted gas supply and closed markets by 8 p.m. We experienced 2-3 protesting rallies each day, but they did not cause trouble for the ongoing traffic. However, the fuel crisis was extreme and the transports waited in really long lines for days. Wi-Fi access was scarce to save the power. And yet, what surprised me were the super clean public toilets with enough supply of toilet papers. I felt, even in the most chaotic situation as projected in the media, Sri Lankans were managing better than many countries during normal times.
Unfortunately, their positive efforts have not been widely projected in the news. In Bangladesh, the news of the Lankans storming the President's Official Residence became news item perhaps because it seemed sensational, but the sincere efforts of the Lankans to maintain law and order has not been looked into. That made me think that maybe that is why Bangladesh is also represented similarly to the world—a country of poverty, suffering and crime even when a lot of good things are happening too.
The beauty of Sri Lanka and its people really moved us. If I were a poet like Wordsworth, I could compose beautiful verses on the Colombo beach where the distance between the last waves of the ocean and the railway track was just some boulders and me. My 4-day of visit to Sri Lanka made me so attached to the land and its people that I was on the verge of tears when I boarded the plane for home.
Sumaiya Samad Mehtaj, Assistant Teacher of EBAC Public School (EPS), recently visited Sri Lanka as part of a conference team and a coordinator to represent Bangladesh.