A Sri Lankan Wedding, a Bomb-Sniffing Dog, and Shadows that Hint at Storms to Come

I sit in a very white bed in a high-ceilinged room and peek through the narrow gap in the gold-colored curtains to the courtyard outside my door. A group of Sri Lankan people are having wedding pictures taken. Their voices fall silent during each picture, then rise muffled and loud, speaking a beautiful language I do not know.

A man in a black suit leans in towards a woman in a striking red outfit, her face made up in purples and blues and the whitest of smiles. His skin is the almost-gray of a weathered palm tree. They must think my room is vacant because they laugh and look nervous and linger on my small, covered porch. Are they the parents of the bride? Are these other people their friends, smoothing their clothes, moving a stray hair, watching with quiet smiles?

Then, when I’m no longer paying attention, they vanish. My ceiling fan spins, a propeller. The courtyard is wide, the sky a golden haze. The slanted shadows of short palm trees linger where moments before the wedding party posed.

* * * * *

Forty or so hours ago I sat in a barely vacant spot along the wall in the international terminal at JFK Airport. It was loud and bustling and very much New York. Two large police officers inspected an unattended camera bag left on a counter, berated the janitor for originally sending them to the wrong aisle, then stared suspiciously at the small bag while asking people to step back. The janitor chattered on in a foreign language while sneaking peeks at the package, clearly interested in collecting its contents if it showed an unwillingness to blow up.

It was with typical New York cynicism that even the people in the next line over refused to move – they didn’t want to lose their space in line over what was obviously just a stray camera bag. Eventually a third officer arrived with a dog that stood on its hind legs and sniffed the package. Nothing to see here. The police men gently picked up the bag and left, the janitor trailing behind.

* * * * *

Fifteen hours ago? Twenty hours ago? (I’m not sure about time anymore – it seems unreliable at best, deliberately deceptive at worst.) The ten of us roamed downtown Dubai, then ate pizza outdoors. The heavy heat was like a crying child on a middle-of-the-night flight: completely unignorable.

We caught our third airplane of the trip at around 2:30am Dubai time and landed in Colombo, Sri Lanka in the morning, a good thirty hours after I had left Philadelphia. Men stood at attention throughout the airport, armed with small sub-machine guns. We navigated through a gauntlet of taxi drivers to where two World Vision buses waited.

The drivers loaded our luggage then weaved along the paved road. Everyone seemed quite happy to pass even with oncoming traffic, beeping their horns persistently. Bikes and mopeds mixed with motorcycles and three-wheeled taxicabs. Cows loitered in the dirt alleyways. Dogs jogged lightly along the road and under the eaves of colorful houses, stopping in the shadows of corrugated steel buildings.

90 minutes later we turned left on to a small, bumpy side street. Soon the Indian Ocean rolled to our left while small houses lay scattered through the trees to our right, their cement block walls covered with roofs made of tightly woven palm fronds. We passed a spot by the sea where fifty small rowboats gathered in a large group on the sand, some with outboard motors, others with oars that had their own stories.

Then we arrived, and we were here. We fought off sleep with showers and lunch.

The ceiling fan hums overhead. Outside, another girl in a red dress with golden accessories smiles in the gathering shadows of what is either an early sunset or the hint of an afternoon thunderstorm on the way.

I can’t believe I am here.

For the next week I have the privilege of blogging in Sri Lanka for World Vision. Would you consider sponsoring a child? Find out more about the awesome things that child sponsorship can accomplish HERE, and help me spread the word this week by sharing my posts (as well as those written by my fellow Sri Lanka bloggers).

8 Replies to “A Sri Lankan Wedding, a Bomb-Sniffing Dog, and Shadows that Hint at Storms to Come”

  1. So glad you had an interesting trip there, mostly that it was a safe one. If I am correct, I think Jimmy Smitt is from Sir Lanka. I do so enjoy your emails/blogs? whatever. You make everything so unteresting, and you are great with detail. Were it up to me, you would be on the New York Times ‘Best Seller Lisr” What keeps going through my mind is your airport experiences, especially where there were men with sub-machine guns. My imagination would run wild, and I most certainly would have dreams that night. What an adventure your life is. I can’t wait for your book about your family vs Willie. Don’t Let this be just a work experience, have fun too

  2. Glad all of you arrived safely. I love your descriptions capturing the sense of being in Sri Lanka, and the bleery-eyed feeling that only cross-continent travel can create. Praying for all of you during this trip and looking forward to hearing more from you. Blessings and peace.

  3. I love your descriptions, Shawn. I almost feel like I’m right there with you. And in some ways, you do have us with you on this trip. Glad you arrived safe and sound. I look forward to hearing more as your time there progresses!

  4. Shawn – this is just gorgeous. So evocative and so true to the experience of long, difficult travel. Many blessings as you unpack each day at your keyboard, sharing your insights and glorious words with all of us. I so look forward to this!

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