Ella, Sri Lanka, 2017.
I was on my way back from a climb up Little Adam’s Peak when I came across this small shack pictured above.
A young woman stood in front of it.
A vibrant red draped down the pattern of her dress to the outline of her flip flops. A smile beamed across her face.
She greeted me with a hello.
I smiled back and approached her; her excitement spiked.
“Hello sir, this is my new shop, please come see what you like.”
Her name was Naveeshana and she had just turned twenty-eight.
She grew up in a small village, tucked right on the edge of the Greenland Tea Estate in Ella — a mere few meters from where we stood.
Both her parents are tea pluckers. They work at the tea estate, everyday, from the early mornings of seven 7.00 am, late into the evenings of seven 7.00 pm. They pluck the tea leaves along the narrow lush rows of tea plantations to earn a pay-slip of four hundred and fifty rupees per day.
Four hundred and fifty rupees.
That’s about $2.98 USD per day.
That’s one silly order of a tall skinny mocha cinnamon latté from Starbucks.
Naveeshana was pursuing further education — in an effort to get a higher paying job after — when the cost became too strenuous on her family. So she had no option but to drop out.
“But I don’t want this life for my children, Omar. I want to give my family a better life. ”
When she said those words, all I saw in her eyes was hunger.
I saw hope, the rawness of pride, and the pure joy of striving to create something far greater for her family and her herself.
Her family’s life circumstances didn’t deter her from trying to seek a better future for herself. She was driven beyond constrains and she was compelled to find something to do. So she turned to her husband — a tuck-tuck driver — and with a small sum of cash, they managed to earn a loan top-up. They used the money to buy this shack. And through a friend, she was able to borrow and display a humble inventory collection of elephant yoga pants, Sri Lankan postcards, souvenir magnets and keychains.
She named her shop Kalai — the name of her daughter.
And it was her third day in business.
I gave Naveeshana a big hug.
I snapped a selfie to remember her, and to share her story with the world — as an inspiration to never settle, to keep opening new doors and finding new ways. As a reminder that if Naveeshana from Ella can do it, why can’t you?
I walked away that afternoon with the purchase of a small coloured elephant that now sits on a stand in my room. But Naveeshana’s soul was too kind. She insisted on a parting gift, a black-threaded necklace, wrapped around my neck, pulled towards the ground by an anchor on its end. Four letters imprinted on it: Love.
Thank you, Naveeshana. Thank you for the gift. And more importantly, thank you for inspiring us to keep trying. To not let hard times dwell us down. To get busy, get resourceful and seek solutions, to follow our dreams and create a better future for ourselves and those we love.
All the best, my dear friend. To you, to Kalai and your Kalai Shop.
Thanks for reading! :)
P.S. If you ever find yourself in Ella, climbing up Little Adam’s Peak, please do stop at The Kalai Shop and share Naveeshana’s story.