The Woman Who Used My Arm as a Handrail (Random Travel Moment 14)


Where: On a Boat

I had no clue, but I’d just gotten on the wrong boat. I was on my way to Nainathivu, an island off the coast of Jaffna Penninsula in Sri Lanka. (Story coming soon.) Hundreds of people, on their way to a Hindu festival, had crowded on and taken up every inch of space. As you can see in the photo, people held on wherever they could.

Claustrophobia set in rather fast—despite having experienced this sardine-like packing a number of times on Sri Lankan buses.


Who: An Older Woman

A slightly older Tamil woman, not elderly by any means (but maybe a grandma), was reaching out for something. A handrail, I think. (Note: she’s also in the above photo–behind the wood.)

Actually, there weren’t any real handrails on the boat. Just wood, part of the actual structure of the boat. There was very little space left for hands; most of it had been claimed.

Should I offer her my seat? I wondered. Even if I’d wanted to, it would have been extremely difficult. That’s how crowded the boat was. I could barely move.

Woman on boat

While I was wondering what she might do, my eyes met hers. Quickly, I learned that she spoke zero English. Meanwhile, my Tamil was limited to ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ Not quite enough for the situation. 

Why: I Made the Offer

She continued reaching out and spontaneously, I extended my arm, thinking—hey, why not…it’s just as good as an arm rail. Also, so many Sri Lankans had helped me find a seat on crowded buses; some had even sacrificed or given me half their seat. It was the least I could do in the situation.

I stiffened my arm as much as I could in order to simulate an actual rail and gestured toward her that she should take it. She did. In fact, she grabbed it and held on tight.


I held steady and all was well.

What Else Happened…How I Felt When It Ended

The boat bounced around a bit, and then seemed to be traveling smoothly. She continued to hold my forearm. Then we arrived at the dock and she continued holding on–even though there was no longer a reason to.

I didn’t mind.

We made eye contact once again, and she finally let go. She smiled and I returned it, happy to have experienced an unexpected ‘namaste’ on a crowded boat…

Can’t Get Enough?

Enjoy reading about worldwide adventures, many of which involve the locals? Click here for more random travel moments and here for more travel tales.

4 Responses to The Woman Who Used My Arm as a Handrail (Random Travel Moment 14)
  1. SuperG
    August 11, 2015 | 12:33 am

    Good for you! look forward to the full story.

    • CB Driver
      August 11, 2015 | 10:44 am

      Hi and thanks! It’s a pretty cool story; can’t wait to share the photos and videos. Some wild stuff!

      • Ewa
        September 20, 2015 | 4:54 pm

        I’m waiting for more of Sri Lanka stories, Lisa :-)

        • CB Driver
          October 20, 2015 | 8:13 am

          Hi, Ewa. Coming soon! I got so busy with work that I didn’t have time, but now I’m going to get back into it.

          Hope you’re well.

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