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Reflections

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My time in Kalmunai is nearing the end so I’ve been doing some reflecting of my experiences. I have 2 more days of teaching then I am going to the hill country in the interior to visit a tea estate.  From there I will head to Columbo then leave back to Canada on the 25th.  Living in a place is so very different from being a tourist.  I would love to be able to live for a month or two in different countries around the world to get a better understanding of the people and their culture.  I think I should make that my goal.

In Sri Lanka I’ve met many gentle, sincere people who take pride in their country. I was lucky enough to travel the coastline, plains, mountains and jungles.  I’ve seen many great beaches and was lucky enough to see elephants in their natural environment.

I have had the good fortune to mix with Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim people and have learned a bit about each of their beliefs.  The landscape is dotted with both temples and mosques, some of them having a lot of history behind them.  I noted that many of the Muslim areas we drove through showed signs of more wealth.  Streets were wider, better lit at night and generally showed richer surroundings.  Many Muslims speak Sinhala and worship Islam.

I visited temples displaying many idols and images that the Tamils worship. Along the highways there are temples that our driver would stop at, pay a few coins and say a quick prayer to gain protection for a safe journey.  I was all for anything that would ensure safety while driving in this country!

Buddhists go to temples with large white domes. They celebrate the full moon days called Poya and take those days as a holiday. Today and tomorrow are Poya holidays but the Rose staff came to the office anyway to take advantage of 2 more days of learning english.

It’s a common site to see people stripping the trees of their flowers to bring to their place of worship.   I see respect for all beliefs and Rose Charities is a good example of different religions working and having fun together.

Kalmunai is a patriarchal society with traditional attitudes but I saw lots of evidence of equality between the sexes.  Rose Charity is focused on helping women.  Micro loans and an education helps many poverty stricken families move up the ranks to more of a middle class life.  Middle class in Sri Lanka is not what we in Canada think of as middle class but everything is relative.  The people are motivated by opportunities to improve their position and learning english is a definite plus for them. I was proud to be able to help in that aspect and hopefully teaching english is something Rose will continue to focus on.

Kalmunai is an area that is very conservative in their dress and behaviour. I have come to love all the different saris the girl’s wear. More common for everyday wear is a salver.  You can buy the material that makes the complete salver, you just have to sew it to fit your body shape and size.  Nilu made me one to wear for the women’s day celebration.  It has a long fitted top with slits up the sides.  Underneath are pants that have a similar color or pattern to the top. It is finished off by a long shawl worn around the neck and hanging down the back. The ladies always look neat and professional when they arrive at my 7 am class.  Personally although they look great I would die in this heat and many mornings wished I could slip into shorts and a T shirt (and I am not wearing a long sari or salvar).  Everyone takes off their shoes before entering any building.  Even the shops along the streets have peoples’ shoes lined up outside.  My flipflops get mixed in with 20 plus other ones outside the office but they are easy to locate because mine are one of the biggest pair.  I feel like the jolly green giant here ( or as Raajeeshan says…..the jolly white giant)  I really have never thought of myself as overly big but have met only one other woman as tall as me and very few men that are as tall. I do stand out and it is not just my size. I have not seen one other caucasian in Kalmunai.

Another obvious difference is the slower pace and more relaxed attitude when it comes to time. In my computer class we were doing a unit on scheduling and time management. It created lots of laughs and good fun as I pointed out how they can sit for an hour quite relaxed just waiting for a meeting to start.  I know I walk relatively quickly but damn these guys would be rear ended by a turtle!

Food is another major difference.  When you come here be prepared for everything having fresh chillies and curry leaves and being served lots of rice dishes and do not think of meat as a priority.  No thick steaks or pork chops on the barbeque!  You will find the food tasty albeit hot!  Rose has a great cook and I love how she does her different vegetable dishes. Lots of rice flour foods like string hoppers (vermicelli like), plain hoppers (pancake like) and pittu. Sambols is tasty;  made with coconut, tomato, onion, chilli and dried fish. You also always get sauces mostly made with coconut milk.  Their ice cream is homemade tasting and very rich and creamy.  Fish is great whichever way they cook it!  Sri Lanka has lots of outside vendor-like shops  where they make different lunch packets.  Their lunch packets have enough for 2 people and  have a variety of curries, a piece of chicken and a hard boiled egg (I think they deep fry them) .  Everything is wrapped in plastic with the sauce in a little plastic bag and then wrapped in newspaper.  Use of plastic sheets are common here. When you do go to a restaurant they put a sheet of plastic over your plate. (haven’t quite figured that one out!)  And of course I must not forget to mention the finger eating thing; cuts down on plastic forks for take out though! Dining out is not the entertainment we experience because most people prefer to eat at home.

I have talked lots about the roads and traffic but it never seizes to amaze me! I know there must be lots of accidents and injuries.  While here I have seen four dogs and one cow laying dead due to being hit by a vehicle. I don’t worry about remembering which way to look when crossing the road (they drive on the opposite side to us in Canada) because here you continue to look both ways then make a mad dash; a feat I’ve become quite inept at.  I used to take forever to cross the street to get to work in the mornings but now I feel like a local as I weave around the traffic. Amid the chaos there appears to be a method to the madness, with an art form of weaving and honking, when operating a vehicle.  Lane discipline is nonexistent, that is if there are lanes.  There are a few major connecting highways with lanes drawn but even those are narrow.  Most of the roads are hard packed red colored sand. Many are paved but are very narrow; more like the width of a bike trail in Canada.

I never tire of seeing cows or buffalo plodding along, oblivious to the traffic, while pulling a brightly painted cart. There are also lots of small belted diesel motors pulling trailers. Bicycles are common for all ages although riding one on the main roads is to take your life in your hands. Whole families get on the motorcycle, another common mode of transportation, and helmets do not seem to be mandatory. The woman sits sideways at the back with her skirts and shawl flapping about as the driver zips in and around road obstacles.  I must not forget to mention the ever present trishaws which provide a Sri Lankan taxi service.  It is a very competitive business so  when I am just out for a walk I get continuously asked where am I going and do I need a ride.  You can barter for the price to go to a place but it is commonly about a dollar per km. The cheapest way to commute is the public bus system.  Big red busses frequent the roads connecting even the most remote villages. They are in various states of disrepair as they travel along spewing diesel exhaust into the air.  They remind me of the busses I rode as a kid and are probably even older than that!  It is a crowded, hot, sweaty affair but for equivalent of fifty cents you can ride a long distance.

My reflections would not be complete without talking about the head wagging. I still get confused and forget that when they wag their heads from side to side they are not saying no or disagreeing with me but are really saying yes I understand and or agree. I’ll be busy teaching away and specifically ask if they understand and when they wag their heads I will repeat what I’ve taught a different way to ensure understanding.  Many times they must think I’m nuts because the head wagging told me they did understand so why am I repeating myself!

There are some things that I will not miss when I return to Canada. As much as I like summer, sunshine and heat, I will be glad to get some cooler weather.  Since I arrived it has been over 35 every day with humidity. I know mom would say only horses sweat and people perspire but in this case I sweated! I will also be glad to have longer days of light.  Just when it begins to cool down it gets dark and the mosquitoes come out.  That is a deterrent to being outside plus the fact that no women are around in the evenings.  There are only men on the streets so it is considered unsafe for women to be out and about.  We have bugs at home but I can’t say I have ever seen a cockroach before coming here. There are tons of different kinds of bugs, little guys that appear out of nowhere, tiny ants that bite, huge spiders, and the list goes on.  I suggest keeping all food in sealed jars or the refrigerator and I do sleep under a net. I won’t miss seeing garbage thrown on the ground and maybe that would help eliminate the rats.  We have rats at home also but I am not worried about one being in my house.

There are  things wherever one goes  that won’t be missed but in Sri Lanka the things I will miss outweigh the negatives.  I am going to miss the people I’ve encountered while here.  I will miss the politeness and respect that they have for each other and that they have shown me.  I will miss the laid back atmosphere when I return to the hustle and bustle of life at home. It has slowed for me since retirement but I still experience it when I look around at friends and family.  The desire to learn and motivation to improve oneself is another trait I wish I could see more of at home and in our schools. I love the tropical landscape, the warm ocean and the beauty of Sri Lanka.  It has been a great two months and a memory that I will cherish.  Thank you to Rose Charity for this experience and thank you to all my new friends for making my stay here so enjoyable.

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