Her house was three small rooms, each of which were barely big enough to hold a single sized mattress, yet when we sat down on those broken chairs, Udani made us feel like royalty… banana fed royalty.
In late March of 2014, my fiancé (now wife) and I took a weeklong trip to Sri Lanka. It was our first big trip as a couple and we were excited at the challenge. From friends, we heard Sri Lanka was beautiful and exotic, the perfect trip to wow my future wife.
The trip was filled with overwhelming scenery, from the rolling hillsides and valleys of Ceylon trees to the sweeping southern coasts kissing the Indian ocean. We had a driver that whisked us away to exotic locales and hidden gems at the slightest whim. It was completely perfect. That was until our car broke down on the last day of our trip. But oh, how blessed a turn of events it would prove to be.
The 1998 black Mercedes Benz had gotten us from the center of Sri Lanka in Colombo to Tangalle in the southern tip, and almost back again, when the engine stalled. Two Americans stood on the side of the small road as tuk-tuks, which are basically motorized rickshaws, whizzed passed on either side of the street. Their drivers smiled and honked their horns in greeting.
The day was hot and the air humid. Not five minutes had passed before a man came out from a small hut across the street and began to get on his moped. However, before leaving, he shouted towards us.
“Hello! You read? You like book? You sit and eat and read book! My house. Go there. Read. Eat.”
He shot us a heartwarming smile, plopped his helmet on, and sped off. I guess we were to go into his house. Hesitantly, we crossed.
The floor of his home was dirt, the walls were layers of cheap plywood, the ceiling was a few pieces of sheet metal, and there was no glass in the windows. The bathroom was a bucket on the side of the house, while the kitchen was a large communal stove in the backyard, shared by two other families. None of this grabbed our attention, however, as the tiniest, sweetest frame of a woman greeted us at the door and ushered us towards two chipped and broken plastic patio chairs.
Her name was Udani and she immediately ran into the far room, leaving us sitting there with a small girl in pink underwear and a shirtless young boy. The girl was playing with a broken remote to a race car while the boy pushed a three-wheeled truck back and forth across the dusty ground. This way of living was one my wife and I had rarely experienced.
Udani came bustling back into view with a package of small crackers and three small bananas. In the few words of English she knew she conveyed her pleasure at having us in her home. We talked about her life in Sri Lanka and the tsunami that had devastated her country not four years passed. Looking around the modest home it made me reflect on how many in the world actually live. It was about 30 minutes before our driver interrupted to tell us he had procured a new vehicle.
Despite the humble situation we didn’t want to go.
This mother of two, who was also caring for her mother, asleep in the other room, was able to survive on mere dollars a month. Her family, and that of her small community, supported one another through roadside fruit stands and odd jobs at the local car garage. And yet, without blinking, she offered us strangers the few scraps of food she had. This was hard to grasp. Such sacrifice.
My heart was filled with the beautiful gift this small woman had bestowed upon my wife and I. As we drove to the airport, we thanked God for giving us the opportunity to glimpse what true love looks like. To give not to those we love or to those we know will return the favor but to give and to love simply, and without expectation.
Udani took two travelers in need, gave them her home, her time, and her bananas.
Is there any fuller definition of love?