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10 Things only Sri Lankans Living Abroad Would Understand

We have an advantage over the West in many ways. For instance, our parents may be overbearing most of the time, but at least we know they won’t kick us out once we’re 18 and old enough to get a job and fend for ourselves. They – bless them – put up with us, for unfathomable reasons, even if we are 40 and balding. The thing is, this makes the prospect of moving out more daunting than it should be. Whether it’s for a three-year undergrad course, the big migration or even a two-week transfer program, moving out of home and into a different country brings out the yellow-bellies in all of us Sri Lankans. We’re so used to being mollycoddled and pampered that the realisation that laundry doesn’t do itself boggles our mind.

Even years down the line, despite being seasoned veterans of living abroad, despite surviving the life our parents tried to shelter us from, there are a few things that set off bouts of nostalgia and maybe even a few tears. No matter where you go, there are a few things those of us living away from home find ourselves doing – like swapping notes and pro tips, writing elaborate Facebook status updates about missing home, and capslocking our grievances to our astonished parents who got onto WhatsApp or Viber for the first time, just to keep in touch. Doubtless, if you’ve lived or are living abroad, the following might sound familiar to you:

Sudden undying love for ammi’s food

We even miss the endless fussing.

We even miss the endless fussing. Image Credit, Jehan R

We’ve grown up eating our mother’s food all our lives to the point where we just stopped appreciating it as much as we should. When we were younger, we used to look forward to canteen days so we wouldn’t have to suffer through marmite and butter sandwiches or eat that compulsory slightly-black-by-lunchtime banana. Eating out was always more exciting: it meant birthday celebrations, special functions and much later, a sign that we were independent enough to control what our stomachs digested. And then we went abroad and suddenly realised that nothing tastes as good as mother’s food. Nothing. Which brings us to Point 2…

Eating Out Sucks

We did it, rather bravely and stoically, the first month or so, and then everything started tasting the same: too much salt, too little love. There’s a story that home cooked food always tastes the best because unlike at restaurants and eateries, our mothers know who they’re cooking for; they know what we like and dislike and, exactly how we like it. Whereas restaurant food is impersonal, colder and always more salty. Pretty soon, your tongue starts feeling like the sea, and that’s when we feel like Tennyson writing In Memoriam, except, of course, dedicated to our lost taste buds.

Discovering the magical properties of seeni sambol

Seeni Sambol. The food of the gods. Image Credit, www.karenskitchen.us

Seeni Sambol. The food of the gods. Image Credit, www.karenskitchen.us

It’s soon seeni sambol for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the other Hobbit-like snacking we do in between. Seeni sambol on bread, seeni sambol on pizza, seeni sambol on crackers, seeni sambol with rice, seeni sambol on garlic bread, seeni sambol for all seasons, shapes and foods. Basically lots and lots of seeni sambol. And when your stock runs low and you cannot seem to find any in your local Indian store, that’s when you realise that seeni sambol is the elixir of life and exemplifies everything Sri Lankan. Without it, we feel lost, rootless and hungry. But mostly hungry.

Shipments from home

Saving Starving Sri Lankans.

Saving Starving Sri Lankans. Image Credit, Maliban

Containing seeni sambol, of course. But apart from that, an entire carton of Munchee/Maliban biscuits, Kist jam and MD Mango Chutney. The joy of opening a parcel of goodies from home is unparalleled. For the first hour, you’re ecstatic, jumping up and down and informing everyone that you have a little piece of home. Then the battle starts: how do you stretch this little sample of heaven? Everyone who receives a bottle of homemade seeni sambol will suddenly realise just how vulnerable the stuff is to fungus. If you don’t or can’t refrigerate, you’ll soon start noticing white stuff in the bottle. This writer decided to brave an upset stomach and, every day, meticulously chucked out the bits that caught fungus and ate the rest, a routine that was repeated until the jar was empty. But then there’s the guilt: every bit wasted feels like a sin. You mourn every biscuit you accidentally drop as if you were mourning a friend. Like a dragon guarding its gold, you guard your stash of milk toffees and Marie biscuits from the hungry eyes of your roomies. You ration it all out and seethe on the inside when someone asks to share. Mine, my own, my precious!

Poya Days

How beautiful is this?

How beautiful is this? Image Credit Nazly Ahmed

As lazy islanders with too many holidays, we don’t fully appreciate it until we go abroad, spot a full moon and realise that while we’re slaving away, people at home are chilling, enjoying the holiday, listening to bana/sermons whether they want to or not or getting inebriated shamelessly, whether the government allows it or not. Suddenly, we feel like howling at the moon, not because the full moon lunar-tic bug caught us, but because we missed a day of sleeping in, lounging about and doing absolutely nothing. Why can’t the rest of the world be sensible like us and, in appreciation of the beauty of the full moon, just declare a holiday? There’s no such things as too many holidays, after all.

Converting Currency in our Heads

Thanks to the weakling rupee, we always feel poorer wherever we land up, even if it is just India, so we always find ourselves doing the math in our heads. Shampoo here costs USD 12? Apo, expensive, no? Or, grapes costs only AUD 2 a kilogram? Cheap, no? I’ll never get such a deal back at home… Or, bloody toilet paper costs INR 60? I’ll stock up and bring it from home next time. The struggle is real, people, have some sympathy.

You’ll never make friends as great as the ones back home

Sometimes it feels like we peaked awesome-friend capacity and life won’t give us any more. Which sucks. We’d all like to have friends we can hang out with, without feeling awkward, talk to when things get rough and rely on when shit hits the fan. Instead, when they’re all back home, posting pictures of them hanging out together, you feel left out and all the more lonely.
Thanks to time zone differences and the fact that people have lives that don’t revolve around us, we can’t always drop them a line and whine about what terrible lives we live. Spontaneous meetups and midnight surprise parties are all consigned to a now mythological past, leaving a dull aching throb that has nothing to do with what you ate for dinner.

The Concept of Seasons

Where we come from, it’s either raining or it’s sunny, or sometimes both. We don’t hold stock with all these fussy seasons. It’s always tropical summer here in Sri Lanka and shorts are appropriate all year round. That’s why when we move abroad, we think we can handle summer – puh! Summer, like that’s something to worry about – until you land in Australia in December and have to battle out 40 plus degrees, or summer in California where it’s 16 degrees in July or in India where you can make an omelette on your face or summer in Norway where…let’s not go there. Basically, we don’t do seasons really well unless it’s monsoon season. Don’t even get us started about winter. It sounds really romantic and nice. Cold weather, no sun as opposed to forever sun and other such islander delusions. Pretty soon we’re cursing and begging for the sun, running towards every patch of sun we find and acting like something out of Shawshank Redemption. We think the snow and the ice is just there for ornamental purposes, and earnestly believing we are all Ranjan Ramanayakes at heart, we try a few stunts and…you know the rest.

Internet is God

You feel the crunch when you can’t just pick up the phone and call your best friend. International calls are too expensive, so we resort to Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, etc., etc. Soon there are designated Skype hours, particular days you keep free just to call home, whereas before you groaned at the idea of sitting at the dining table and reminding yourself of the existence of your family members. When the internet is bad and you can’t seem to connect, when you’re running out of money and broadband, that’s when you go to a little dark corner in your heart and weep for mother Lanka.

All this might seem trivial for those still living in the comfort of home – get over it, right? But it’s always the little things, like the longing for monsoon, the comforting scent of home, the kades and the reload shops and the general, inviting chaos of our island that makes staying away difficult and the prospect of home even more inviting. When we return, we return like sails emptied of wind and stomachs seeking fulfilment, not just for food but also for the love, happiness and other cheesy, clichéd “feels” we only get on this mad island of ours.

Featured Image Credit: www.investsrilanka.com

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