Dreaming of Chandra
Text and images : Sophie Levens
I’ve had the same recurring dream since we left her.
I am searching for Chandra — the woman who raised me — in a maze of dusty alleyways, in a little Sri Lankan village.
I am standing in a lively square, lined with old men playing cards in the hazy afternoon light amongst fly-ridden fruit stalls and crumbling shop facades. I turn down a narrow, dusty passage away from the bustling heart of the village. It’s crazy that I’m searching for someone I can’t be sure is there — let alone still alive — but there’s something pulling me through this spider-web of narrow lanes. As I move through teams of squealing children, I try to conjure an image her face. But it’s all blurred around the edges, like a badly taken Polaroid. All I have are the out-dated photos I’m carrying around in the front-pocket of my bag, taken over twenty years ago. I feel butterflies that flutter up to my face when the door opens, but they calm when I see her face.
And then I wake up.
Chandra was a petite Sri Lankan woman, who worked as a help in our house in Bahrain. I imagine she would’ve lived a lonely life.
For two and a half years she cared for me – from the day I was born until the day I left. My mother still tells me of the hours Chandra and I would spend playing together, because she loved my brother and me as though we were her own children.
Its no wonder that I still think of her often.
When we left Bahrain for my father’s work to Russia, Chandra could not follow.
My mother maintained contact with her for a few years — long enough to discover that she had returned to Sri Lanka, purchased some land, started a business and created a modest life for herself. But since the devastating tsunami of 2004 that killed over 30,000 people, they’ve lost contact. I remember watching the footage, horrified, as I saw whole villages being swept away by the violent, raging water.
Between then and a recent trip to India, I’ve become determined to fulfil my dream to meet her in person.
There are a hundred questions that I have, and even more emotions I will feel when I see her face. Will we embrace? Would she recognise me? Is she alive even? Is there a way that I can help her now, just as she helped me so many years ago?
But on my bucket list is my wish to to meet her and her family and to tell her my story. The story of the girl who still sees Chandra’s face in her dreams.
Sophie Levens is an adventurer, tech-lover and an amateur coder, living in London. Having spent over two years travelling through Southeast Asia, Australia and India, she's no stranger to life on the road and all the challenges and joy that solo travel brings.