Tag: fear

Fear, bravery and bees

Fear, bravery and bees

The man talks rapidly in Sinhala and I have no idea what he’s saying. Possibly telling me to hurry up because of the giant honey bee nests hanging nearby. I grip the railing with sweaty palms because bees are the least of my worries right now.

The “wasps” at Sigiriya are technically giant honey bees. No less aggressive and terrifying.

The bees at Sigiriya are known for being volatile. Some tourists climb in uncomfortably hot-looking beekeeping suits to ward off stings. I am not one of them. I’m mostly focused on not falling to my death.

I take a step and then another. A line of tourists behind the guide watches my painfully slow ascent.

At the top I stand beside a woman easily 20 years older than me. She’s catching her breath too. We both stand gasping for a few minutes before we can take a look around.

Later I’ll post beautiful views from the top with the history behind each picture. I’ll hesitate to focus on how hard it was for me. Everyone likes triumph over adversity, but I find it humiliating to admit the view didn’t come easily.

It’s not just the physical activity. It’s the sheer terror I get from heights.

It’s also the fear of being left behind. The fear of unwisely spending too much money on a tourist trap. The anxiety of not wearing the right clothes, maybe saying the wrong thing, of wondering what I ate that’s upset my stomach, when I’ll be able to get to a bathroom again, whether I’m a terrible girlfriend for even being here right now while Ryan is on the other side of the planet. I’m also nervous about the bees.

I step up into what must surely have been an impressive fortress. I look at the remnants of walls and pools, then gaze past to the deep green forests below.



I can see Katherine and Julia way up ahead. They’ve gone to take photos farther away from the other tourists. The girls look like they’ve gone right out to the edge, so I decide to look around by myself. I’ll gather the courage to go out there in a bit.

Me terrified

I envy their bravery.

It’s madness that I can brave bee attacks and push through my physical limitations to climb a rock fortress and still feel I’ve come up short.

The three of us talked about it earlier on our tuk tuk ride to Sigiriya. The way people back home sometimes tell us how brave we are, being in Sri Lanka.

We talked about how it doesn’t seem so brave when you know a lot of people who’ve done it. It seems even less brave when you think of some of the incompetent fools you’ve met doing the same thing.

Bravery seems like something reserved for heroes. We know we’re not remarkable.

Standing on the fortress, the wind blows hard. I imagine being blown over and falling to a painful death. I hold onto the railing.

Around me there are children and adults of all ages. One woman climbed with crutches. No one else is gripping onto anything with fear. I know I’m not remarkable.

Those are honey combs covered in layers of giant honey bees (not actually wasps, as reported in

But maybe bravery isn’t about the fearless climb up a mountain or how far I wandered from home. When friends from Canada say I’m brave, I like to think they mean more than my desire to make good use of my passport.

They know I hold a bundle of fear in my belly and I don’t let it stop me. Bravery isn’t absence of fear; it’s taking action in spite of it.

Later, on the way down, I still hold tightly to the railing and my breathing is shallow with fright. When we pass the bees’ nests, I shiver and stop. Sometimes I like to remember the things I fear most of all.

I take my shaking, sweaty hands off the railing, hold up my phone and take a photo. Then I carefully place the phone back in my bag, take back my grip on the banister and continue down to safety.

Out behind the chicken coop: a story from my Sri Lankan homestay

Out behind the chicken coop: a story from my Sri Lankan homestay

I’d like to ask them about the war, but I can’t. Besides, we’ve been advised not to talk politics with anyone. A 30-year civil war is complex and divisive. It’s better to steer clear.

At the moment I’m most interested in where the bathroom is. Someone must have gone, but being in the presence of half the neighbourhood, I haven’t noticed. I’m hoping to see someone drift away, maybe to the back of the property, and deduce where to go, like Nancy Drew might have done.

Instead I resemble a cult leader, with a handful of flowers, linen pants and a group of loyal child followers.

Flowers 2 (1 of 1)


Stop. Reverse that. I am following the children; they are not following me. I look around and wonder how things have changed in the past decade, but I don’t even have my bearings in the present.

There’s a small white building behind the chicken coop. It may be the bathroom. It’s getting dark and I hardly want to go wandering in the woods to investigate. I don’t even know what to be afraid of.

(OK, I do, it’s spiders.)

I can hold it. I’ll be fine. It’s not dire.

Before moving here, I read books about Sri Lanka. I wanted to understand where I was coming to, especially with a long war less than a decade in the past. But I do not feel prepared.

When my coworkers dropped me off in the jungle with a family who didn’t speak English I was terrified. The family was smiling, my boss told me I could call her, but the wide valley of not-knowing was all I could think about.

It probably sounds strange, given that I flew for more than 20 hours to come and live here. I’ve survived a huntsman spider encounter, food poisoning and crossing the streets of Colombo in rush hour. But nothing has frightened me quite like my impending night in the jungle.

The family I’m staying with has a snug little brick house with cows in the yard. In the morning, I’ll get photos to show Ryan’s family.

Cow 1 (1 of 1)

As I sit with the children, one or the other will disappear and come back washed and changed into nice clothing. I feel sticky, sweaty and dusty. I consider trying to ask where I can wash. It will probably be near the washroom.

The matriarch of the family motions for me to bring my camera and get into a tuk-tuk with her and four children. We drive off into the dark night. I’m guessing this isn’t the way to the bathroom. Everyone’s dressed far too nicely.

Out of the black evening shine Buddhas and a white dagoba. Monks are chanting as we get out of the trishaw and walk toward the temple.

We place flowers at each statue. We fill small metal cups with oil and light cotton wicks. The matriarch prays. It’s beautiful. So lovely that I don’t lift my camera, I just watch and follow along behind the children.

When we climb the steps to the largest Buddha, one little girl suggests I take a photo. So I do.

Buddha 1 (1 of 1)

Then we go to the monk. He blesses the children and ties a white string on each person’s wrist for protection and good health (I will find this ironic two days later when I spend four hours throwing up in a van on my way back to Colombo).

We head back to the house and they make me a feast. I’m not to help in the kitchen. I know nothing about anything in this place and I would not be helpful.

Then there is curry. Such delicious curry. *

Now I need to go to the bathroom. No more guessing. No more worrying that they might not understand and I’ll have to awkwardly pantomime squatting.

I hope for the best and simply say, “Washroom?”

The matriarch takes me out to an outhouse with a squatter toilet behind the chicken coop, as I expected. The mystery is solved. I’m no Nancy Drew—she probably would have just asked.


* I’ve decided retrospectively that this cannot possibly be what made me sick. It was delicious, their hospitality was extensive and I refuse to accept it.