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  • Arthur Max

Peace in Wartime

I’m living in a bubble, insulated from all around.

Ukraine is shattered by war. Europe is in pain — the world is, in fact — from inflation and the consequences of boycotts.

But here, in our Sri Lankan refuge, I smell the salty sea, hear the sound of the surf, see the early morning sunlight splashing on the coconut fronds and on the crests of waves crashing onto the sand.

The country is imploding, its economy in shambles, its debt overwhelming, its corruption nation-crippling. Ordinary folks are immobilized by heat that is inescapable because of power cuts up to 13 hours long. Imported goods are disappearing as the bankrupt government conserves its dwindling foreign currency. Even locally grown food is in short supply and costly because the Treasury could not pay to import fertilizer. Cooking gas and diesel for cars and generators are precious in their scarcity.

In our bubble, we feel almost none of this.

Ranjan, through his genius for scavenging and making do, sheathes us from most of these ill-effects. Somehow our ancient generator, seemingly kept together with sticky tape and bubble gum — keeps throbbing out power — most of the time. Vegetables, fish and chicken, though outrageously expensive, can be cooked in an infinite variety of fabulous curries.

And so, another dawn on my balcony: The trees that we planted have grown enough to let me peer under their canopies and view the beach. Each evening the setting sun works its magic on the canvas of sky and water.

It’s been two years since we’ve been here. In March 2020 we were on the last plane out of Colombo before the global disease shut down flights. Covid is still with us, but the world is adjusting.

The issues now are different. Though we are far away, we cannot totally escape. Smartphone alerts tell us of tragedies beyond comprehension. We are riveted by the European turbulence, by Ukraine’s astonishing resilience, by Putin’s humiliation to all but his own Russian people. We are not unaware, nor are we uncaring, nor are we neutral. We pick sides.

Roshan, our talented cook, baked a “Slava Ukraini” cake that we photographed and messaged to our Ukrainian guests who were at the Wadiya in January and who are — as of this writing — hunkered down in Kiev. “We will win,” texts Igor from his bunker, grateful for this thin sign of support from a world away.

With us now are a German couple and their 19-month-old, and a Czech family with three children. They are relaxing, doting on their toddlers, romping in the pool, doing yoga, having full-body massages. They know their time here is only a respite. We will do what we can when we get home, they say. Maybe we will take in refugees.

In the meantime, we will holiday.

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