Many people are extremely surprised when I tell them that I’m half Sri Lankan. My mother was born there and immigrated to Australia when she was just six years old. Being fair skinned and blue eyed, she’s not what you expect for a Sri Lankan. That’s because she’s Sri Lankan Burgher, a group that date back to the 1500’s when the Dutch and Portuguese sailed to the tear drop that is Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean) to trade spices. I grew-up in Melbourne’s Sri Lankan community, eating my grandmother’s curries and sniffing their friends’ cheeks when they visited. Yes, sniffing cheeks! Sri Lankans don’t air kiss we sniff cheeks, just like Italians kiss both cheeks. It’s a beautiful custom and my kids greet my Sri Lankan grandmother this way.
Sri Lanka was the first country that I ever visited outside of my birth country Australia. I distinctly recall being a seven year old boarding the Air Lanka (now Sri Lankan Airlines) flight, including the flight attendants’ warm smiles and the pattern on the traditional sari uniform. I think this was the moment my desire to be a flight attendant started.
To me they were so full of grace and beauty, but also represented a bit of mystery of our final destination. The journey was so memorable, not just because it was my first overseas trip, but because it was so different to where I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula in Australia. At just seven years old, and having never left Australia, the only thing I could compare the humidity with was the butterfly cage at the Melbourne Zoo. The airport was packed, and chaotic but I loved the immediate culture shock.