It was the first word we heard spoken when we walked through the doors of our hotel in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo as we continued our round the world adventure. And it was accompanied by our greeter’s two hands lightly pressed together in a prayer pose followed by a little bow and a huge smile.
But Ayubowan means much more than just “Hello” and it is a small linguistic reflection of the character of the people you find here. The greeting roughly translates to “I wish you a long life and be happy.” It is a most welcoming and hospitable expression that accurately reflects the lovely nature of the Sri Lankan people.
That’s why it was so hard to disappointment them when we announced shortly after arriving in their country, formerly known as Ceylon, that we would soon be leaving. Not the whole country of course. Just from this hotel which was brand new but simply not ready for prime time.
“It looks like a water treatment facility,” said my husband. He was right. Even though the interiors of the villas were spacious and beautifully appointed the rest of the place looked abandoned. Even the flocks of magnificent peacocks swanning around the property could not improve the remote feel of the place. Instead of creating a sense of privacy and calm it made you feel isolated and anxious.“I understand you are leaving early but we are so sad you will not stay for a second day,” said our lovely guide.
Guilt loomed large. But we were steadfast in our resolve to escape even as he asked the inevitable question we were hoping to avoid.
“Why are you going?’
My husband tried to muzzle me but I blurted out the truth anyway.
“We hate it here,” I said.
By way of explanation I added,
“It simply isn’t finished.” Even though I assured them I thought it would be perfect once the flowers, bushes and grasses finally grew in. The sight of a woman working the fields reminded me that this hotel was not representative of one of the loveliest aspects of this country, its overgrown lushness. I am self aware enough to know that most people are completely uninterested in the truth if it is unattractive. But under these circumstances truthfulness was mandatory. There was no other exit plan that would explain our behavior.
What if you lied and said “Oh, the room’s just too small,” and then they generously came up with an alternative space of palatial proportions. There was no fixing this problem.
It’s like when you were a teenager, or worse, an adult, and someone broke your heart whilst soothingly explaining, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Don’t be daft. It absolutely is you. Not that anything is wrong with you. They just don’t like you enough to love you and you deserve someone who does. So do they. An honest answer may bruise your ego but it will also kick start the healing process and propel you in a better direction and toward a more suitable partner.
I should actually send thank you cards to the men who, shockingly, did not love me enough to marry me. In the end they were like beautiful, but ill fitting dresses. You loved the look of them, but they just didn’t look good on you. Favors come is all sizes. Be grateful for the ones that got away.
And I hoped that maybe, with our early departure, a lesson might have been left behind here as well. “Plant some trees or hire a gardener,” I wanted to advise the hotel guide. But according to my husband I had already said more than enough and so I remained silent. I do hope they were more inspired than insulted.
And, in fact the young man at the front desk of the hotel nodded his head knowingly. That’s how lovely the people are here. He didn’t want to be impolite to me despite my unkind remarks about his workplace. Even if they were true.
Mark Twain once said of honesty, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Which is a saying that I like almost as much as the comedian George Carlin’s remark about the same subject.
“Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.”
Next: More Time In Sri Lanka