I am reposting this story that I wrote in 2005, right after the devastating tsunami that hit Central and Southeast Asia.
I have always been intrigued by the country of Sri Lanka. Ever since I studied the map as a kid I thought Sri Lanka was a place I would like to see one day. First, the name and flag are pretty strange and interesting. Second, it is located on the complete other side of the world in the middle of the Indian Ocean and I had never met anybody who had actually been there or even thought of going there. However, I was determined to get there and with my itinerary taking me to India, I could see no reason why I shouldn’t take a break in Sri Lanka as well.
I arrived in Colombo with no expectations and truthfully I hadn’t done any research on Sri Lanka at all other than find out where I was staying. My first day in Sri Lanka I sat down with a travel agent and tried to set up a tour of the beaches and important sites in the small country. He basically told me that there were no beaches worth going to anymore because of the tsunami that devastated the country last December, killing over 30,000 people. Some of the beaches have re-opened to tourists and the resorts and hotels as well. The problem however, as I found out, is that there are no tourists to fill the beaches and hotels. I mentioned that I was determined to see the damage and see the natural beauty that I was sure still existed in this cricket loving country.
I had the agent set me up for a city tour with an English speaking guide and an air conditioned car. The driver showed me around the capital city pointing out all that Sri Lankans are proud of and keep holy with all the different religions. He then brought me to watch a test match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in cricket at the national grounds in Colombo. Although I have watched cricket on television a lot in my travels I had never been to a match. I have determined that it is equally as boring in person as on TV. I decided to leave early and continue the tour but instead of continuing to look around the crumbling city of Colombo, I asked to be taken down the coast to some of the beaches of the south.
When we finally arrived at a small beach town on the southern tip of the island nation, the driver brought me to a hotel bar where he knew the owner. I sat at the bar having a Lion beer with the driver and began talking to the owner. We talked about a variety of topics but most interesting to me was his take and that of the drivers on the Sri Lankan government in the aftermath of the tsunami.
They mentioned how they both knew people that had perished in the devastating waves. Then they started ranting about how the government had not adequately dispersed all the millions in international aid money that Sri Lanka had been allotted. They said that almost no people who actually lost family, property, etc. had received any money whatsoever. As they got angrier, they started talking about how the president was a crook and that he and his administration had basically stolen the aid money and put it in their own pockets. This struck me as very sad, but not as a terrible surprise. I really felt bad for these people as they were getting emotional about this and rightfully so.
This made me wonder what happened to the aid money in other poor countries that were hit hard by the tsunami. It’s funny that you always hear about these types of government scandals and you just ignore them when the news reports them. It is different however, when you are hearing it straight from the people that were affected in their own country. A lot of the people are still living in refugee camps and are simply homeless and don’t have adequate basic living materials and especially don’t have any money to piece their lives back together.
As nightfall came, we made our way back to Colombo. He listened to the radio giving a round up of the day’s cricket and I mostly stared out the window trying to take in the information that I had heard that day. I was very happy when the driver told me that Sri Lanka had come through in the match and their star player had done well. I was most happy because cricket gave the people of Sri Lanka something to cheer for and acted as something to take their mind off the devastation that occurred to the entire south and east of the country, even if just a for a few minutes. It reminded me of how baseball and my beloved Yankees helped me in that way in the months after September 11th.
I never got to see the majestic beaches I had imagined as a kid because they no longer exist but I did come halfway around the world to once again confirm one thing. No matter where in the world you are, people are very similar. Sure there are cultural and other obvious differences, but at the core of humanity, people are pretty much the same. As baseball soothed me after 9/11, I was almost relieved to see that cricket does the same for Sri Lankans. I know that I will be wearing my Sri Lanka National Team jersey cheering for Sri Lanka in the next Cricket World Cup.