This article was published on the ZEIT-ONLINE writer platform "Freetext", here you will find all articles. He was born in early 2019 in Sri Lanka. Previously, the "Lonely Planet" had declared the country the destination of the year. However, the attacks on Easter Sunday were followed by a long-lasting state of emergency and travel warnings. Tourism collapsed, fears of the future grew. In the meantime, the now empty hotels fill up again. Workers, it is rumored, are still worried about their jobs, but they are optimistic. The beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people have not changed anyway.
Tuning in. A shake. We start moving. I'm standing in the door. I hold on tight. The loud rattle below me. The trees are passing by, getting faster and faster. Everything dissolves. Only the green remains, this surreal green of leaves and rice fields. In between, the small houses light up. Orange. Turquoise. Violet. The wind hits me in the face. The smell of the island flows into the car. Burnt palm leaves.The salt of the sea. The sweet scent of frangipani and cinnamon. Evaporated rain. Dust and earth. Curry and Vadai. A man with a basket of fried lightballs comes over. He stops short, rested next to me, gave me a vadai and smiled at me. Then he begins again with his melodious cries, pushing himself through the crowd with the huge basket. Vadai, Vadai, Vadai.
Far away, the waves whip up, foaming the spray on the surface. The water shines in all shades of blue, sometimes deep blue, sometimes turquoise, sometimes it is so bright that it fades in the eyes. Then again the palm trees crowd in front of it. The banana trees. Then the streets come to it. The drift of everyday life. The honking of the tuk-tuks. Bridges pass by, lakes and rivers, barracks, villas, hotels. The laundry of the monks in the garden, she swings in the wind. If you cling to the door handles, if you take a step forward, the train disappears, the people disappear into the background, then it's like flying over the landscape. Along the coast and into the interior. The black smoke lays over the landscape.
I have to memorize this picture, I think, but already so many snapshots are made that the first picture is forgotten again. You drive past the backyards, on the backs of the houses and stalls, dives into the scenes of everyday life. People stop, interrupting their conversation. They stop their work: washing leaves in the garden, washing clothes in the river, repairing machines or brushing their teeth. The pictures freeze. A woman with a broom in her hand. A man takes a break while hanging laundry. The sellers look up from their lunch. At the barriers are the tuk-tuk drivers. Everyone is waiting for the train. Some wave from the tuk-tuks. Others are standing in front of the houses or sitting next to the tracks. A little girl who is studying his mother. An old man weighing his grandson in his arms. Children in school uniforms.Women with shopping bags, men digging up the ground. At the track sleep the cows. They seem to be the only ones for whom the train is nothing special. Sometimes herons overtake us. There are stretches where the train has to throttle its speed to eight kilometers per hour.
In the curves, I see the wagons in front of me. A head sticks out from every window, someone stands or sits at each door, someone lets their feet dangle over the tracks. Whenever we drive through a tunnel, everyone is shouting and whistling wildly, almost as if to overcome the fear of darkness.
Do you like Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka means tear of India. Sri Lanka is water, is pain and joy. The sound of the sea is always there, sometimes it bubbles gently, sometimes it crashes and it growls. At night, when everything is quiet, the noise settles over the island. It is calm and threat at the same time. The laughter of the people is honest, the looks interested, the question of where one comes from, repeats itself and is detached from the question of whether one likes Sri Lanka. Do you like Sri Lanka? A ray of light falls over their faces. Italy, what a beautiful country. Many dream of going somewhere, to Rome, to Venice, to Dubai or Australia, only a few will be able to afford a flight at some point. Most of the people you meet on the coast have lost everything. The house where they grew up was destroyed by the power of the sea. The parents, siblings, relatives or friends of the water swallowed. More than 30,000 people died in the 2004 tsunami.
In each of the open train windows one head - and sometimes two. © private
The ruins rise darkly between the brilliant green. Sometimes a house without a roof, without windows, weathered, neglected. Sometimes only a piece of wall rises or a door without a house. In between are the graves. Tsunami, says Sanju. He points outside, tsunami destroyedeverything . I look at the sea, it reappears, it flashes between the palm trees. The waves are rising. The noise can hardly be heard in the train. One day the sea had receded, nine or ten kilometers. The pull was so strong that even the fish were surprised. Sielagen in the sand, barracudas, crabs, lobsters and sandbars. They lay there on the silver platter. The fishermen ran out, collecting everything, setting landmarks to mark their area. What a wonder, what an easy game to get money. Sanju stood there with his father. They looked out at the sea. That's not a good sign, said his father, and they went inland, on and on. Only eight minutes later, the sea came back and took everything that stood in his way. The fisherman did it first.