The last few days have been mostly spent playing the part of tourists – as you can see from the photos this has involved doing some of the things that Sri Lanka is most famous for: riding elephants and climbing Sigiriya (Lion Rock). These things are emblematic for the country – most t-shirts have a picture of an elephant on them and the lion is proudy displayed on the national flag.
A lot of the history in the cultural triangle harks back to periods of great Sri Lankan dynasties – be it the 5th century AD when Kassapa created the sophisticated architectural marvel of Sigiriya or the kingdom that flourished at Polonnaruwa in the 11th-13th centuries.
It is great to see when people take pride in their past. It can create a distance between nations though. The first thing a foreign tourist notices is that they are, well, foreign. All tourism hotspots have prices (and usually separate entrances) for ‘foreigners only’ – the prices are usually 10 times more. That is not an exaggeration – in one car park in Nuwara Eliya we had to pay per head, Ramanan and Chamarra were charged 20 r each but we were charged 250 r each! South Asian countries also get a bit of a discount but only about half. It is a potent reminder that being called a foreigner everywhere you go does not exactly make you feel very welcome. Which is a shame because Sri Lankans are extremely friendly people – most strangers will try to greet you, even in English.
As we travel around, this dynamic often makes things awkward. People simply assume that Ramanan is a guide and not our friend. He has even been offered ‘kick backs’ for taking us to places! It is a great reminder, though, that Christians are no longer foreigners – from themselves or from God. According to Paul in Ephesians 2, all barriers are removed in Christ.
I suppose that most nations like to look back to the times when they were really great… I wonder if Sri Lanka would leave the EU given the chance?