Sat. Nov 26th, 2022

I have whale-watched in the rain, or whale-sought in the rain, while our boat hit waves as tall as houses, and their spray left me storm-drenched and salt-soaked and blinking against the sting. I’ve watched a Chinese woman sitting beside me at the prow, clenching the railing with one hand and a plastic baggie of her own vomit with the other, undeterred, scanning the horizon for unseen blowholes. I’ve traveled to the southern Sri Lankan coast, beyond the Galle Fort, where the hills pulse green—not just green but greens, lime, and mint and deep sage darkening into burnt brown. I’ve gone swimming in a teal pool on a stone terrace, smelled roti sizzling on a griddle in the shadow of an old Dutch fort, watched monkeys chase each other across balconies, woken up in a canopy bed to glimpse a pond full of floating lotus blossoms. I’ve eaten mangoes sweet as candy, licked the orange stain around my mouth after sucking their pits for the last flesh.

I could tell you about all these things, these pieces of the Sri Lankan south—palms swaying in the rain, prawn curry and sweet lime water by candlelight, vanilla ice cream drizzled with treacle from the trees—but instead I want to tell you about visiting the north, a different kind of country, five years after the end of a civil war.

It was early evening when I arrived in Colombo, on the island’s southwest coast. I’d leapfrogged a day, and everything felt half dreamed. On the flight to Dubai, old men had peered out the bulkhead windows to check for the first lines of dawn, then dropped to the cabin floor in prayer. The dessert was apricot cake draped in cream. A teenage girl wore a bright pink T-shirt that read: never look back. The Gulf Times was full of Middle Eastern justice—“Woman to be lashed for insulting morality police,” “Arrest of atheist bloggers urged,” and dispatches from my own country: “Tear gas and baton rounds can’t keep the peace in Missouri.”

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