I walked along a very peaceful quiet beach until I could walk no longer. At the end there were fishing boats, a very small village, and naked children swimming in a not so clean lagoon. I walked into the small village and little kids came flying out of nowhere, more than willing to show me the way to Galle Road. They kept saying Bon-Bon, Bon-Bon and with these kids, I climbed over a mountain to get to the road back to Hikkaduwa. It was an adventure for both me and the kids.
Once on the road, I walked for what seemed like hours. No one spoke English, but when you ask questions people waggle their heads and point in one direction or another. I found my way to Ahungalla and was approached by 10 or 20 anxious men trying to either help or lead me astray. One fellow asked if I would go to the zoo with him but I refused. For this, I am glad because I found out later that a boy was mauled to death today by a tiger at the zoo.
I continued to walk for what seemed to be hours. It is here that things started to seem surreal and disjointed. I started to feel like I had entered the twilight zone and nothing seemed right; it was like time was standing still. I found a family standing on the side of the road waiting for a bus and just stood with them. They represented sanity and reason. It was an older lady and her husband, their daughter and her husband and two little girls. I told them I was trying to get back to Hikkaduwa and they offered to show me the way. I stood by the road and waited with them, told them about myself, and watched people as time seemed to be stuck in neutral.
As we waited locals would run over and ask oodles of questions before running away. You could see them passing information along to those who were less daring. Buses kept passing not willing to stop for such a large group. An old woman threw herself into the middle of the street and refused to get up. Moments later she sprang to her feet and ran at people, ranting and raving the whole time. As she chased people up and down the street, the woman standing next to me said: “She’s mad, you know coo-coo.” The old woman once again threw herself into the middle of the street and started to bang her head on the cement. Everyone started laughing at her and shooed her away.
Truckloads of young men would zip by waving flags and yelling at the top of their lungs. They wanted to cause havoc and were looking for any opportunity to do so. I’m told there are political rallies happening in the country and tensions were high.
A bus finally stopped for us but for some reason, I couldn’t understand they wouldn’t let me on. The villagers stood in front of the bus and wouldn’t let it go until I was on. The family I was with started to yell and argue until I was let onto the bus and in a complete turn around they let me sit in the front seat; this was considered a special honour. The family paid my fare and I tried to give them money but they wouldn’t take it.
The bus was the size of a large van and yet they somehow managed to squish as many people as possible in until there was not even an inch of free-breathing space. People were coming in and out of windows, doors, and any available orifice on the bus. And, if the bus was so full no one could get on or off, people would simply hang off the sides or sit on the top.
When the bus arrived in Ambalangoda the family pulled me off the bus and squished me onto another one. People on this bus were fighting for the seats and I managed to get jabbed many times by extra-pointy elbows. Rather than fight for a seat, I opted to help a woman who’d fallen in the frenzy to get to the bus. The family stood and waved goodbye as the bus pulled away from the stop.
For the entire ride, I was in the centre of a bus full of hundreds of squished, beleaguered, and worn looking people. I had to force myself to find a centre of peace within myself to keep from going insane. As more people got on the bus, I became more squished and began to feel the grip of claustrophobia take over. Imagine being rolled up in a rug with your arms at your side and that is exactly how it felt. I’m still amazed at how people could get one and off without missing their stops; and, somehow the driver and conductor always know who on the bus had paid and who had not.
From the bus I saw mass demonstrations in the streets; trucks full of screaming, yelling people passed us. They were waving red and blue banners and opposing parties were attacking each other on the street; sometimes they attacked buses and sometimes they attacked their own friends. There was no sanity in it that I could see. The bus I was one was attacked a few times and I was glad to be in the centre where I couldn’t be seen or pulled off. The military was out in full force and people giving speeches would block traffic to get people to hear them speak.
When you are trapped on a bus with hundreds of other people in plus 30C temperatures you want nothing more than to keep moving so there is some sort of air movement. The oppressive heat and confines threw me to the edge of insanity and I tried to find that calm place in my head. I wanted to be that little old lady running up and down the street, throwing herself onto the pavement, and banging her head to knock everything back into place. I looked around and everyone had their eyes closed. They were in the calm place as well. I started to laugh and couldn’t control the laughter. I think I’d reached the point of insanity and it was so unbelievable that it seemed funny.
When I reached Hikkaduwa I popped off the bus like a piece of popcorn escaping from a bag and was extremely happy to be out of the tangled mass of human beings. My meal at the International Hotel seemed like the best meal I had ever eaten and I truly understand what it means to feel peace and tranquillity at the beach.
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