Zayna  |  She/Her

Salted and Stranded

Colombo, Sri Lanka  |  London, UK
Tropical and Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forests

Session 7: March 14, 2023

There was a time when we didn’t know what the concept of fear was. We didn’t know that being afraid was a feeling. We didn’t even know that our minds could opt out of pursuing the dreams we so eagerly want to see come true. Don’t remember? Tap back into a time when you were eight years old with me.

I was eight, and my sister was five. Every summer was at the sea. Everyone else was flying to other countries, but we were in Sri Lanka, by her beaches. We’d go the extra mile of building sandcastles with deep moats to let the sea water protect our sand fortresses. We didn’t care that the salt water would fill our tummies or that the sand would intertwine in our hair and make us pretend we were the Little Mermaid searching for our Prince Charming. My sister and I never had a conversation about being afraid of the ocean and her mighty waves; the sea never gave us a reason to stay away from her. Over and over again, we wanted the force of the waves to push us back to shore and graze our knees on the sand, only to chase the waves back to their home and find shells under our tiny feet. Fear didn’t exist in this era of childhood where my playground was the water. How could it? I still remember the feeling of going so far out that I had enough space to dive under the water and watch as the waves rolled over us—the closest I could get to a rainbow. So far out into the sea that the lifeguards would need to whistle us back to shore, as I sat on my dad’s shoulders.

The shore had its own mini adventures. My mum and I once sat on the soft, steamy sand under the sun as these two ladies in bikinis offered us murruku, a crispy salty, spicy Sri Lankan snack. And my little eight-year-old mind wondered, ‘‘huh, these ‘non-Sri Lankan’ looking ladies in bikinis are offering Sri Lankan snacks… to me?’’ That thought ended quite quickly. But how often now do we feel such openness and comfort to be openly kind and offering without expecting anything in return?

I only ask because the world took away my story and gave us its own. That’s what the world turned into right? Or I guess that’s how it’s always been? The world took the sea from our hands and molded her into something she didn’t want to be—the world is ripping her of her children, her underwater homes, her gardens, her unknown, undiscovered families. The world forgot that there are many more little boys and girls out there, just like me, just like you, who only want to enjoy the sea for its freedom. For its peace. For its might and strength.

But no. The world didn’t want to hear my voice. Only its own, now trapping my best friend in everlasting polluted shackles, while she screams silently for freedom. Yes, I remember the ocean for what it used to be, because how can you ever blame an eight-year-old for creating her own stories and dreams by the water? But today, I see her as a distant friend tethered to those who want to rule this world; those who did not see her as enough.

Never misunderstand my words, for I know the ocean is powerful and fearless in her own right. I know she will fight her fights. But listen to her, because she is also fragile. She also needs protection. The world took away my playground, my friend. I may have grown up, but she stood by the whole way, wisdomous and free.

Zayna is a researcher for climate justice and international development. She recently became one of Girl Up’s (UN Foundation) Regional Leaders and hopes to bring more awareness and knowledge around the injustices girls and women are facing. She is also a producer and film director, and co-created Trashed Films in London.