The journey from eating rice and beans to eating rice and curry

June 2019 marked the 8-year anniversary of my having moved to Sri Lanka. You may be wondering what happens to someone who stays in this country for that long – do you automatically start saying “aiyo!”, drinking lots of tea, and craving curry? Well if you’re me, then yes, yes and sort of. I am like a sponge and tend to soak in my surroundings a little too much…when I used to call my grandma in the US, she could immediately tell it was me due to my “cute new accent”. Well, my accent may be muddled, but I’m still the same person that came to these shores eight years ago, super excited to be someplace so exotic… I’m just slightly more Sri Lankanised (podak).           

Me, soon after arriving in Sri Lanka

So what’s my story? How did I get here? Why am I starting this blog?

Since this is my first blog post ever, I figure I can indulge and write lots of personal details no one cares about. I’m sure I’m going to look back at this a couple of years from now and cringe and think “jesus, that was some bad writing”, but whatever, we have to start somewhere right? Also, I recently read a quote that said: “Sucking at something is the first step to being great at something”, which is exactly the kind of motivational quote I need to paste on my forehead since I am such a perfectionist.

So, here goes nothing: My name is Anna Maria and I am a Costa Rican-American. What does that mean? It means my mom is Costa Rican and my dad is American. It also means that I was born in the US (in sunny San Diego, California to be exact) and then moved with my parents and two younger sisters to Costa Rica when I was 14 – pretty much the worst age to move to a different country, because, well, puberty. But I somehow survived the initial WTF scenario of having to suddenly speak in Spanish 24/7, eat rice and beans every day and break into high-school cliques of friends who had known each other since kindergarten. After a typical period of teenage angst where I couldn’t even pass the airport without bawling my eyes out, something shifted. I suddenly started liking my new life. I suddenly didn’t feel like an outsider. And I’m not sure exactly when it happened but at some point I fell in love with the country and didn’t want to leave. I loved my friends, I loved dancing salsa, I loved living up in the mountains next to coffee plantations, I loved the monkeys and birds and beaches and volcanoes. I even didn’t mind the constant earthquakes!

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica: I’ve been blessed to have lived more than half my life in two beautiful tropical countries.

So I might still have been there to this day (maybe writing a blog called Living the Pura Vida Life?) if I hadn’t met a Sri Lankan in Costa Rica – probably the most improbable thing ever ­– who I ended up marrying and then moving halfway across the world with.  

Thus began Chapter 3 of my life, the Living in Lanka part. 😉

From the moment I stepped out of the airport and into the muggy chaos that is Colombo, I was hooked. I loved the sunshine, the monkeys, the palm trees, drinking king coconut water, being so close to the ocean, having afternoon tea with butter cake, wearing flip flops all day, the list goes on.

Some things I don’t love? Unattractively blowing my nose and chugging water after every spicy rice and curry meal. 90% humidity. Crazy traffic. But hey, there had to be some downsides right?

A veg rice and curry lunch: even the salad is spicy!

Anyways, this blog will be all about sharing the love though… my love for this beautiful country with anyone else who is thinking of moving here, already living here, or just passing through.

When I moved here, I had some unique advantages that I realise a lot of other expats don’t have when they’re trying to adapt. Due to my husband, I automatically had an extended Sri Lankan family who welcomed me with open arms and patiently translated things for me, showed me local fruits and veggies and how to cook them (not that I acted on this knowledge very much, but you know, I know what I need to do if I suddenly feel like whipping up a chicken curry). I was told what the various sounds were that I heard outside my window, which were so alien to me at the beginning (squirrels sound like birds here people, I swear). I was shown different religious and cultural traditions and what they meant (at this point I have probably attended more dannes and bannas and pirith ceremonies than some Sri Lankans).  

What made all of this really interesting was that for the first five years of my life in SL, I was part of the corporate world as well, as I started working for the local arm of the same company I used to work for in CR. So not only did I have a Sri Lankan family to show me the ropes, but suddenly I had awesome Sri Lankan colleagues and friends of my own that ensured I knew important office traditions such as buying everyone else cake on your own birthday (yep, mind-blowing I know, but it’s true!), tried valiantly to teach me Singhala (pretty much a fail but I have not given up hope) and made sure I knew important swear words.

The World Trade Center in Colombo. For five years I worked on the very top floor and had an awesome view of the ocean from my desk.

My friends and family here often joke that I must have been Sri Lankan in another lifetime, something that I seriously wonder whether might be true, because adapting here has been so effortless. My own family in Costa Rica and the US keeps asking me how I do it. How can I live so far from home and not feel homesick. And the honest answer is I don’t know, but I’m so grateful that it has been the case. This has been a tremendous journey and I still love living here.

So what am I up to these days?  

Well three years ago we added a tiny human to our family, and one year ago we gave him a brother. Enter Chapter 4 of my life, which I like to call Sleepless in Sri Lanka. (See what I did there?)

The eldest protagonist…
…and the youngest

As a result, I now feel qualified to not only teach other expats about cultural nuances, but give advice on how to deal with tantrums in 90% humidity (mostly my own – children don’t seem to be concerned about inane things such as weather).

Sooooo… whether you’re planning on moving to Sri Lanka, or visiting for just a few days, whether you’ve been living here for eons or just arrived, my hope is that you might find something useful here. In this blog I hope to cover very important topics/questions such as:

  • Does the head waggle mean yes or no?
  • What is that thing in my garden that looks like a crocodile?
  • Why you should never enter a staring competition in Sri Lanka
  • Why some Sri Lankan names are more like sentences
  • Why you should eat before a Sri Lankan dinner party
  • What is a Sri Lankan goodbye
  • Why you may be told brutal truths about yourself right to your face
  • Why strangers want to hold your children and what to do about it (hint: give the child to them and you will have free babysitters while you drink your coffee)

Have a look around, and let me know what you think. If you have any topics that you would like me to write about, or spot any glaring errors I may have made, or just want to chat, I would love to hear from you! Just drop me a mail at anna@livinginlanka.com.

The three boys in my life
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