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The Elephant Story- Sri Lanka

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Since I heard several times some of you like hearing my travel stories, I decided to share another one. Unlike of my previous Fb status, this is an actual story, I mean, a cool one. At least for me, but maybe it’s just because it’s my story. If that’s the case, I’m sorry if you read this whole long text to realize that my judgement of what might be considered cool is rather poor.

So… I was supposed to be in Sri Lanka for 5 days. It turned out to be 12, because I couldn’t get the visa to go back to work to Qatar. It was rejected three times for who knows what reason. The extra days were not as enjoyable as one would think. All of my stuff was in the apartment back in Doha, my money in a safe in the hotel (and, of course, I happened to have the only key with me- in Sri Lanka), and if I didn’t get the visa for the fourth time, they’d send me back to Croatia. Apart from that, my music theory students have their exams in one month and we didn’t go through some of the lessons, and in that case, I would leave them hanging. Not to mention not saying goodbye to my friends and coworkers living here, and the life I lived for the last three months. Of course, I had the money and the clothes for 5-7 days with me, instead of 12. My main mission for the remaining unplanned 7 days (and I didn’t know that there would be 7 of them. I would find out about each of the days, one day, or, in fact, a couple of hours, in advance) was to be in a place with wifi so I could wait for the phone call from the hotel saying if I’m flying that day or not, and if so, where I’m flying to. The situation itself really wasn’t that pleasant. Oh, did I mention that, meanwhile, for the first time in my life, I got physically attacked? Well, that’s a lie actually. Mainly because I grew up in Pescenica, which is a specific part of Zagreb. Pescenica is the Croatian version of Detroit. I’m a tough lady. But, let’s say I wasn’t physically attacked since elementary school- until then. By a tuk- tuk driver, when I decided to have dinner in the city after having a romantic evening walk along the lake with myself. Well, I ended up with two bruises and a scratch.

Don’t think it stopped me from getting dinner in the city. Oh, hell no. I ordered take- away, though. I mean, it’s fine. Ok, it’s not, but it is, because it’s always my conscious choice not to be afraid of new places or to trust people that I didn’t know until then. I just think that the new people in my life should not be punished for my bad experiences with others in the past, and everybody deserves a real first chance. And it works the same with the new places I visit. And sure, sometimes it gets me in trouble, but most of the times, I experience some amazing things that I know I never would if my attitude was different. There are pros and cons to everything.
Anyway! Here comes the cool story (at least, I think it’s cool).
The third day of my stay in Sri Lanka, I was supposed to visit the elephant orphanage near Kandy. I wanted to feed the elephants!
Unfortunately, the plan didn’t work out for various reasons and I was really disappointed. I mean, I’m in freaking Sri Lanka and every single souvenir and a postcard is or has an elephant on it, right? And I will go back without seeing one elephant there. How lame is that?! The next day I was supposed to go to Colombo so I wouldn’t have the time to go back to the elephant place again. I even googled “elephants in Colombo” with no luck. Yeah, I was really rather pathetic and desperate about seeing an elephant in Sri Lanka.
The next day I went to Colombo. In the morning, after I arrived, I met a guy from who I bought a microphone through an ad (yes, I actually did that, since in Doha I couldn’t get the mic I needed). He offered to be my tour guide in Colombo the first time we spoke, which was several weeks in advance. At that time, I thought- ha! Ha! Like that’s going to happen! Going for a tour with a stranger in an unknown country! Right!
Of course, the evening before going to Colombo, due to some unexpected circumstances, I e-mailed him asking: hey, is this tour thing still on?

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So he promised me a tour, but before that, I wanted to check if the microphone works and… it didn’t. Well, in the end, it turned out that it wasn’t compatible with my laptop and yet, meanwhile, I bought it anyway (very smart, yes), but there’s more to it and it’s not the point of the story.
So after trying the mic, I didn’t give him the money yet, since the plan was to find a music/ electronic equipment store to see whether the mic works and if so, why doesn’t it work with my laptop/ software.
But first, breakfast! I was awake for over 7 hours without eating anything, since I had to travel really early from Kandy, so, of course I was hungry.
I invited Shan, my tour guide for the day, for breakfast (well, at that time, it was more of a lunch), since I knew I ‘owe’ him a lot for the tour anyway. But he refused to eat anything, and instead, kept commenting on how he doesn’t understand why it is so important for me to have something to eat.
Anyway, I had breakfast, he didn’t. Khalas. Later on, I really wanted to see Gangaramaya temple, and Shan promised to take me there, saying: “I think I know which one it is”. (Accordingly to Google, it’s the most famous temple in Colombo)
Needless to say, he didn’t know and he took me to the wrong one (and you, kind of, don’t need to be all Sherlock to figure out the difference. The temple he took me- ‘on water’. Gangaramaya not on water. Not saying it wasn’t beautiful, but it wasn’t Gangaramaya.)

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And I told him it’s not the one, while he was trying to convince me it was. The first man on the street we asked about it, immediately responded:
-Gangaramaya?! No, no, no! Not this one!
Shan looked at me saying: -See, I told you! It wasn’t this one!
-Yeah. Best tour guide ever.
Finally, we found Gangaramaya, and it was absolutely amazing. One of the most amazing things I ever saw in my entire life. And a place of an amazing energy. I could literally, stay there for hours and enjoy doing nothing at all. (And yet, in terms of energy, I prefer the Kelaniya temple, which left me absolutely speechless).
So we stayed there for quite some time and I wanted to take a look at each and every part of it, so finally, we ended up in front of a big hall, packed with about 60 people, all wearing all white, apart from a few buddhist monks, and a lot of food.

-Is this food for us?- Shan asked.
-For us? You mean, like the visitors? Doesn’t look like that.
-Maybe it is.
-I don’t really think so. Looks like some kind of a celebration.
-You think it’s for everyone?
-To be honest, no.
-I can’t believe this food is for us.

Yeah. Probably because it’s not, but not like I said it several times already.

-Do you think we can have the food?
-I don’t know, Shan. If you want, we can ask.
-Do you think it’s for free? I can’t believe it’s for free.
Finally, it made me realize that he doesn’t have any money, which also made me realize that, if he doesn’t eat there, he won’t eat for the whole day, because he’s way too proud to let me buy food for him and then I will feel guilty about him giving me the all-day- tour without eating anything.
-Do you think it’s for us?- he asked again.
-Actually, yeah, I think so. We should ask!
And at that moment, a girl sitting close to the entrance of the hall, where we were standing, noticed Shan and me staring at the people and the food.
-Would you like to eat?
Of course, Shan was too shy to say that he would.
The girl continued: -It’s my father’s birthday and we celebrate it here every year and we invite a lot of people. You are welcome to have some food. Would you like to?
Shan started shaking his head, giving an obvious- no, no, no.
-Oh, that’s so nice! Yes! May we?- I replied, and Shan looked like he wanted to hit me.
-You’re still hungry? You just had breakfast!
-Of course I’m hungry!- Of course I wasn’t hungry (although you may find it hard to believe), but yes, I just had breakfast. Duh.
-Great, serve yourselves!
So I went to the tables with the food, while Shan kept standing in the same place.
-Are you coming?
-No, no, no.
-Shan? If you’re not eating, I’m not eating by myself- maybe I would feel differently if it was a nice Greek or Italian restaurant, but, no offense, I am not that great of a fan of Sri Lankan food. Or at least, my stomach isn’t.
Finally, he came- I can’t believe you’re still hungry.
-Yeah, I can always eat, get over it.
We took the food and Shan took a seat in the most remote place in the hall.
-Ok, let’s go meet the girl who told us we could take the food- I said.
-Are you crazy?! That’s so impolite.
-Uhmmmmmm. We just came invited to her dad’s birthday party, I think we’re, kind of, past what’s impolite, ok?
-I’m not going there. She’s eating now. We’ll go later to say thank you.
-Let’s go now, I want to meet her. And I want to say happy birthday to her dad!
-No. I’m shy. You go. I will wait for you here.
-Ok. I will go. And I will say that you’re too shy to come over there, so we’ll both come and get you here. Would that make things more comfortable for you?
He immediately stood up and we went to meet her.
Her name was Hasara (well, was and still is). She’s a born and raised Sri Lankan, but just recently got her law degree in the UK. I kept asking questions, because she was really easy to talk to. She volunteered for all sorts of organizations and schools for kids with special needs, and at the moment, she’s working for her dad’s company. She’s a really inspiring person, and I greatly enjoyed being impolite and asking all of those questions, while eating her father’s birthday party food.
Meanwhile, my friend Shan, couldn’t wait to get going. He asked me, immediately after he finished eating:
-Ok, are you done? Can we go?
-No, I’m still eating.
-It’s because you talk to much. And you eat too much.
He made sure to tell me several times that I am huge and called me Godzilla, which… may sound funny to you, but I can assure you (well, correct me if I’m wrong) that most of my female friends wouldn’t like to be referred to as “Godzilla”, ok? He also said that he thinks my future husband will be miserable till the end of his pathetic life.
Two days later, he sent me a message asking if I would like to marry him, because he misses me.
Yes, of course, I can’t think of a better way to a woman’s heart than through insulting her continuously.

Anyway, back to the birthday party that we weren’t invited to.
-Was it hard for you to study in the UK? I got the impression that people here are more warm and not as reserved as they are in Europe.
-Yes! That’s true. People here are somehow more friendly.
-And more polite. I think people in Europe are not as polite as they are here…- that was the first and only thing Shan said.
-Yes, of course, as you can see- there I am, asking questions with my mouth full, on a birthday party I wasn’t invited to.

Seeing Shan so eager to leave, made me try to wrap things up a bit faster:
-Ok, Hasara, thank you so much for having us- I wanted to shake hands.
-Wait, I’ll just go wash my hands- of course, silly Sonja, I forgot she was eating with her hands.

-Can we finally leave?!- Shan asked again.
-Yes, we will, once I say goodbye to her, she just went to wash her hands.

Meanwhile, her brother and her brother’s friends made me try a traditional Sri Lankan dessert. And basically, they treated me as if I was their good friend. They wanted to tell me all about that dessert and Sri Lanka. And at that point, Shan was going really crazy. So I went to look for Hasara, being afraid that she will roll her eyes when she sees I’m still there.

-So, thank you once again!
-Wait, I wanted to give you something, but I couldn’t find it. They’ll bring it right away- Hasara said.
She gave me a calendar/ brochure of her family resort (yes, her family owns a big vacation resort)- Please, let me know next time you’re here. You will stay at our place.
I was really surprised and so happy, and really didn’t feel like leaving. That was the highlight of my trip!
And then Hasara continued -do you want to meet my friend?- and starting moving towards the next hall- Shan just rolled his eyes, and stayed there.
-Yeah, sure- I mean, in the half an hour I was there, I met the girl’s father, mother, brother, fiancé, her father’s business partner, and the rest of her family and friends, I might as well meet another friend.
-We’ve been friends for a very long time.
-Oh, that’s nice.
-Yes. Would you like to feed an elephant?
-Yeah, sure- and it wasn’t until after I replied to that question, that my brain started to process the new information- wait, you mean, like, a real elephant?
-Yes- she smiled, and the moment she said that, we walked into the hall next to the one where the birthday party took place, in the middle of Gangaramaya Temple, and we were standing about 3 meters away from a real elephant. From a huge elephant, like the ones that I googled without being able to find them.
So she gave me something that looked like truffles, that she was holding in her hands and I was actually feeding an elephant.
There are pros and cons to everything. And sure, sometimes, you get hit by a tuk- tuk driver (boohoo), but sometimes, you get to feed an elephant in the middle of the most famous buddhist temple in Colombo. That’s life (well, maybe not that exactly, but, you know what I mean). And it can be pretty amazing once you let things surprise you.
Unless you’re in Pescenica. There, you should just play safe.

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