Groundviews

Wheels Up in Colombo: Destination Unknown

epa04550323 A boy waits for his parents to return from voting as he sits behind a sign showing the way to the polling station (bottom) and to the toilets (top) as voters line up to vote in the presidential elections, at Kelaniya in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 08 January 2015. The Presidential Election is being held two years ahead of its due date. According to the Elections Secretariat over 15 million voters will cast their votes at 12,252 polling centers to elect the seventh President for another six years. EPA/M.A.PUSHPA KUMARA EPA/M.A.PUSHPA KUMARA

Photo EPA/M.A.PUSHPA KUMARA via The Guardian

Upon discovering I had been chosen as a short-term observer for the parliamentary election, it felt like Christmas had come early.

Dallas to Doha to Colombo. And then on to Jaffna for the election!

When I fly to Sri Lanka from the U.S., I usually feel somewhat slow for about a week or so, but that didn’t happen on this occasion. This time I hardly ever felt tired; I was too excited to be back, thrilled even.

Elections. Democracy. Choices. Politics. The food. Arrack. Sri Lanka. Seeing old friends and making new ones.

What’s not to like?

Aside from the interesting politics, Sri Lanka is a veritable factory of unique, colorful personalities. Mixing it up there was the graduate school seminar that was not offered in New York City; it remains the classroom I will always reenter with alacrity.

More specifically, recently working in the country was as close as I’ve ever been to doing work that I’d like to do for the rest of my life – working on important issues with passionate people, the country’s “quiet heroes”.

I loved that.

During my visit last month, many friends and colleagues asked me about Donald Trump’s peculiar political rise. Back in the U.S., Mr. Trump still looks like he has a chance at winning the Republican nomination for the presidency. So, technically speaking, Mr. Trump still looks like he has a chance at running the country.

Racism. Xenophobia. Arrogance. Ignorance. Do some Americans really want a pompous blowhard to be president? We have enough problems to deal with; it would probably be for the best it we didn’t elect a man who consistently sounds as if he were eight beers deep at a NASCAR race.

2015 will not be remembered as my favorite year, or even my second favorite.

“So these aren’t the best of times…,” a friend bluntly stated in Colombo.

No, these are not.

However, being in Sri Lanka for the election was the most fun I’ve had in quite a while. I’m not sure anybody or anything could’ve wiped that big smile off of my face. Sometimes, it’s helpful to be reminded of things you already know. It’s helpful to be reminded of what you already want.

Accepting the truth can be so liberating.

***

I’m in Kayts.

The polls are closing.

We’re heading back to Colombo now. I was already sticking around a few days extra and then I change my ticket for a second time. August 27 sounds a lot better than August 22.

There’s more time for Green Cabin, Rainbow Café, Greenlands and dive bars. There’s more time for those hole in the wall restaurants where people still recognize me. There’s more time for conversation, reflection and debate.

Yet, before I know it I’m back at the airport.

It’s been ten days since the vote.

I’m not ready.

I’m not ready and these Colombo departure times never make me feel more ready. I wasn’t out that late and it was nothing crazy, although I’m starting to feel…not that good and I could really go for a beer or something.

I’ve entered the space where people sit and wait to board. I wish I was flying Emirates or Etihad because the food is better.

Qatar will have to do.

There were many moments these past few weeks that made me want to come back to Sri Lanka (to live). The people. The issues. The exciting times.

It could work.

Or at least I’m telling myself that it could work.

Yet returning indefinitely sounds complicated. It sounds complicated because it is complicated. On the other hand, I’ve recently discovered that living in the U.S. isn’t necessarily straightforward either.

I don’t know.

I don’t have great answers.

Or even good ones.

Or even any answers.

Right now, I just have my boarding pass, a pair of very nice earplugs and a minor headache.

And, right before we’re about to take off, I’m reminded of something, this journey I started maybe a decade ago, ‘a search for truth’. Or at least that’s what I used to call it. That’s probably what I’d still call it.

Terminology doesn’t matter right now. A few days ago, someone told me that local government elections could be coming soon.

Another election? In Sri Lanka?

I’m eminently qualified. I mean, I know how to stare at people and fill out simple worksheets. I even know a few Tamil words. Furthermore, it appears that my mastery of these few words has not gone unnoticed. At the hotel I recently stayed at in Jaffna (Tilko), a few of the young men working there actually asked me if I was Tamil. And they weren’t kidding! (Readers with knowledge of my Tamil language capabilities (or complexion) will undoubtedly find this hard to believe.)

I’m not sure where the past thirty minutes have gone; I hardly remember boarding the plane. Before I know it, we’re wheels up and heading to Doha. At least that’s where the plane is going. On all the more important fronts, the destination remains unknown.

*An earlier version of this piece appeared in The Huffington Post.