Mirissa to Galle: Making a Local Connection on the Bus

Dreaming of elsewhere nine arch bridge sri lanka

One by one I open my eyes, readying myself for the day. I partake in my typical morning routine, tying my hair back as I brush my teeth and run water over my face. I step into a white flowy dress, secure my sandals around my ankles and fly out the door.

I walk quickly down the dirt road to the bus stop in Mirissa. While waiting for the bus, noticing the humidity in the morning air, I make conversation with the Russian girl from my hostel. I’ll be spending the day with her after all.

With beads of sweat building above my lip, the bus arrives – only slowing down as we’re quickly urged to board and find a seat in the uniquely decorated vehicle. I’ve been on one of these buses before, so I know what to expect, yet my eyes are still drawn to the bright colours and designs painted along the walls and interior of the roof. I also can’t help but notice the local music playing in the background.

I don’t speak much to the Russian girl, as she’s self conscious of her English and stares blankly ahead. Every few minutes passengers get up and walk clumsily towards the front of the bus to let the driver know that their stops are approaching. He slows the bus, just enough so that they can step off and accelerates quickly again. We’re only fifteen minutes into the drive when I turn to my left and see an older local woman across the isle, looking my way. I ignore her gaze and pivot back to looking out the window again.

A minute later, I feel a body pressed next to mine as the woman moves from her seat across, to sit beside me. She smiles but doesn’t say a word. Her warm brown eyes glisten in the sunlight. She has kind eyes, I think to myself. I smile back politely.

The bus continues on, driving quickly and honking loudly as it overtakes cars and tuk tuks left and right. As soon as I become lost in my own thoughts again, the woman looks at me and asks what country I’m from. I tell her that I’m Canadian. I can tell immediately that her English is poor and assume the conversation will end how it started, with a smile.

To my surprise, she continues asking questions about me. I reciprocate and slowly learn about her, beginning with her name, Sumithra. “That’s a nice name”, I tell her. I see her kind eyes light up as she thanks me. The ride continues and I learn about Sumithra’s husband. She also tells me about her daughter – who is apparently very bright. We continue talking and whenever she has trouble understanding me, she says “I’m sorry … I don’t understand” and we both laugh awkwardly. The same happens when she can’t find the right words in English to express her thoughts.

I slowly gather little bits and pieces about Sumithra’s life in Sri Lanka. It’s clearly much different than my life in Canada. She doesn’t have much, but she’s happy. She can see my privilege and all she wants is to get to know me.

As we get closer to Galle, she asks me something, but I don’t understand. After a few more failed attempts and interruptions from the intermittent honking of the bus, she reaches into her bag and digs around for a pen and paper. She finds both and writes down “addras, telepone and name”. I finally understand and write down my information in return. She looks at me smiling and says, “I’m going to send you a letter”. I can’t help but smile as well and ask for her information in case she loses mine.

I look out the window and realise we’ve made it to Galle. We get off and before parting ways, Sumithra places my hand in hers, looks at me once again with her kind eyes and says, “I’ll see you soon”.

Read more about my Sri Lanka two week backpacking itinerary here.

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