At the end of the hike, the viridescent landscape gave way to a thin dirt road bathed in dust and the warm afternoon sun. As I walked along it, I passed our minibus precariously parked with two wheels wilting the grass on the road’s edge. Motorbikes passed as if it wasn’t even there. I washed my hands at an outdoor sink next to a small home with a wooden awning. Much like many homes along this narrow route, I realized this wooden structure functioned as an eating space. The makeshift shop was aimed to attract the business of locals and tourists hoping to grab a bite of rice and curry before or after a swim at the base of Bombara Kanda. A few people in my hiking group had already claimed spots on the built-in wooden benches where the knots were worn smooth by repeated use. The rest of the group piled in as the curly words and melismatic tones of Sinhalese and Tamil excited the shade. Exhausted, we waited patiently for about an hour before an uncle began bringing out an assortment of fresh curries, sambols, and red rice. The younger members of the group documented the food for their social media as the rest of us quickly piled our plates high, grabbing a few extra papadums before they were all gone. We returned to our seats and dug in. My thumb rubbed against the pads of my fingers to gently combine the curry into the rice. I crafted flavorful concoctions of punchy spiced malu mirisata and grassy gotukola sambol. Immersed in my meal, it took me a moment to realize the absence of questions.
This moment sticks out to me as it was the first time my presence in Sri Lanka did not feel like an imposition. Similar moments occurred only a few times throughout my Luce year; once at a friend’s birthday dinner, another time while riding bikes around a park, a few times at the lunch table in the kitchen of my office. My Luce year, like many in my cohort, has been unique. This year was extremely complicated and defined by uncertainty. It involved navigating COVID-19, a virtual orientation and language lessons, living for 3 months outside my placement country , never meeting my cohort in person, being one of the first scholars in Sri Lanka, and, once finally there, facing an economic crisis and political revolution. As I shuffle through the numerous feelings that accompany these I am comforted by the moments in which my presence felt passive. The Luce year is often characterized by these climacterics in which we as guests are welcomed in our new communities and celebrated. In contrast, I found the most meaningful moments were actually the ones in which I was treated as a part of a space rather than a guest within it. The instances of repose in which I shed the novelty of repeatedly answering the “what, when, why, how” questions were truly the most special.
In the midst of constant uncertainty and endless unprecedented times, I cherish the moments in which I felt normal. As I continue to make sense of both the challenging yet amazing experiences that accompanied my Luce year, I am thankful for the first time I was able to stuff my face with curry without anyone asking, “how do you find eating with your hands?” or “is it too spicy for you?” My Luce year was an extraordinary experience, but I am most thankful for the times that felt ordinary.