Dubai Kids discovering Sri Lanka

My son was six, and my daughter was three – too small to remember her previous visits – when we left Dubai for good. We arrived at the airport early in the morning and drove to my sister’s place in Colombo suburbs. It was a pleasant morning – the sun shining and the birds chirping... as usual.

The car enters the house, the doors open, and kids jump out. Elisha starts running around the garden screaming in sheer delight: “jungle... jungle... we are in a jungle...!”

She was shocked and pleasantly surprised by the lush green, and the beauty that is Sri Lanka.

As time went by, they began to see the ‘real’ world. Discovering, exploring, au naturalé.

And they gradually realised that:

  • mangoes didn’t actually grow in supermarkets in boxes. They grew in trees – throwing a stick or a stone to pluck some is a whole lot of fun.

  • however colourful they may be, plasticine or modelling clay is not fun. The mud patch by the paddy-field is the real deal.

  • even though they are big, one can actually feed a cow, they don’t bite or chase kids.

  • the wrinkled, toothless and fragile creatures are not monsters from cartoons, they are actually sweet old people – just like their grand parents.

  • the big-grey animals browsing the paddy fields are buffaloes, not elephants.

  • baby elephants at Pinnawela would not fit in to a shopping bag they took from home.

  • the dirty and exhausted-looking kids on the street are not retuning from a game of football. That IS the natural look of a homeless child.

  • being a poor kid living on the street is sad. Not getting a new toy every month, isn’t.

  • not every stone that shines is a gem and exchanging their toys for these “gems” is not a very good idea.

  • the “river of gems” (menik ganga) is flowing with water, not gems.

  • its fun to eat with fingers.

  • you can build a “spider hotel” with some strings in the bush, but spiders still prefer their natural habitats.

  • the rain is not a once-a-year affair.

  • lizards cannot survive for long in a plastic bucket under the bed.

  • geckos climb walls, but crocodiles don’t climb trees.

  • mice are like people, they follow their footpath. Just like Ratatouille.

  • language is no barrier when it comes to having a good time with other kids – it doesn’t really matter if you are Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or multi-racial.

  • Pokemon cards have no value for kids in Bandarawela.

  • one could feed the monkeys without actually putting them in a cage.

  • Sinhala-Hindu new year traditions are so much fun, especially if the money is good.

  • it’s good to have a large family, specially if there are many cousins to play with.

  • Thomas the Tank Engine is not a fairy-tale, trains do exist and not everyone travels in a car.

There’s an aura of surrealism that surrounds Dubai; making it a materialistic-heaven for those who are driven by their dreams. Dubai is attractive; but it’s a bubble that warps one’s perception of the real world. No poor or the aged, no sick people in the vicinity – pretty much like Prince Siddhartha’s life before the Great Departure. Too clean, too organised, too good to be true. Compared to Dubai, our island paradise is more conducive to children and their upbringing, no amount of money could change that I suppose.


  1. Sad to hear about the homeless children. If there aren't any of those in Dubai, perhaps Dubai is not so bad.

  2. I TOTALLY get what you mean.
    And your kids are lucky to be there in SL after all, to grow up with the 'Sri Lankanism' I suppose, rather than being in Dubai.

    To this day, I can recall my childhood with glee, for I had a pretty fun time. We played in paddy fields, kite flying was a norm, river was an everyday business, no tuition classes...
    Those were the days...

    And being here, in Japan, you get everything - materialistically - but not the feeling...

    Nice post bro...

  3. Those are the very reasons we are hoping to go back to SL (even when we are PRs in singapore) so that our daughter can experience the richness of life..be proud of her heritage and culture and grow up with strong roots and be proud of being a Sri lankan.

    Your post just made my convictions stronger.

  4. I'm glad your kids are experiencing life in tabrobane before they grow up :) the rat race can wait!

  5. A city in the middle of a desert is something surreal I suppose.

  6. I was born in Abu Dhabi.. lived there for 15 yrs... every time we came to SL, I hated it.... and you've mentioned the reason in your last paragraph.. coz UAE was too good to be true.. all the luxuries and the good life...
    But, after I came here just in time for O/Ls, i had to join an international school as my sinhala isn't great.. but to be with my own kind.... and the experiences were remarkable! it sure did make me a better person... and it felt like I landed from one world to another....

    SL... is a different story... and a place where your true story can be made..:)

  7. :)
    Sach, DeeCee, Jack Point – Thanks. Makes me feel like it WAS the best thing I did.

    Anonymous, using the “homeless” children for begging on streets is a business in Colombo – no one has ever died of starvation in Sri Lanka. But, that’s a different topic altogether.

    Surani, Nethmi is adorable, I know she would love living in the Paradise; but don’t forget the big picture though... hope you’d find the right answer.

    Lady Divine, yes, SL is a whole lot of different story – like you rightfully said, one’s true story would be, and could be, made here.

  8. I love reading your posts, I guess 'cos I'm a dad too having a son-6yrs-and a daughter,3, and I totally understand what you're talking about.I'm also living in the middle east and planning to bring my family here shortly 'cos living so far away from each other is killing us.But, man, this post is giving me some serious thoughts, you know....Not that I have not contemplated it before, but,the're gonna miss a lot.....How did I get to this place of not having an option ha?

  9. Roshan, the best thing in the world is to live with the kids. Without thinking twice, I would say, bring them to you. Don’t miss the growing-up years.

    Having said that, I too know the flip side. The trick is to balance the two – make sure your kids don’t grow out of the ‘Sri Lankanism’ and don’t let them grow-up with a maid and become children of the Arab-league. Keep at least the weekends for the kids, spend enough quality time with your wife, one can easily find many ways to balance the demanding work-culture in the middle east and family life.

    There is always the summer vacation so kids could do a good two months in SL, every year, isn’t it?