I stick out in Sri Lanka. The locals stare at me. They don’t smile. It makes me want to hide in my room and never come out.
I observed how other travelers handled this, and, to my surprise, it was with open kindness. I started waving at whoever was staring at me. I always get waves and huge grins in return. Being plucky is the way to go.
I decided that when hawkers persisted, asking me where I’m from to get my attention to try and sell things to me, I would ask them questions back. This is how I met Senaka.
Outside of the Dambulla cave temples, I was removing my shoes when a Sri Lankan vendor with uncharacteristic long dreads gave me the familiar, “Hello, where are you from?”
“New York, America,” I answered. Here, New York by itself is not always a recognizable location. “Where are you from?”
“From here,” he said. “I am Senaka. I like Americans very much.”
Now he had my attention. “Why?”
“They have a lot of courage.”
“Well, we are bold…” I allowed.
Senaka looked at me. I looked around, broodingly. "Stop thinking so hard," he advised. He told me he could see my astrology, and that he could tell I was on a mission, seeking truth. He then proceeded, without any hints from me, to give voice to all of my concerns. “You are thinking with your brain, and you are also thinking with your heart. But they are thinking two different things. You must only think with your brain, not all your organs.” I nodded, my brain deep in thought about this. “But don’t think too hard!”
"Don't try to understand other people - that is how you become jealous. Only understand yourself. There is no pessimism, and no optimism. Only realism."
We spoke for a few more minutes, and I turned to go. "Wait!" He ran away and came back. He pressed a smooth reddish rock into my hand. "Hold this in your hand, and don't think too much. Just think about the rock."
I've tried this many times now. When thinking too much is holding me back from living my actual life, I imagine a rock. Sometimes I picture the one Senaka gave me, and sometimes I picture a big rock in the ocean, stoic, as waves crash all around it. I want to find that stillness inside and live in it. I've been shown so many times that worrying helps nothing, but I still worry, and plot, and resent. A big part of what I worry about is other people, as Senaka said. I want to believe that everyone is doing the best they can in this life. Right now I don't. In my experience, everyone is doing the worst they can. But this rock is not an island - I need people, and trusting that there is goodness in them can only bring peace to my own churning organs.
Prepare one sheet of parchment paper for pressing out dough.
Combine flour, dessicated coconut, coconut oil and salt in a large bowl.
Slowly add water until the mix just comes together. Keep checking the consistency with your hands - it should be moldable, not sticky nor soupy.
Using your hands, roll a chunk of the dough into a tennis ball-sized sphere, then press into a flat 1/2-inch thick disc with your fingertips (see above picture).
Heat a large skillet on medium heat (oil with coconut oil if not using cast-iron or nonstick). Cook the roti for 3-5 minutes or until the underside begins to brown. Flip, and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Roti should be soft and chewy on the inside. Repeat with remainder of dough.
Serve savory (pumpkin curry, perhaps?) or sweet (topped with coconut treacle, or maple syrup/honey/brown rice syrup, a la American-style pancakes).
2 cups spelt flour
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup warm water (you may not use all of it)
Knob of coconut oil (optional)