As a nation, Sri Lanka has seen it all and more. Naturally beautiful, with breathtaking landscapes and rich in resources, the teardrop-shaped island has witnessed a bloody civil war that claimed thousands of lives before ending in 2009. In 2004, the deadly tsunami that swept through several parts of Asia caused untold devastation. Last year, a severe economic storm swept through the country, sending the prices of even the most basic goods soaring. From petrol stations to supermarkets, supplies ran out and people were forced to dig deep into their seemingly bottomless reservoir of resilience. They have responded with characteristic stoicism. Happily, their patience has been rewarded, and today Sri Lanka is cautiously embarking on a journey of hope and optimism, with its main industry – tourism – experiencing something of a boom.
Through it all, the ordinary Sri Lankan hasn’t forgotten how to smile. How to be grateful for what they had, whether in tangible material terms or otherwise. There is a great lesson to be learnt in their equanimity and composure, in the genuine warmth with which they greet you, in the lengths they will go to make you feel welcome and comfortable.
This time last year, with the country at its lowest ebb since the end of the civil war, the cricket team stood tall, a beacon of hope providing moments of joy and light in the darkness of reality. Under Dasun Shanaka, the archetypal Sri Lankan – unassuming, affable – they carved up the T20 Asia Cup field in the United Arab Emirates; continental powerhouses India and Pakistan were expected to call the shots, with one of them, everyone assumed, certain to walk away with the ultimate honours. Sri Lanka played the party pooper, quietly stepping out of the shadows without fanfare and pulling off the ultimate coup in the final against Pakistan in Dubai. As sporting triumphs go, few have been more popular.