As kids we were instructed to withhold judgment—that our Western lenses don’t always allow a clear vision.
I spent my adolescence in the third world, where women cloaked their bodies and walked behind men.
And it was difficult to hold my Western values in check.
Our visit to Sri Lanka in December rekindled my memories.
My sweetheart and I have been treated royally: offered tea throughout the day by strangers and, when venturing outside, given a cool place to sit.
I was awakened early one morning at our guesthouse when our hosts rose about 3 a.m. to prepare meals.
Resting on my cot swathed in mosquito netting I heard our host husband and wife grinding meal, cooking rice and steaming greens in the kitchen.
When our breakfast was served at 7 a.m., the table was crowded with rice, vegetables, fish, fruit, coffee and tea, all cooked lovingly.
The hosts left us—me, my husband, our guide and our driver–to hunker down on the meal.
We packed our bags for the next journey and shook hands with our hosts, who filled a cardboard box with a sumptuous lunch and an armful of mangoes.
As we climbed into the van, I caught our hosts thanking our guide. Turns out the guide owns the guesthouse and the husband-wife team are his employees.
They were joined by a fat-cheeked 8-year-old, the son of our hosts.
And then an odd thing happened.
The husband, the wife and the son took turns bowing before our guide, bending on both knees, palms down, foreheads touching the ground, at the feet of our guide—their boss.
I was stunned.
This is a very traditional gesture, our guide said.
Grinning, he asked the hosts to repeat the genuflection so we could witness it again.
The obeisance, I mused, spoke more about our guide’s ego than cultural norms.