COLUMN

LESSONS IN QUARANTINE FROM SRI LANKA

Summary

Just over a year ago, those of us in Sri Lanka were under curfew after the tragic Easter terrorist attacks on the paradise island we call home

  • Despite all the blows, nothing can seem to wipe away that world-renowned and well- loved “Sri Lankan smile
  • After yet another stark reminder of the fragility of life, it is up to each of us to decide which people,
  • habits and obligations we would like to invite back into our respective “new normals.”
  • We suddenly had the time to notice more of the beauty around us and our senses were captivated
  • As human beings, one of our greatest strengths is our resilience, but, one of our weaknesses is that we often forget

Just over a year ago, those of us in Sri Lanka were under curfew after the tragic Easter terrorist attacks on the paradise island we call home. Schools were closed for weeks; when they reopened, students had to wear transparent backpacks, facilitating an easier check for weapons or explosives. I had to explain the grim realities of terrorism to my young children, then ages five and seven.

A year later, I find myself explaining to them about yet another adversity: a pandemic of such epic proportions, that quite frankly, I am trying to grasp it myself. The devastation in their birthplace, New York, is hitting close to home; and of course, how the coronavirus will manifest here in Sri Lanka is of concern. My conversations with my kids range from preventative hygiene, to the plight of daily wage earners, to death counts. They have encountered death at a much younger age than I did, and certainly on a much higher scale.

After the civil war and the terrorist attacks, racial tensions have sometimes flared

At a pivotal moment in life, such as this, one tends to think about the lessons that we can learn. As human beings, one of our greatest strengths is our resilience, but, one of our weaknesses is that we often forget. When I look back on this unfathomable quarantine experience, I remember the first few weeks being a blur of trying to secure essentials through the relentless cold-calling of vendors and the chasing of lorry trucks stocked with vegetables. Otherwise, time passed so slowly; a small vacuum of time opened up and it felt like an abyss.

We suddenly had the time to notice more of the beauty around us and our senses were captivated. In the absence of the honking of horns, we could actually hear Buddhist chanting from a nearby temple. We could get a view, devoid of smog, of the faraway glistening Lotus Tower. In the absence of dinners out, Uber Eats and imported ingredients, we enjoyed the deliciousness of local produce with gratitude. In the absence of touch, we compensated with deeper human connection, chatting with old friends who truly made our hearts happy. A bittersweet serenity began to set in.

But would human nature allow this “time-out” or “pause?” I think not. Before I knew it, zoom calls were getting double-booked. Leisurely evening strolls around the backyard were being replaced by vigorous online workouts. Children began to e-school with rigout. Restaurants were delivering again. We were back to square one, but this time, within the confines of our own homes. After yet another stark reminder of the fragility of life, it is up to each of us to decide which people, habits and obligations we would like to invite back into our respective “new normals.”

As a country, this small island has known great sadness and met with misfortunes many times before — a decades-long civil war, a devastating tsunami, heinous terrorist attacks and now this economy-crippling virus. After the civil war and the terrorist attacks, racial tensions have sometimes flared. And even after the tsunami and countless floods and droughts, we still do not always heed the warnings of impending climate change. This dismissal of inconvenient truths is certainly not unique to Sri Lanka, but Sri Lankans have, however, learned a lesson that I feel can inspire the world over.

Even after the tsunami, we still do not always heed the warnings of impending climate change

Despite all the blows, nothing can seem to wipe away that world-renowned and well- loved “Sri Lankan smile.” I feel this virus won’t be able to either — even if we can’t see those beaming grins behind those masks, I know they are there.”

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