It’s been exactly 29 years since my sister Elfi and I landed at Colombo International Airport in Sri Lanka on a hot September morning. Back then, traveling the world with two suitcases, one guitar and tons of courage, we did not know what singing adventures would await us beyond the lush green palm crowns of this teardrop shaped island nation off the South Eastern tip of India. Returning today after so many years, it appears that not much has changed since we left the tranquil shores of this emerald gem afloat in the blue Indian Ocean. The pulsating life, the worry-free, spontaneous way people go about their daily chores. The biting heat, the humidity and the rivulets of sweats down my spine and armpits every time you venture beyond the air conditioned hotel walls. The honking Three-Wheelers (Tuk Tuk) and the packed diesel buses still clogging up the streets. People hanging from crowded trains, vendors offering their ware in make shift shops and native beach bums wanting to sell you every kind of trinket. And although life is not that modern and convenient for most of the 20 million Sri Lankans, they all have one thing in common: A genuine smile and friendliness that warm you inside out. Which makes me wonder as I watch bronze skinned waiters in white, gold buttoned coats, many of them from rural villages, serve drinks around the poolside; why do they seem to overflow with such infectious gratitude and joy while many of the wealthy vacationers lounging in sun chairs look unhappy and stressed? The following poem “Happiness” was given to me by my father for Christmas in 1981 and expresses my observations in a very poignant way.
Happiness is not a thing you and I can buy,
Like a jewel, gold and ring, fruit or Christmas pie
Happiness alone is found with the man who lives
Only on God’s holy ground and who daily gives
All he may and all he can to assist his fellow-man.