Letters with home matter as much as you think they do
Sri Lanka — Uniterra
I’ve lived in Colombo for just about eight months and it’s amazing to me how this length of time feels both very short and very long. It feels like a short time because the more I learn about Sri Lanka, the more I learn I have to learn – I hope that made sense! – and it feels like a long time because I’m away from my home, my culture, and my loved ones and, of course, sometimes that’s really hard.
Thankfully, I’ve been comfortable in my routine here since my second month so my mandate and life in Colombo feel normal to me. I’m grateful for the experience of living in Colombo and working with the incredible folks at WUSC Sri Lanka. Overall, I’d say I feel very much at home here. That said, I still occasionally feel some culture shock. It’s in the loud bus horns in traffic at the end of a long day. Or it’s in the hoard of male teenagers in the back of a truck aggressively shouting at me as they drive by. It is in these occasional, frustrating moments that I crave a connection to home in Canada.
Before I left for my first time living out of Canada two and a half years ago, my mum gave me a pile of letters to be opened throughout my mandate in Ghana. She did the same thing when I went to Botswana just a few months later and then, reliably, just as I left for Sri Lanka last year, she handed me yet another stack of letters. In these stacks of letters were birthday cards, Christmas cards, cards for when I’m feeling sick, and cards “just because”. Each time I’ve lived outside of Canada, these cards have been comfort for me in the moments when I could use a little piece of home for whatever reason.
In addition to the cards from my mum, I’ve also been lucky enough to be sent mail from friends and family while I’ve been in Sri Lanka. Every now and then, the security guard at WUSC Sri Lanka will wander over to my desk and hand me an envelope. I’m always surprised and then delighted to see my name written in a friend or family member’s handwriting. It really is the easiest way to make my day (well, that and cake at tea time!). These letters are meaningful to me because they feel like a physical connection to my community outside of Sri Lanka.
I hope my friends and family feel the same way when they (finally) receive the postcards I have (again, finally) sent back to them in January. As I traveled around Sri Lanka the past several months, I amassed quite a collection of empty postcards waiting to be filled with stories and well-wishes to folks back home. Admittedly, it took me far too long to fill them out and send them, especially considering there’s a post office a five minute walk from my office. But, as of last month, postcards covered in my scribbles are out into the world and hopefully making their way (slowly but surely) to not only people back home in Canada but also to people as far away as Uganda, Hong Kong, and the United States.
Sending letters back and forth with friends and family around the world is a wonderful reminder of the community I have supporting me, even from thousands of kilometres away. It’s the smallest gesture that always fills me with happiness and gratitude. Because many Uniterra volunteers have their packages sent to the WUSC Sri Lanka office, I also have had the opportunity to see how happy packages from home make others, too. (We all get so excited about simple things like a sachet of tea in a familiar flavour or microwaveable Kraft Dinner or a printed photo of a baby brother back home.) So, all this is to say a great, big THANK YOU to everyone who has taken the time to send their loved one’s small packages, letters, and postcards from home! Trust me, it means the world to us.