As a Sri-Lankan born Canadian Artist, I have had the privilege of spending time here in Sri Lanka within the last two years. From January – March 2015 I was here on a Canadian Government sponsored project geared towards exploring my artistic heritage and incorporating this experience into my own art practice. I was mentored in the traditional arts and crafts of Temple painting, and Beeralu Lacemaking. I recently returned in early January of this year to study the traditional craft of mask making.Both experiences deepened my understanding of my country of birth and my love of the people and place. In both instances, I lived and traveled as a local, journeying by bus, train, and tuk-tuk from my guesthouse to villages in which to study these art forms. Traveling sometimes over three hours a day back and forth and I observed the conditions of the towns and villages I passed through. I also took the train into Colombo on a weekly basis from my base south of Panadura.
In Canada where I reside, I speak fondly of my birthplace, the friendliness and generosity of its people, the beauty and richness of its landscape and culture, the ability to grow an abundance of food. However there are unsettling bits to this picture, and very noticeable to a visitor. One that particularly disturbs me is the extent of litter on public and private property, and the practice of burning garbage by the side of the road. It is disheartening to see that people have so little regard for their immediate surroundings that they think nothing of throwing away items of all kinds, and especially plastic bottles and plastic bags which do not decompose. All along the train tracks and beaches coming into Colombo lies this kind of debris.
This does not leave a very good impression in the minds of tourists who also ride these trains. I understand that this problem is one of many issues and cannot be solved overnight. Simply blaming lack of garbage services is not the answer, as there should be instilled a sense of civic pride in combination with education. Children must be taught in schools from a very early age the three R’s – reduce, re-use, recycle, and what that entails on a day-to-day basis. They in turn must educate their parents.
I have noticed that the closer one gets to a tourist resort, the less the litter. This is an indicator that Sri Lankans are well aware that littering is not the norm in other countries. On the many hours I spent riding buses, I was amazed at the level of street noise that was a constant in the small towns and even villages I traveled through. The few moments of travel through a quiet bucolic landscape of paddy fields or a river crossing heightened my awareness of this situation. Rather than the bus being a quiet refuge from the noise outside the window, I was assaulted with not only the constant horn blowing by the bus driver, but the blaring voices of a radio call-in show, or a loud music recording, or a music video playing on the screen at a high volume.
This is a form of noise pollution. A bus is a public space, and as such should be free from impositions of this kind. One should not be held hostage to the whims of an operator. We have so few moments of serenity in our day to day life, and they should include a quiet bus ride. I am proud of my heritage, and view Sri Lanka as a special place, a metaphorical Garden of Eden, and like a garden, it needs nurturing and tending to. As an artist and gardener, my hope is that my “complaints” are acknowledged as coming with the best intentions. Because I care.