The plane from JFK airport in New York City lifted from the concrete and into the sky and for the first time in months my heartbeat slowed down. In-transit has always been the place where I feel complete and utter peace. In the previous months I had been overwhelmed by the balancing act that is being a full-time student with a high-pressure job, the urge to write daily, exercise, cook, clean, and maintain and nurture her relationships and social life, all while battling my anxiety. On top of that I was organizing this trip with Emmi that required so much planning.
The last week at home was particularly hard. I had to wrap up finals week while packing to leave the country for 10 weeks and simultaneously I was dealing with the painful experience that is saying goodbye to the ones you love. It was an emotional whirlwind but once the plane ascended into the sky, all of the anxiety I had felt over the past years evaded me. I didn’t sleep much on our first flight which was taking us to a five hour layover in Doha, Qatar. Instead I wrote for hours in my journal and watched the most radiant sunrise over the middle east from my oval window, as Emmi slept soundly on my shoulder. I was basking in the bliss I felt. I practiced breathing and I smiled because in the weeks leading up to my trip I had felt so much anxiety, yet in the sixty seconds that it took for the plane to rise into the sky, it had all vanished.
After our layover in Doha, Qatar, we flew to Colombo, Sri Lanka, for our second layover, which was seventeen hours long. Long enough to leave the airport and spend the day exploring Colombo. It had been over two days since we had been showered or slept, let alone been outside of an airport. So, as you can imagine, we were ecstatic to feel the sun on our faces again. We decided to hire a man named ‘Nalinda’ to show us the city, and so he drove us along the hectic roads and highways to Colombo.
Nalinda was shy at first but once he saw how genuinely interested Em and I were in getting to know him, he opened up to us. Nalinda took us to explore different parts of Colombo throughout the day. We visited the world’s first lighthouse clock, walked along the Indian ocean, tried a variety of street foods, and wandered the streets of the Pettah market. Everything was fun and boisterous and flourishing with life, but, there was one place in particular that has earned itself a permanent place in my heart.
Nalinda took us to the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo and it was hands down, thus far, the most incredible sacred space that I have ever had the pleasure to spend time in (and mind you, I was raised going to Kabbalah, Sunday School, and Quaker school.) Beautiful Sri Lankan children dressed in white and with their hair garnished in flowers ran by me while monks tended to arranging sacred spaces in the temple. It was a massive space with various rooms in which people sat or laid on the floor praying and meditating.
I followed Nalinda to the altar in front of the massive Buddha statues and kneeled on the floor and prayed. I felt light fill me. I’m not exactly religious, but I’m deeply spiritual and I appreciate religion for all it has taught me about the world. When I stood from prayer, goosebumps covered my skin. It felt as though the intensely beautiful energy of the 120 year old temple had cleansed my spirit. After we had explored all of the various rooms of the temple, Nalinda surprised us with a gift; a white threaded bracelet meant to provide us protection and good health.
After Gangaramaya, we had a delicious Sri Lankan meal at a restaurant on the Galle Face Green beach. As the Indian ocean roared in the background, I interviewed Nalinda about his life story (video to come soon). This is when we really bonded with Nalinda, and afterwards he spent the rest of the day acting like the most caring father in the world. We joked around and called him ‘dad’ as he took pictures of us in front of famous landmarks on his phone, taught us phrases in Tamil, and tried to hold our hands when we crossed the hectic and bustling streets of Sri Lanka.
By the time Nalinda left us back at the airport to catch our flight to Mumbai, he had tears in his eyes and even made a point to walk us all the way to the security checkpoint before saying goodbye. “You are family” he told us, giving us each a long hug before turning away. It was a marvelous first day in Sri Lanka, and I will always remember Nalinda, the first friend we made on our adventure around the world.