Waves of Memories


Somewhere around Bentota, you start to notice the graveyards. Small clusters of tombstones emerge here and there along the coastal road, grown over with tropical shrubbery and mold. Some of the graves fall back into the hills, where fishermen’s wives hang laundry, and some are right along the beach, not far from the little wooden shacks where locals mingle around tables of freshly caught fish. The graves look old. But they aren’t old — it just doesn’t take long for anything left alone in Sri Lanka to be invaded by the erosion of damp clingy natural stuff. When the bus slows down to avoid a stray dog or road bump, you see the date repeated: 26-12-2004, 26-12-2004. Everything here is so close to the shoreline: the road, the graves, the people, the small abandoned houses that are also covered with mold, plus shrubs and laundry and the morning’s fish haul. On one hand, the scene from the bus window is just daily life. Conversation, homemaking, the marketplace. The activities are innocuous. At the same time, civilization here is at its most vulnerable, because behind the road is the pounding, pulsing, thirsty Indian Ocean. You can imagine how, with one good push of the sea, life could easily come tumbling apart. Being an island, Sri Lanka is never far from the ocean in any direction. The water is always there and everybody knows it.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.