I met a man the other day named Chandra. He lost nearly everything, except his family, to the tsunami. I can’t imagine starting over at age 75.
I saw Chandra while I was walking through Unawatuna sitting under his storefront overhang, smoking his tobacco pipe. I walked by and told him, “I like the smell of you pipe.” He chuckled and asked me where I was from. Well he actually said, “what country,” as most Sri Lankans do when asking where you are from. I told him, “America.” He smiled with a surprised look. “Washington DC,” I said questionably wondering if he knew of the place. He smiled and said, “Obama.” I smiled and laugh, “yes, Obama.” It’s interesting, how many people here know of Obama, even though they very rarely ever see any Americans.
I browsed a bit through his shop, which was filled of mostly women’s brightly colored cloths and scarves. They were made with beautiful colored fabrics. Many were silk and very intricate.
Chandra asked me, “wife?” I said, “no,“ and he gave me this look, as most do, like I was crazy. “Girlfriend?” I said, “no,” an again he sends me another look.
I told him he had great face and would he mind if I took his photo. He agreed and I took a few shots. He asked, “Why do I have a great face.” In my mind I answered because your face told a story of a gentle wise man who has lived through his countries hard times. However, I just told him it was because of his nice bone structure. He looked at me like he wasn’t buying my answer.
I took a few more shots and then he motioned and asked me to come back with him. Most storefronts are connected to the owner’s narrow house in the back of store. Most live and work at the same time, cooking and caring for their children in-between peddling their goods a few feet away.
I walked through the store and he took me into his living room area, which resembles a cover porch in the states. I sit down and comment on a large photo of a toddler about 1 years old hanging proudly on the wall.
Computers pretty much don’t exist here. There are very few cash registers, debit-card machines, computers, or laptops and very few people have computers at home. I remember walking by many businesses in Gaul seeing men and women banging away on typewriters. Only the wealthy have computers. Most have no need for one and the expense is too great to buy and maintain one. They also try to conservative on power, since electricity is one of the most expensive things here on the island.
So with no computers, means no digital cameras. Film cameras, film, processing, and printing is too expensive for Sri Lankans so very few people have pictures in their possession.
He pointed inside the house where I could see a women sewing away on a machine and told me it was his daughters son. Someone took a photo and sent Chandra a print. He then told me that the boy was sleeping inside. His wife came out from behind their curtain door and said hello and offered me some tea. I said, “Yes, please,” and thanked her.
Chandra then went on and told me that he use to work in a law office and lived in another home. That all changed when the tsunami came and destroyed the law office and his home. Within a few moments he lost his job and his home in just a blink of an eye.
He took the very little savings they had and built a very tiny house and storefront where his family lived and worked. His daughter made all the cloths for their store in-between caring for her son with help from her mother. Chandra watched over the store.
We sat and drank tea and discussed the books that sat next to him on the low wall separating the store and house. We talked more about my job in the states, and how war, floods, and tsunami has hurt his country. He also spoke positively of his country and it’s future. As he spoke of great things to come, I kept thinking of the story of the “Phoenix rising.” I almost referenced it to him, but though it would get lost in translation.
We sat and talked for a little bit more while we finished our tea, and then I respectfully left. As I walked through the main street of Unawatuna towards my guesthouse, I thought about how amazing the people were, where they have been, and the positive attitude about where they are going.
Sri Lanka is truly rising….