In an age of short attention spans, projects like Humans of New York (HONY) stand out by combining pictures and a few words to give unique little snippets into people’s lives. There’s a story behind every face that’s worth sharing and, often, some of these stories are so poignant that they serve to jolt us out of our lives and routines. Inspired by this is the Humans of Sri Lanka (HOSL) page that shares stories closer to home – stories of people that are startlingly refreshing and quintessentially Sri Lankan.
For about 35 years, I have led the Kataragama Pada Yatra [journey by foot] – which is a walk commencing from Jaffna to Kataragama. I and the rest of the pilgrims follow in the footsteps of the ancient Hindu war God Skanda Kumara (Murugan). The walk is undertaken barefoot as a custom, and we take no food with us (and survive only on whatever alms given to us on our way). Our sleep is outdoors under the stars, and we battle all harsh elements of the sun, rain and the wilds of the Yala Jungle. At Kataragama our arduous journey finally ends after two months, and I lodge the ancient Vel [spear] of Skanda Kumara in the Hindu temple, and this signifies the beginning of the Kataragama festival to which more than half a million Sri Lankans attend.
While the HOSL page has been around since 2013, founder Theshan notes that it is only of late that people have been more receptive to telling their stories. “It’s not easy opening up and telling your story. Initially, it was difficult because people didn’t know about the page and hence were unwilling to talk. We knew it would be tough, but the idea is slowly getting absorbed into the community now,” he says.
Perhaps that would explain the new direction the page is taking of late – the stories are more personal, sometimes humorous but also fascinating and inspiring. Whether it’s a father talking about how his child brings him joy or the story of some of Colombo’s invisible garbage collectors, there’s something joyous in being able to read the stories of people you often see but would never otherwise interact with. Or as Theshan says, “you cannot specify where you will find ‘great humans’ because it’s always surprising how insightful even ordinary people can be.”
Here are a few great stories we picked out that truly bring out how unique and amazing Sri Lankans really are.
Although we open in the evening, the preparation for aappa [hoppers], indiyaappa [string hoppers], or godamba roti [a crispy flat bread] is done many hours prior. My husband and I have been managing our tiny shop for five years now. At night, our radio plays a string of songs as customers flutter in and out. We enjoy their chatter and are happy when we see the regulars turning up every night.
It scares us that one day we have been like that aunt and uncle (bride and bridegroom) and do many things in front of others.
We are friends forever. In Sri Lanka’s busy capital Colombo, we cheerfully sweep the streets, alleys and lanes to keep the busiest markets clean and tidy. The work is hot, strenuous and more often than not difficult, but our friendship keeps us resilient and happy. Although invisible and overlooked by many, we are this country’s formidable cleaning force.
I lost my eyesight when I was 18 years old due to an incurable neurological problem. At that time, my present wife was my girlfriend. Even though she knew I was going blind, her love for me was strong, and she decided to marry me. Through the streets of Colombo, we go selling bedsheets and towels to make a living. My dearest wife has stayed by my side together for more than forty years and blessed me with four children. To this day, she continues to be my unfailing strength and eyesight.
We live in Sri Lanka, although we are originally from China. My sister and I visit the Galle ramparts regularly for long walks, exercise and even for a bit of fun and dance. The air is fresh and liberating. We speak Sinhala fluently and love surprising the locals with our speech when we are misunderstood as tourists.
We at Roar think it’s a great way to know more about our countrymen and the lives they lead and find something extraordinary behind the people and things we often take for granted. So next time you find yourself complaining about corruption, traffic or politics, take a breather and remind yourself of these stories and people who will, if not make you smile, at least restore your faith in the beauty of humanity.