It all began when a little old cheery lady asked me to take a photo of her grandson.
She didn’t ask me with words, she just sort of motioned to my camera bag, wide smile and head nod.
Feeling comfortable in the Tamil bus, and having no clue as to when the driver would start the engine, I busted out my camera and got a couple shots of her grandson.
Showing her the photo on the LCD screen, her eyes filled with tears of joy.
Others waiting on the bus had noticed my camera as well and when I showed the photo, about 10 other people stood up and attempted to catch a glimpse of this novel device.
I was on an all Sri Lankan Tamil bus in Pusselawa, waiting to ride into the rolling Ceylon tea fields.
In this majority Sinhala area of Sri Lanka, Hindu Tamil’s from India came multiple generations ago to pick tea on the many plantations around.
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The town of Pusselawa is almost all Tamil.
There are a few things you should know about normal buses in Sri Lanka:
- Passengers: The driver will absolutely not drive his vehicle until all seats are full, there is zero standing room, and you are hugging the person next to you.
- Comfort: It’s a requirement that no one should be comfortable on a Sri Lankan bus.
- Driving: After over filling a bus, a driver must drive as fast as possible, hammer the brakes (especially when it’s unnecessary) and make swerving 90 degree turns without ever touching the brake.
So we were all in the passenger stage, waiting for more passengers, but really clueless as to when they would arrive.
Being positively patient and having flexibility when we travel is truly one of the most important attitudes to embrace.
After everyone saw my camera soon the bus turned into a bus-wide photo studio. First it was a man in the front of the bus, then another, then a boy, then a girl etc.
At first they would give me a nervously sheepish grin and motion for me to take their photo, and after I’d show it to them, they’d loosen up and smile wide with ecstatic disbelief as if thinking “really, that’s how I look?”
The facial expressions, smiles, and looks were priceless.
The photo session went on for about 15 minutes where to the delight of the entire bus I snapped a portrait of almost everyone.
An hour later the driver came and we thought we may be on our way; He revved up the engine and honked the horn.
To our dismay he made the decision to drive 2 kilometers per hour through town back and forth for another hour.
Every now and then we’d pick up another passenger armed with a giant jua kali style load and they’d be added to the mess of humanity in the Tamil bus.
Soon I was holding onto a bar, someone was standing on my left foot, there were a few butts pressed against my side, and I was straddling a giant stock of bananas.
Around 2 hours later we were on our way, cruising through the gorgeous tea fields aboard the Sri Lankan Tamil tea bus!