29 Apr Corona Times in the City: Part II, Colombo – How the Virus is Affecting People and Places
These are strange times for cities and their people worldwide. Normally bustling streets are eerily empty, parks are closed, people are hiding inside their homes. Historic neighbourhoods across Southeast Asia — our workplace — are no longer the vibrant living spaces they used to be. These days, they are nothing but a muted décor of an injured society. How do we at iDiscover experience the silent city? Are we still able to go outside? How do the urban communities we are part of deal with the ‘new normal’ of social distancing? How does it affect our mood? How do we perceive the change of place? We talk to iDiscover contributors in different countries to find out more about what their life, and city, is like these days. Daisy Perry, our Colombo-based writer, reflects on current life in lockdown in Sri Lanka.
What is life in Colombo like these days?
We are under a total lockdown here as part of a military curfew. Residents are not allowed to leave their houses unless they have a police pass. These are granted to those who are doing essential deliveries and work. As a result, the roads are so empty, which is actually a big relief. In our apartment, we are enjoying the peace and quiet. The air also feels incredibly clean: we have noticed that the layer of black dust which normally settles on our furniture is no more. At dawn, I can see Adam’s Peak – a sacred mountain believed to have been visited by Adam, Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad – from my bedroom window, which is rare and a testament to the air clarity.
“I can see Adam’s Peak from my bedroom window, which is a testament to the air clarity”
How are people taking care of each other over there?
Bread, coconuts, as well as some fruit and vegetables, are delivered to our lane in tuk-tuks which announce their arrival with a lot of hooting! The sound of fish sellers crying “malu, malu, loku isso” (fish, fish, big prawns) also cuts through the silence a few times a day. One of our friends has a large mango tree in her garden and her husband managed to get a one-hour police pass to deliver them. It was such a nice surprise to find a bag on our doorstep one morning! There is definitely a sense of community spirit with neighbours helping each other out.
Life in lockdown has made me even more grateful for my friends who regularly check on me; those with police passes have delivered vegetables, fruits and meals. Sri Lankans are famous for their hospitality, but the level of kindness and thoughtfulness is amplified in these times; many families and restaurants are delivering food to those in need.
Daisy interviewing primary school student Mohamed Nasree in Galle Fort for the iDiscover App, pre-lockdown (photo: Atheeq Ifthikar)
How are you doing?
I am managing to stay positive by doing lots of meditation and yoga, home workouts, reading and some writing. I am grateful to live with two wonderful friends. We are supporting each other by cooking Sri Lankan-style rice and curry for lunch each day and having home movie nights using a projector in one of our bedrooms. Like many people, I am naturally a very free spirit and spend a lot of my weekends out of Colombo, often in Galle and on the south coast. Therefore, I find being in a contained space quite challenging. At night I am dreaming of rivers, oceans and forests, which reminds me just how important time in nature is to my wellbeing.
Daisy speaking to Aiyomi Dilrukshi Ramanayake, the owner of the restaurant of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association in Galle Fort, for the iDiscover App, pre-social distancing (Photo: Atheeq Ifthikar)
What are you most looking forward to doing when curfew lifts?
I am looking forward to going for an early morning run under the huge old banyan trees in Independence Square, which I can walk to from where I live. Having the freedom to jump on the highway bus and travel down to Galle for weekends at the beach with my friends will also feel amazing.
Personally, the past month has made me reflect on what is truly important to me: my family and friends, my health, my yoga/meditation practice and my connection to nature. Even though I cannot leave my apartment, just seeing pelicans, parakeets, kingfishers, bee-eaters, butterflies, fruit bats and fireflies in the sky above fills me with so much hope and joy. This is such a challenging time in human history, yet I am grateful that nature is having a chance to recover. I really hope that after the coronavirus pandemic has passed, we will begin to live more consciously and sustainably; in our interactions with each other and in our care for the planet that sustains us.
Want to help your community during the coronavirus outbreak?
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Words by Daisy Perry
Daisy is a writer who finds inspiration in everyday Sri Lankan life. She loves listening to and recording people’s stories. In the Fort, she is most likely to be found having tea with friends or having a swim off Lady’s Sea Bath Beach.