Why I Only Lasted Five Days in Sri Lanka
“You are a woman. And you are from…” the first man said.
“Norway,” I said to correct what I assumed to be his assumption of my origin. I had done this before, because most people do not grasp how an Indonesian-Norwegian traveller can be travelling. This was not this day and trip’s problem though.
“Yes, you are not from here.”
“So, I want to ask, do you sleep with many guys?”
“Because black people…”
I did not mind the man beating around the bush about what he wanted to say to begin with, but I did mind the direction the conversation was taking. His attempt to sound politically correct was interrupted by his politically incorrect question.
“They have big penis?” he asked, innocently or not, so I swiftly stood up from where we sat.
Although the man seemed bummed that I left, he was nice enough to wish me a good day from a distance.
I was in Sri Lanka and over this southern city, herein called Galle, that otherwise had a lot to offer, including its Dutch-infused architecture. As a traveller with a fear of missing out, I scanned the surrounds for any unexplored gems before catching the bus back to the hostel I was staying at.
The bus passengers were ready, judging by their backs in front of me. So the master of overtaking sped off. He failed to notice close call after close call, or succeeded to dodge several occurrences I thought to be the end of us. The coastal road was underneath us; windows were cracked open and the Sri Lankan tunes banging from the bus driver’s corner were heftier than Harry Potter’s double-decker scene.
An hour or so prior to the man’s disclosure about his assumed fetish, which took place on his verandah, he had given me a tour of his homestay. We had come as far as the second floor. I was more gullible as a 20-year-old (I am now 22), but my intuition had foreknown that his scheme would be to corner me in the bedroom he was urging me to see, so I had prepared myself to stay close to the door. His scheme had proved to be true.
The way I roamed the Sri Lankan island was by train. I got on at Galle and off at Weligama. Weligama was where I crossed paths with an old man – the owner of the guest house I had moved on to. I opened up to this grandfather figure about my encounter in Galle.
“I’m very sorry that you experienced this. A lot of men in this country are uneducated,” he said.
The next man I encountered was stoked to see me. I had never met him before. He had a cheesy smile. His eyes glared with intensity upon my arrival at my new shelter. He worked there.
When day became night, the owner brought me to a bamboo structure that served fresh fish. I was hungry. He stayed with me all night, because he was concerned about my safety. In hindsight, his concern was sweet. At the time, I felt my freedom stripped from me for the night.
I was soon introduced to a bald, middle-aged French guy. His monetary donations to a local beach boy’s family had given them the opportunity to own a bar and restaurant on paper. They worked here while the Frenchman handled the economy and social events and ate what the family served him. We gobbled up our food – he and I.
Further into the night and out of nowhere, a member of the same family that owned the restaurant came forth. He must have been a cousin, at least not a restaurant worker. All primary family members seemed to work there. This second man came whining to me about some family drama. He laid his weeping head onto my lap while stroking my thighs. I swiftly got up.
“He’s pretending to cry. Don’t worry about it,” said the Frenchman, irritated by the sudden dramatics.
The old man took me back to his guest house. We bid our goodnights. It was late. He had a family to return to, yet he chose to tend to me this evening.
“Thank you for accompanying me tonight,” I said.
“Goodnight,” the old man replied.
When I returned to the guest house, the employee was still around. I assumed then and there that he was working night shift. He invited me to play cards with him. I was led into a messy space with a bed and miscellaneous items spread out the place. This third man began laying out cards on the small space of his bed.
“I will be back,” he mumbled and grunted at once and disappeared into the dark hallway.
He returned with a bottle of anti-mosquito oil and smeared its content on my thigh. There was no time for him to reach for the innermost part of my leg, because I swiftly got up. I had done this twice before on this trip, did it twice on this night, and this was the third time I did it overall.
After the déjà vu moment, I walked towards my room. His footsteps followed mine, even though he was being covert about tailing me.
In the end, he swung his penis like a helicopter rotor for my display. I was fortunate that the three-dimensional details of his genitalia got blocked by the dark for my eyes to see. Unfortunately, I saw an approximate size of his rotor and it was large enough, like a rotor is. This occurred after circa 15 long minutes had passed. In these, I had anticipated that he might corner me in my room like the first man had done.
I held a monologue where I demanded he leave, sometimes sparing my voice. His smirk was the single light bulb on the strip of dark space.
“Go, or else I will make your boss fire you tomorrow,” I commanded.
“Okay, okay. I will go. Please…” he said, and mumbled further about something to which I replied, “Only if you leave.”
“You will not tell him. Okay? Okay? Okay?” he asked while turning and walking away from my personal space.
I told his boss about him the following morning. He had been unable to exit the hallway until I threatened him in turning him jobless, and the two male guests behind the doors had been unable to check up on the nuisances. Perhaps they were asleep.
The old man apologised on his employee’s behalf, seemingly foreknowing who he had employed. Regardless, I was out of the place straight after and out of the country after getting on at Weligama and off at Colombo.
I booked a flight back to my safe place – Bali-bound, I was. I was based in Indonesia at the time and had for the stretched five days longed for my safe space.
I have associated Sri Lanka with these three men for too long now, while repressing lovely memories like the train ride from Colombo down to Weligama and back up again. Despite the males I encountered, the warmth sourced from the landscape’s sandy gravel, palm tree leaves and orange coconuts, and from the country’s many good people, are worth experiencing as a young solo female traveller. Sexism and misogyny are nothing new, and some might feel nervous about travelling alone as a woman to countries where they are still so embedded in the male culture, but Sri Lanka is a gem at the end of the day.
Cover art by the author