The People of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's not a country you want to spend a whole lot of time thinking about while you're there.  Better to bounce from beach to restaurant to five star hotel.  Thinking about Sri Lanka is a quick ticket to a spiral down into everything that's wrong with the modern world.  It's a country troubled by a recent civil war and a tsunami that killed 30,000 people while displacing over a million.  Sri Lanka's also the place where things are made because the cost of a human beings is so incredibly low.  That's really the only way to put it.  20th century industrialization and capitalization, the hunt for cheaper and cheaper human labor, has led to the completely unfair truth that most Sri Lankan people's time is worth almost nothing.   A woman picking tea for twelve hours might make six dollars a day.  Spend a few minutes tossing that fact around and you quickly realize that while on vacation you'll spend two years of her salary in two weeks.  

But it's not all bad.  While the 20th century was the time of America and Europe and the rest of the western world, the 21st century will belong to the third-world (sort of).  While wages stagnate and America's middle class slowly dries up, countries like Sri Lanka are witnessing incredible growth, unprecedented access to health care, the internet, and education, with infant mortality rates and life expectancies that rival the most developed nations.  Sri Lanka's not a country anybody's going to mistake for a superpower anytime soon, but generation to generation growth and prosperity should be relatively exciting.   

Sri Lanka's a beautiful country with what I hope is an exciting future.  There's just a lot of heartbreak and what looks to me like hopelessness.  It's hard to remember that there are people on the other end of those t-shirts and jeans, people who get up and go to work and come home with very little to show for it.  This is a depressing post, and not one I meant to be depressing.  The country was absolutely beautiful and the people were great.  But I'm looking at these pictures thinking about how much money the people in these photos make so that I can have cheap shit, and I can't help but be a little bummed out.  As always, here's 10 pictures and some foolish comments.
Sri Lanka snake charmer
I did not know snake charmers were a real, 21st century, thing.  I turned around and this guy was sitting on the wall.  "Picture, picture," he said pointing to my camera before taking the lid off his basket.  I thought he wanted me to take a picture of him or maybe not take pictures of him.  Then this cobra started curling out of the basket and this guy nonchalantly squatted next to this snake while it danced and ducked.  He blew an ocarina, but mostly he looked bored.  He had no problem taking his eyes off the snake while I freaked out and took as many pictures as I could.  After a minute he asked for money, nearly 10 dollars, which I thought was ridiculous.  I gave him 5, walked away, and then immediately felt bad, both for contributing to the exploitation of the snake and for not giving him enough money.  The guy was clearly keeping a cobra as a pet just so people like me could take pictures like this.  

Sri Lanka mahout
Going to a country where mahout is a real profession is a trip.  We were walking around a temple and a guy was there with an elephant offering people rides and letting people take photo's with it.  Maybe he had a license or something, but it looked like he was just a guy with an elephant.  This picture was taken at an elephant orphanage where seventy or eighty elephants now live under the care of these mahouts.  
Sri Lanka
Tuk-tuks, the little engined hornets that swarm towns and cities around the third-world.  In Sri Lanka, Tuk-tuks are everywhere.  There really aren't highways between towns, so the tuk-tuks go everywhere.  The island is small, but takes forever to get around, lots of times because the road is full of these guys and motorcycles, tractors, people, animals, cars, buses, anything with two or four wheels or legs. 50km's took three hours!  Still, if you're in a town and want to go a short distance, tuk-tuks are great, as long as you bargain.  Always agree on a price before you get into the tuk-tuk, and you should almost always bargain a lower price.  Cut their offer in half and start from there.  Five bucks to take you 2km's is not a good deal, though I am generally a terrible bargainer.

Stilt Fisherman
The famous stilt fisherman.  It turns out these guys make so little money from the fish they catch, that they sit out on these stilts hoping tourists come by to pay to take pictures.  

Sri Lanka
This guy was collecting money on the beach for the stilt fisherman.  He claimed his wife and children were killed in the tsunami.  An incredibly sad reminder of the devastation this beautiful country experienced not that long ago.

Sri Lanka
Many people in the tea country live in what I would call shanty farms.  Tiny, aluminum roofed houses sitting on big swaths of land.  Hustling around the countryside and the city alike are women with firewood piled on their heads.

Sri Lanka Tea Country
Six bucks for a day in the sun picking tea leaves seems... not so great.  
Sri Lanka
This kid chased us down a mountain, on foot, while we slowly made our way down the switchbacks in a van.  A 10 km drive was probably a 2km run for him as he cut through farms and houses going straight down the mountain while we curved around it in our much slower van.  We'd see him every time we came around a corner and he ended up waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain, hoping we'd buy his flowers.  We stopped and gave him a round of applause and a couple of bucks for his truly impressive effort.  

Sri Lanka
The cultural dance we attended was interesting.  The costumes were really cool to see, but the performers looked bored out of their minds.  They were in full on robot-zombie mode, until the fire came out and they started doing tricks like this.

Sri Lanka
Here's most of the dance troupe taking turns running through fire.  Sara says it's a trick, but I think they just ran through the fire.  Check out that awesome giant Buddha in the background.
Sri Lanka was truly a blast.  A beautiful country that delivered an unforgettable Christmas trip for our family.  It's hard to believe ten years ago I didn't have a valid passport and now I've spent three of the last four Christmas's abroad.  Next year.... Spain?   


  1. Love your pictures and your heart for the people. Sara should look up the Mythbusters episode on firewalking - they really are walking on burning hot coals. :)

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