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.