For those of you who have followed along, you know that my visit to Sri Lanka has not been the greatest. It has been unsafe to travel here as a single woman, and many unfortunate things have happened to me along the way. This is a sad country with an even sadder government, and the people who I have met have talked about their feelings of repression, and how they envy my freedom as an American. The person with the most moving story was my driver, Michael.
Michael told me the story of how when he was 28 years old, he traveled to the Philippines. He happened to fall in love with a woman there, and came back and told his family. However, they wouldn’t allow him to marry her because he came from a high caste family and she wouldn’t have any money to bring into the family. This was a heartbreaking time in his life, and he had to respect their wishes, and felt like he had lost the great love of his life. Later, when he found another woman to marry, his family still didn’t feel like she had enough money, so he gave his family every bit of his life savings so that they would approve of the marriage. His heart yearned for freedom, and he told me never to take for granted the freedom that I have.
I had hired Michael to show me around Sri Lanka because I didn’t feel safe as a solo female traveler to walk on the streets and explore Sri Lanka on my own. I had met another solo female traveler, Wei, and we had decided to let Michael be our guide for the day. He first took us to a botanical garden which cost almost $10 to enter. Quite expensive, and there was still graffiti on the plants. There were some lovely bats, but I was lamenting the fact that we had hired a driver for a tour when I’m not usually apt to do the “touristy” activities.
Michael wanted to take us to see temples next, but Wai and I both objected. “Take us to something that’s not touristy.”, we begged. “Take us somewhere that you would take your friends.” Michael started telling us about his volunteer work with the orphanage. He told us they needed pampers, and asked if we would like to go buy some and take them to the orphanage. We gladly said yes.
Michael took us to the orphanage, and my heart kind of broke a little. There were too many children and not enough workers and volunteers. I think I may have saved a life, as one child was even running around with a plastic bag on her head which I quickly took away.
Within seconds, I found myself surrounded by babies in such need of attention and love, that I found myself so grateful that I had grown up in a home where there were constant hugs, loving arms around me anytime I wanted, laughter, songs sung to me every morning and night, and parents that I knew would always be there. I just came from Bali, and the way they treat their children, not letting their feet even touch the ground for the first few months, the babies always in someone’s arms, was such a sharp contrast to these little ones who seemed to have to fend for themselves. Other volunteers were there rocking and holding the babies, and I wondered what the babies lives would be like without these lovely women to help them.
I’ve had some traumatic experiences here in Sri Lanka, but being with these children at the orphanage in Sri Lanka made me realize how they paled in comparison to what these children were going through at such a young age. I thought I felt helpless here, but these babies were truly helpless. I realized that the true way to be healed is to help others yourself. When we help others, our problems fade. When we show love and compassion for one another, I truly feel we can help extinguish the darkness that is so present in this world. If moment by moment we can share our light, the world can be healed. I ended the day, grateful for this day. Grateful that I got to share love, grateful for the freedom that I have in my own life, and grateful for the loving home that I was fortunate to come from. Yes, we all have problems in our lives, but I think if instead of obsessing about them, we use the compassion we have gained from these problems to help others, we will find we have helped others and, at the same time, brought healing to ourselves. I hope that my travels in the future will lead me to more people who I can help along the way.