by: mathurah

am I going back in time?

A reflection on heading back to Sri Lanka for the first time since I was 3 years old.

I don't remember much of Sri Lanka from the first time I went, except for faded memories of holding a goat at my Sithi's (aunt) house and riding in an auto for the first time.

Going this time, was different. I'm much older and can vividly feel the dichotomy between my life and what's here. This time, it's only my grandma that's here, with my grandpa's memories fleeting through the singing of the crows in our backyard.

the journey there

We set out the trek from Bowmanville to the Toronto airport. I said goodbye to my beloved doggo Kobe, packed my life into two suitcases.

Pit stop in Frankfurt airport, where our layover was. This white bear I have with me is my companion I have throughout the entire trip.

The food from Sri Lankan airlines was probably one of the best airplane food I've had. They had a chocolate fudge cake as a sweet, rice and chicken curry, and heated metal spoons. The flight attendants were even wearing sarees!

Our aunt and uncle picked us up from the Colombo airport. We then started the 7-hour drive from Colombo to a small village in Jaffna, where my mom's family grew up.

On the way there, we stopped for some Idhayappam (string hoppers).

A few more scenic shots from the drive:

The days here start early. I don't think there's ever been a day I've been up later than 6 am. They also end early too. I don't think there's ever been a day I've been up past 10 pm. I'm usually asleep by 8 or 9, following the timely power cut at 7:20pm.

Here, we traded Toyotas for Motorbikes. The steering wheel is on the right instead of the left. There are barely any sidewalks (at least where I was staying) - you walk on the side of the road and leave a way for motorbikes and cycles.

Instead of uber, there are autos.

Eggs are fresh and don't need to go in the fridge.

You can get vegetables right from the market, a few minutes walk from home.

Here, cows and goats get the right of way. They control the roads.

The tiniest chipmunks stick around for offerings of mixed grains and nuts.

There is at least one temple within 20km of each other. The temple bell rings at 5am, almost like an alarm clock for the town.

Skirts are long, and never show knees. Modesty is more beautiful here. Hair is most pretty in plaits and tucked in. My grandmother was one of the earlier adopters of the clean girl look: she can wrap her hair up in a bun just by using her own hair.

Kids bring their kites to the beach

One of the craziest things is that everyone knows everyone here, and it's such a strong community. The neighbours across the street make you string hoppers every morning. The supermarket workers remember that your grandma comes here at the same time every morning. Everyone is addressed as family - you address people in the stores as akka/thambi (older/younger sister or brother) depending on their age.

the immigrant ✨aesthetic✨

My mom didn't pack many things with her when she immigrated from Sri Lanka to Canada, yet she still transported small remnants of the culture she grew up with here.

Being back here reminds me why things are the way they are. Why we never used our cupboards without laying some newspaper down first. Why our living room couches were covered in plastic, only removed when guests came over. Why my mom never stored money at home in a purse - instead storing in random cupboards and plastic bags hidden all over the house.

A few more musings of the Tamil immigrant aesthetic:

  • Wearing gold earrings and bangles for good health (I, unfortunately, lost pairs of earrings far too many times)
  • Metal cups and plates
  • Cutouts of newspaper bits used as the backings of cupboards and tables to protect the wood

  • Nighties (long dresses) she wore to sleep
  • Hanging up all our clothes on the clothesline and washing them by hand
  • The hoarding of plastic bags and boxes, in case they become useful
  • Providing guests with mixture, tea, and if they don't drink tea, then lime juice
  • The little "sand balls" my mom would make me (some sort of chickpea sweet - if you know what I'm talking about you're a homie)

It's a special feeling, being in the home where my mother grew up, and seeing all the small habits and superstituions she picked up from my grandmother. I think I've only inherited maybe 10% of those, but I want to hold those 10% close to me.

So I traded a few of my roots sweatpants pajamas for nighties I got here and try to reach for the metal plates whenever I eat traditional food - it just hits different. I'll make sure my daughter gets her ears pierced right as a baby and give her set of gold earrings -and hope she won't lose them like I did.

Lastly, a few more of my favourite photos from the trip:

I'm not really sure how to end this, but I'll just leave it at this here :)

With love,

Mathurah ❤️

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