This week marks six months since my move to Sri Lanka, there have been so many ups and downs. But I can say with all certainty that the past few months have absolutely flown by. I can finally say I have a life here, though I’m not as sure that I have made a home yet. When I say I have a life I mean that I have a yoga studio and gym, I have a number of haunts I regularly visit for a drink, I have a routine for the week and started making good friends. So why not a home? The apartment I am renting is absolute luxury compared to what is on the market in Colombo (and even compared to my old flat in Melbourne!). It even came furnished which made my move all that much easier, but it also makes it feel a bit like a hotel. In 6 months, there are two changes I have made to the apartment, one is to put some books on a shelf and the second is to hide a religious statue that seemed to watch and judge my every move.
My apartment is not my home because it has nothing of myself in it. I think to myself that I would like to replace the art or put up pictures of my family and friends at home but I never quite get around to it. It almost feels like as soon as I start making it my home, that’s it, I can’t go back. I know that’s stupid, I can go home whenever I feel like. I guess this is a trait leftover from my months of backpacking and college lifestyle – transient lives where you never get too settled. Transience seems to be a theme in Colombo life, there are very few people you can make deep connections with.
There are a number of other expats in the country, but most of them are quite a bit older than I am and are struggling with different problems. How to keep a family together while they are working abroad, how to continue a sense of normalcy for their children, will another move disrupt the school year? There are many interns in Colombo, and some international students in my age range, but with an expiration date (6 months to a year) on their Sri Lankan life they are friendships short lived. I’m lucky to have found a couple of long-term younger expats who now play a major role in my life.
Making friends with locals is another kind of difficulty, Colombo(ans?) all know each other already. Social circles are heavily based on which school you attended in your youth and while they may shuffle to let you into their circle you know deep down that you don’t really have a permanent spot. Families of Sri Lankans seem to think that young women shouldn’t live alone and that I might be a bad influence on their impressionable daughters. I didn’t come here to make friends, I came to work, but for me, friendships are an essential part of existence.
Maybe the reason I haven’t quite settled here is because the regularly mediocre acts of life, buying groceries, for example, have not yet become routine. I am still spellbound by exotic fruit and vegetables. Picking weird and wonderful fresh food and immediately Google-ing “how to cook…” Getting in a tuk-tuk each morning is still an exhilarating gamble, weaving through traffic at absurd speeds is still stomach-turning. The way people’s eyes follow you heads turned in a less than subtle way, as I walk down the road still makes me uncomfortable. Something I suspect I will never be able to ignore.
I have been thinking a lot recently about the expectations I had of my existence, my life when I moved abroad. In my head I pictured working on a laptop – nomad style – by the beach, down south near Mirrisa, or out East in Arugam Bay. Sipping on thambili while designing a ballroom, devouring a kotthu while replying to emails. Instead, I seem to have simply transferred my old lifestyle to a new place – sitting in an air-conditioned office, working long hours, rushing to a yoga class, then stopping by a grocery store on the way home.
So is this why I haven’t made the apartment my home? I think it’s because living in Sri Lanka hasn’t solved the problems I left behind at home. Working nine-to-five has never suited me, and my attempt last year in Melbourne was short-lived. And yet, I moved to Colombo and work eight-to-six, I still sit in my seat with itchy feet. The feeling of office mundanity cannot be escaped. But the weekends here are what has convinced me to stay. The beauty of Sri Lanka is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Colombo, in only 2 hours you can be in paradise. The quirks of the country, the scenic landscapes, the food and the hospitality is which I love to be here. When I moved here in November 2016 I gave myself a minimum of 6 months, “don’t be too hasty to judge” I told myself and I’m glad I did. Now that I’ve made it, I can see myself staying here for another 6 months. I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to move back to Australia, the day-to-day might seem perilously dull after a life here. But although 6 months seems easy enough, a year seems too far away to even imagine.