I Learned to Stroll in Sri Lanka
Updated: Aug 10, 2021
Growing up in the US, I was used to everything being fast-paced. Drive-in, take-out, fast food, one-hour photo, drive-thru, schedules, meetings, competitive edge, full out and fast walking.
When i first arrived in Sri Lanka as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I continued my regular workout routines that I'd picked up in college , as best as I could. I would run every morning, even though women weren't supposed to do that. I would wear my traditional Sri Lankan dress and running shoes and head out to the streets of Kandy unaccompanied by a male member of the family. It was frowned upon by anyone who saw me.
After the initial three months of training, we headed out to our respective villages. I went to a beautiful village in the hills above the city of Matara. Inside of my village we had dirt paths leading through the jungle in-between houses and to the local shop/post office/grocery store. The main mode of transportation within the village, was walking. To travel out of my village, I rode a bike.
When I first arrived in the village, I was led around by the village leaders who introduced me to farmers, other families and brought me to village meetings. We were getting to know each other and opening up possibilities for future projects. As we walked around from house to house, I noticed that I was always ahead of everyone. I used to get so frustrated with them. 'Why are they so slow? Don't they know I don't have a lot of time remaining here? We have a lot to do and there are a lot of people and organizations to coordinate and it's got to be done today because tomorrow there's even more to do!' This was my attitude for my first year living amongst Sri Lankans.
But as I settled in to life in the jungle, I slowly began to realize that I was fast pacing for nothing. I was bringing stress, frustration and mis-communication to the area, not them. They were easy-going, quick to laugh or tell stories. Life for them was about the journey, not the destination. No one needed to hurry because there was always time. The jungles were beautiful, the weather was hot, and life was all about appreciating the present moment, not the moments to come.
So as time passed by, I saw my frustrations ease with the pace of my walk. I learned to slow down, and walk next to the villagers, not in front of them . I became part of life there, not always separate like I had been . With more time and less stress, conversations became more enjoyable and I got to know people and their families on a deeper level.
The more time I spent strolling, the more I came to appreciate this slower way of doing things. I still had progress in my head, this is part of my internal make-up, but now it was working with the Sri Lankan system, not against it. I learned how to relax and still get things done. No more self-imposed pressure to outperform or compete against some unseen force. It was all about enjoying my time. Hanging out at the beaches and in the jungles with the villagers, my friends, and soaking up my limited amount of time in Sri Lanka. I spent time watching the sunset outside my mud hut, reading books, writing letters, learning to play the guitar, to read Hebrew and schedule meetings.
Strolling allows smiles, eye contact and communication while passing, as opposed to fast walking, keeping your eyes down, missing the view and a chance to connect with people.
I did get many projects off the ground, including bringing the first electricity line into our village. I worked with farmers, held classes for responsible pesticide education, we had sewing classes, dug wells, and I formed lasting bonds with the people in my village.
Once I saw the value in slowing down, metaphorically, I decided to adopt it for the rest of my life. I no longer stress about deadlines or things that go wrong. I have learned to accept things and people as they are, to move through life like a gentle flowing stream. I've lived on both sides of fast and slow and I see so much more kindness, acceptance, trust and just letting things go on the slower side, so I chose to stroll rather than win races.