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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.

Bits and pieces

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I have some time to jot down what I have been up to while my students are doing an assignment.  This entry is just bits and pieces of some things I’ve thought about or done since my last entry.

Yesterday there was some excitement at the office.  A dead mouse was found in Rajeeshan’s desk.  They had smelled something but had not found the source until his drawer was opened.  That was not good news but the worse was yet to come.  Some of the computer cords had been chewed and there was evidence of more than a mouse in the office. While cleaning up from that discovery the culprit was seen running across the floor and deking behind a filing cabinet.  Not a cute little mouse; rather a large ugly rat!
Many of the office staff, guys I might add, were in hot pursuit!  It was quite comical but I did not stick around to watch.  I inquired into the rat’s demise when I went to the office after work but alas there was no demise.  The hunt is still on and I am hoping they find it before it decides to move up the road to the place I am presently calling home.

I put the pictures up on facebook but forgot to mention that when at Aragum Bay Amanda and I rented a canoe for an hour and paddled on a lagoon.  We were told we’d see the jungle, elephants and many water birds.  Ever the optimistic I set out to at least have a paddle and some exercise.  Sure enough after about a half hour of paddling across to a point in the distance we were rewarded.  There was a herd of about 8 to 10 elephants knee deep in the water grazing and splashing away!  There were others in the distance and a few stragglers standing alone.  A couple locals in their dugout canoe kept saying come, closer…………and other words we did not understand.  The point being they wanted to be our guide to see the elephants, take pictures and then pay them for their help.  We obviously did not see any need for a guide being as the elephants were right in front of us.  We did get braver and paddle closer though. It was a rewarding experience and one that I will remember.  As we paddled back in the setting sun we enjoyed the abundance of water birds and the coolness of the evening air.

In Sri Lanka the first birthday is a big event to celebrate in a child’s life.  Yesterday the nephew of one of Rose’s staff (Jana)  turned one.  We were invited to go to the home of the birthday boy to help celebrate.  There were many chairs set up both inside and outside of the house.  We were given a plate of food upon our arrival.  It was a tasty rice, chicken curry.  I was asked if I needed anything else and an offer of cutlery was made.  For a change I decided to decline and eat with my fingers like everyone else.  A young man came around with a pitcher of water and basin for each guest to wash their hands. Someone ran out and purchased bottled water for Amanda and I. (the others had a drink in a glass but maybe they felt we only drank bottled water)  I was definitely the last to finish; I guess I’m a slower eater plus my fingers don’t scoop up the rice as efficiently as the locals! As soon as I finished the basin arrived for washing my hands and then I was offered an ice cream dixie cup.  The room was decorated with birthday balloons and a table set out for gifts.  After eating and visiting we left thanking the family and saying bye-bye to the birthday boy.  I presume the gift opening followed but we went back to work.
I have not seen another Caucasian in Kalmunai.  I am sure many of the locals have never seen one either so I do get stared at. I find when folks see me I get mixed reactions.  If they are a shop owner it is, “Hello, good afternoon mam, come in, come in!”  If it is a lady I receive big smiles and either a hello or a how are you greeting.

Older guys look and keep walking but the younger males want to talk.  Obviously they are not hitting on me due to a somewhat large age difference so I do take the time to walk along and chat.  I always get the introduction of, “Hello, where are you from?  How long have you been here?  Where do you live?  How are you? ” Depending on the time and place I ask about their english, school and whatever to give them practise in speaking english.  Sometimes they use me to ask about Amanda which is something we have had a chuckle over. It is especially humorous for us when Amanda can pick up on the Tamil words and know what they are saying!

Children for sure want to say hello and I see them timing their encounters just to say, “Hi, how are you?” then they walk along busily chatting and giggling with their friends.

Across the street from us is a family of 4 children.  Each morning as I leave my yard they are peeking through their fence waiting to greet me with a big, “Hello, how are you today?”  They are so adorable and I love how they practise their english on me.

I had expressed an interest in seeing all 14 preschools sometime before I leave Sri Lanka.  I have worked with and met all the teachers so now wanted to meet their children and see their working environment.  Today we drove out to one of the Muslim preschools that is in a village far from the office.  It was an interesting drive and I truly felt as though I was in the middle of a jungle when we finally arrived.  The distance gave me yet another appreciation for the dedication of the teachers making it to my classes.  The children were all seated on floor mats enjoying their morning snack when we arrived.  I got lots of giggles and excitement by blowing bubbles for them to catch.  They then took turns singing songs they’d learned or they stood up and introduced themselves to me.  It was one of the best preschools I’d seen so far and it has only been in operation for 4 months.  I was also impressed by the number of parent volunteers there to help.  It just went on to show the community involvement and the interest taken to give their children a leg up in their education!

Driving home I saw the canal which is dug into the ditches where they control the water flow to irrigate the rice fields. I saw women washing clothes in the canal while their children splashed and cooled off. I saw young men herding goats down a path, water buffalo grazing, and men working in the rice paddies.  I love driving along and never tire of the different sites and sounds of Sri Lanka!

Thoughts and Classes

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Classes continue to go well.  I really enjoy the staff and teachers that I’ve been working with.  I know the majority of them (especially the staff) understand what I am saying but they need to practise conversation more.  Last week I decided that in my 7 to 9 class they have to speak more so I made tokens.  Each student received 9 of them.  Any time they got caught speaking Tamil whoever caught them could take one of their tokens.  The first day nobody lost a token even though I know some of them slipped up apparently they denied it and would not give up their tokens!  I had to smile to myself but was pleased because they were correcting each other and speaking english so my goal was accomplished.  The next day I reexplained my reasons and the rules saying this will continue now until I leave and the one with the most tokens will receive a prize of sorts.
Another idea I had was to teach them how to have a debate.  I have more girls than guys but I  decided on girls against guys and gave them a topic to discuss among themselves and get ready for a debate.  Guys had to defend their idea that once married wives should stay at home doing household chores, visiting neighbors, shopping and caring for the children.  Girls had to defend the idea that all women need an education and should be free to follow a career of their choice. The debate was great fun ending up with a major spokesperson from each side. I made notes on points made and it ended up a tie for points but not for the winner. That evening I typed up points made on each side and then which points were stronger according to how they defended their ideas. I handed them copies next class and explained how I judged and my reasons why I gave some points more credit than others. Girls won!
The strongest male point was the strength of a family unit when the mother is in the home.  That really made me reflect on growing up in the fifties. Moms wore dresses and so did the little girls.  The men left for work but mom was at home to send the children off to school.  Kids came home to the smell of bread, cake or cookies baking and of course a home cooked supper.  Once chores were completed the kids ran outside to catch a game of scrub or just ride their bikes around the neighborhood and play with friends. My observations in Kalmunai kinda reflect that lifestyle. Women all wear saris, skirts or dresses and the little girls are adorable in their dresses with hair in pigtails or braids. I see groups of children laughing and catching a game of cricket before it gets dark.  I believe the family unit is very important to them.  The guys stated that women do a good job in the home, raising the children, visiting neighbors, ect.  They felt that with mom at home there is less chance of the children getting into trouble and that it keeps husbands and wives happy and not fighting thus a stronger family unit.
That point was defended further by saying it is not safe for women to be outside of the home on their own and especially after dark.  You do not see women on the streets after 6 pm. Therefore the guys said the women cannot work outside of the home and further their education because it is not safe for them.  I loved the girls comeback to that idea! Girls stated that in other places you see women on the streets, having careers and furthering their education.  They said the government  is now trying to help and protect abused women.  They also said that if guys really cared they would fight and work hard to change the fact that it is unsafe for girls; reason being it is guys that make it unsafe! Girls pointed out that many women hold good jobs and that their jobs benefit all society not just the family. They also pointed out the income would benefit the family.
Each side had other points and it was a great fun for me to observe.  There still exists a lot of male chauvinism but I believe many of the guys agreed with the girls points.
I had another class with the teachers on Saturday morning.  We reviewed what I’d taught at the workshop and practised the songs, games and fingerplays. I was happy to see that many of the teachers had learned the words and again I could see the joy of learning and participating  they exhibited. On Amanda’s travels last week she was at one of the preschools and she said she walked up to hear them singing one of the songs I’d taught the teachers. That’s rewarding plus the fact that many of them have come up to me to ask if I could please stay longer.  At the end of the class the english preschool teachers came and took my hand saying they had together prayed that I would stay or come back again to teach them more!
They do have opportunities in Kalmunai to learn english but having a different approach to teaching (and being Canadian) has made it interesting for them.  The have said on different occasions that they like my teaching method.  Guess all that drama has paid off!  Sometimes when they are laughing I say, “Are you guys laughing at me!”
They quickly say, “No mam,” and look worried that I might think that.  I really do not care I am just happy that they are having fun!
After work the other day Amanda announced to me that the guys were putting up a net and playing badminton.  That was right up my alley so I donned my running shoes and grabbed a racket.  Doesn’t take much to work up a sweat here!  They have real feathers in their birdies and playing outside in the sand made for a different game than back home in the gym.
After work on Saturday Amanda and I left for Arugan Bay.  It is rated as one of the top surf beaches in the world and is only a couple hours south of us.  We’d booked two nights at a beachfront cabana.  It felt good to be a tourist.  Eating, swimming, drinking, sleeping………………..I really must do more of that!  The place we stayed at was owned by a Danish couple.  The guy was killed in the 2004 tsunami when his resort was badly damaged.  It is again up and running and proved to be a neat resort.  Along the coast are several tourist resorts and we met lots of folks from Australia, New Zealand, England and Europe. Amanda took surf lessons from a local and was able to catch lots of waves.  Listening to the surf break on the beach all night was soothing but the little ants that atttacked me in my sleep sure were not.  I felt pinches but did not realize until morning just how many red welts my body had!  At least I think they were from the little ants! All in all it was a good mother’s day for me and I hope many other moms had a great Sunday!

Critters that fly, creep or scurry about!

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OK so we have a night guard guy. He’s the sweetest man who jumps up and opens the gate for me each time I leave my yard. If he hears or sees me coming he also jumps up and opens the gate for me. He comes to our yard at 4:30 each evening and leaves at 7:30 in the morning. I hope he sleeps but I really do not know where or how much. I gave him a Canada pin and every day he has it pinned onto his shirt collar. The reason for this story is that I am not afraid of anyone coming into our yard regardless of our nightman although I really appreciate the fact that he is there. Plus it gives employment to him. It is not people I am afraid of though, it’s the critters that fly, creep or scurry about!

It all started with the two friends in our kitchen. I was kinda hoping they were just big bugs that could fly but inside I had the feeling they were cockroaches of the very biggest kind! A purchase of spray and it was “legs up” to those friends and consequently any other of their family that happened to visit our kitchen. Our very few groceries are in containers and in our little oven otherwise they are refrigerated so our friends must know they will not be fed if they happen to come for another visit.

That problem solved and feeling quite confident as I wander into the kitchen I reach for the lightswitch to feel a quick movement across my hand! As the light focused I heard and saw something furry push its way into a hole in the ceiling. Big discussion……….mouse, rat, squirrel or ?? “What kind of tail did it have? How big was it? Are you sure?” Amanda was full of questions as she vowed to stay locked in our bedroom! We decided on the mouse or maybe squirrel due to the way it was able to quickly run along the light cord from the wall to the ceiling.

Several days passed without any company until 4 am night before last. I am woken by a crackling, popping, hard to explain, kind of sound. As I am laying listening, whilst holding my breath, I hear, “Sonia, is that you?” from across the room. Back and forth conversation continued until Amanda crawled to the end of her bed to flip on the bathroom light. Between that and the light of our cell phones we made our way to the main light switches. Of course by then there was no more sounds or evidence of anything that might have made the sound. Lights on and earphones plugged in we both decided on another two hours of restless sleep. Decision made that it was probably a harmless little gecko because afterall our room is cement and really how could anything bigger than a bug or gecko possibly get in.

Last night was a fun evening of cards and a cool beer when I figured some cheese and crackers would complete our entertainment. Damn our furry friend had returned, this time on the light switch that is beside our fridge. Several quick heart thumps and a loud scream later I was once again locked into the safety of our room. OK, so I’ve had mouse experiences before, no biggy, it was just the startle effect………our card game resumed. Bed felt good at evenings end until yet again our “whatever” awakened us in the middle of the night. After work today we are doing a complete clean and inspection of our room…………no garbage and not a speck of food will remain. Maybe we will just sleep with our light on!

Dinner and a threefold gathering

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Yesterday I finished the first of my two day preschool workshop for about 33 preschool teachers. While I still had energy I came to the Vibe to write my last email then  headed home to finish the day relaxing.  I had a shower and curled up to read my book when I received a phone call that I’d be picked up for dinner in 10 minutes. Rose had a board meeting and they decided to go out for dinner and drinks plus say bye to Anthony (CEO) because he’s off to Canada to spend a month with his family.  We went to a hotel, restaurant only a couple of blocks from our house.  The dinner began much like a celebration at home with drinks and appetizers.  I enjoyed watching the friendship, teasing and bantering going on between the board members.  Rajeeshan would translate to Amanda and I frequently or they’d speak english.  Most of the guys have varying degrees of speaking english.  Anthony said this was the first time in the six years the board got together in this kind of light to just enjoy each other over dinner and drinks.

Today I had the second day of my inservice.  I finished going over the main ideas that I’d wanted to stress.  We did some make and take things that the teachers can use at their schools. They do not have access to the kinds of materials we as Canadians have so it was very evident that anything I gave them was cherished.  I had periodic draws for gifts and things I’d brought with me from Canada  and you could see the hope on their faces that maybe their name would be drawn next.  I did have Canadian pencils that I was able to give each teacher,  thanks to Lawrence, so even if their name was not drawn each teacher received something.  They wanted more practise with fingerplays, action songs and games so we spent lots of enjoyable time going over them.  If the kids have as much fun as we did acting out, singing and playing then for sure the last two days were successful!

At three o’clock we all went over to the office grounds. All the teachers plus Rose Charities staff were present.  It was a threefold gathering.  One was to send Anthony off with good wishes and a safe journey home and the other two were to thank Amanda and I for coming to Sri Lanka.  So many of the teachers and staff came up to the front and presented me with gifts and homemade cards.  Best of all was that they spoke from their hearts of how grateful they were to have met me and to have had the opportunity to learn english from me.  The added bonus was that it was all said in English!  I know how difficult it was for them to stand up in front of everyone let alone to speak in english so I was so very proud of them.  Reading what they had written and listening to them struggle with the right words as they thanked me brought tears to my eyes.  I looked over at Anthony and saw he was also tearing up and that lead to a chain of events of many staff, teachers plus me having an emotional time!  When Anthony spoke he remembered to thank God for our good friend Lawrence  for being the person he is in helping Rose Charities and for sending Amanda and I there to be with them.  I handed out certificates to all the participants of my workshop then at the end of the program we all gathered around to do a photo shoot.  I will get those photos sent via facebook sometime this week.  I cannot believe I have been here for a month.  If my students learn as much over the next 3 weeks as they have in the first month I feel I will have accomplished lots.  I have promised to return for another two months next year (this time winter months not when Sri Lanka is having their hottest 2 months)  so any takers?  I would love to have someone come with me to share this experience!

A very busy week

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This has been a busy week.  Between classes I have been preparing for my teacher workshop.  The staff has looked after me though.  Each morning Anthony has sent me over some breakfast and a thermos of hot, might I add, Tim Hortons, coffee.  All you can get here is instant so the big can of Tim Hortons we brought over for Anthony has been shared with me.  Trust me, at 7 in the morning it is sure appreciated.  Also whenever I feel hungry or the need for a break I walk over to the office and food magically appears on the table! Gotta love it!

Yesterday was one of the ladies New Year celebrations.  Nilu (one of my students) had sewed me a sari.  She lent one of her own to Amanda.  Before the event began they even came to help get Amanda dressed and ready.  It was interesting to see how they pinned and wrapped the material around Amanda to get the material to drape just so for the complete outfit. My sari was the style you wear like a dress with slits on the side and trousers underneath.  Much easier and also way more comfortable!  That style is not quite as dressy buy definitely my preference.

This celebration was the one I chaired.  There were women from 4 different villages present.  You can tell which they come from from the color of sari they wore. Rose staff was busy all week preparing for the event.  It was held on the office grounds which the staff had prepared by flying the Canadian and Sri Lankan flags at the entrance.  They had set up the speaker system, set out chairs, ect.  There were many different competitions, everything from seeing who could grind up a coconut the fastest to who could eat a bun, hanging from a string, the fastest.  As with any event of over a hundred women there was much laughter, visiting, eating and all around fun. I opened the celebration with welcoming them and some of the special guests.  I had practiced the many syllable names so hopefully they recognized their own name when it was said!  Another tradition of the event is lighting of the wicks.  There’s a tall brass stand with wicks sitting in oil.  Each guest lights one of the wicks so I began the ceremony with lighting the first wick.  Some others spoke then the fun began.  I will post the pictures showing the different events when I get time later this week.  Part way through the afternoon food and drinks were passed around.  The weather even got in on the fun by giving us a cooler breeze and less intense sunshine!  At the end of the day prizes were handed out.  I had the honor of congratulating the first prize winners and giving them their gift. Rose staff had bought, wrapped and labeled the gifts in preparation for the event.

One thing I noticed after the girls’ sports event earlier in the month was the littering.  I mentioned at the end of the meet that had I been in charge before the girls left for home I’d have given them a bag to run around picking up litter and just generally cleaning up the grounds.  Again at the end of this event I noticed the same thing. Empty milk boxes, papers with number and name tags, ect. were left in the yard and on the road leading to the yard.  There does not seem to be an efficient garbage disposal system.  You will walk along and there will be an area with garbage thrown.  I guess that’s how many animals survive; dogs route through and eat, then the odd goat, cat or cow, and finally the many birds pick at it.  The rains come on it, sometimes I see someone burning it and once in awhile it disappears so someone maybe picks it up.  Today I had the first of my teacher inservice and I placed a garbage can out and asked for everyone to please use it.  At the end of the day one of the staff gathered it up and burned it in the back of my yard.  A definite improvement but I still had a complaint as the plastic water bottles melted into the atmosphere!  One step at a time!!!

As you gathered I did the first of my 2 day workshop today.  I got up at 7 and  organized my area to hold the 30 odd teachers that attended.  In my yard are two areas to have classes or meetings.  One is larger and has tables for desks.  It has a smooth cement floor which I swept out.  All I would have had to do was ask any staff member to help me and they would have been over asap to do whatever I needed but I had forgotten so there I was sweeping and cleaning tables and chairs to start my day.  The other area is not quite as big but still has a roof over it (blocks out the intense sun) and a cement floor.  I also swept and set out 35 chairs in that space.  I did my teaching in the big area but my singing and games in the other one so we’d have room for movement.

By shortly after 9 we were all singing, doing actions and fingerplays, learning games and hopefully learning lots that they will share with the preschoolers in the months to come.  I had prepared a thick booklet of samples of everything I think should be in a preschool curriculum.  Throughout the day we went through some the the things and practiced how they could use the ideas in their schools.  I could easily tell which were the teachers from the english preschool.  They were intensely involved and picking up my ideas and instructions.  Many cannot speak english so it was harder for them.  I had guys there to interpret and translate for me so that was a bonus!  Some things you did not really need language for.  Just the movement, actions, etc. were readily picked up.  My interpreters and a couple others sat on the sidelines and many times I looked over to see them enjoying the show we were putting on! Oh what fun to be a kid!!

Email

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Hi brat,
One of my students showed me the email you sent them.  I told them today that I would give them a half hour of class time to email you and Josephine.  Farzana asked me where my passport was as she was gigling away!  I hope that the emails you get are not too full of mistakes or you’ll wonder what I’ve been teaching them.  I told them I was not reading their work because mail (unless it is business) was private.  My last group was so busy yipping in Tamil and helping each other that I am afraid they probably all wrote the same thing.
Nilu sewed me a sari last night so I will look officially Sri Lankan at the meet tomorrow. The staff and teachers are so loving and friendly, just as you predicted and yes, Anthony and Rajeeshan definately look after me.  I am not used to being looked after, being independent and always looking after others is more the role I have played for the last 30 years or so!  I might get used to being spoiled though!
I will remind Anthony about a group picture.  His head is all over the place the last couple days as he worries and prepares to leave.
Kick that daughter of mine in the butt, she never emails.
Cheers,
Sonia

On the Road to Galle

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I think I mentioned in the last email that I was heading to Galle. The road took us into the interior of Sri Lanka then back to the coastline which we followed until arriving at Galle on the south west side of the island. There are only a few main highways so in order to stay on the better, smoother highways (they are narrow and mostly very major curves as they meander throughout the countryside connecting cities and villages) we go way out of the direct route. The drive takes a long while as I mentioned before but due to the hazards of driving in Sri Lanka I am quite happy we are going slow. Plus I really enjoy driving because I get to see lots of the countryside. The interior has many high mountains; some rocky but mostly very lush and green. We drove through areas of trees that they extract sap from to make rubber. Some areas are so lush and green with the trees forming tunnels of shadows as we drive through. Some areas are flatter with stumpier trees and then there are the cultivated areas of rice fields. Some of the trees remind me of the forests at home but many are tropical. We again were fortunate to spot elephants three different times. One was right at the roads edge but we could just slow down to allow me to snap a picture because although they are used to moving traffic they would charge if one were to stop. Especially the lone, male elephants. Along the way we drove through the hometown of Sri Lankan’s president. It is just a small town but because he is second time in power (his 8th of 12 years he can be president) a lot of money has been put into the town. It is on the coast so a harbor has been built. Along with it’s other developments there is a major racetrack, and even an airport! Many people love this President because he was able to put an end to almost 30 years of civil war. Internationally he is not as popular due to humanitarian issues. The jails (not our standard of prisons) are still full of people that have been incarcerated for decades and their case has not even been put in front of a judge. Many are under suspicion but have not been told what that suspicion is! On the edge of that town was a Chinese restaurant and thus began a Canadian style eating frenzy. I had 4 meals in a row that reminded me of home before I was outvoted and headed back to a Tamil restaurant of spice and rice! Did I mention the beer that went with the meal? Big bottles and also very welcomed! We arrived in Galle around midnight and thought it would be easy to get a beach front hotel. Not so. On the 10th or 11th try we tried the other side of the main road and as luck would have it I found myself curled up in a canopied king sized bed sound asleep by 1 am.

Easter Sunday was spent touring and enjoying a beautiful beach, last easter was spent at Bondi beach in Australia! Hummm where will I be next Easter?

Galle is home to a fort built in the 1700’s. I posted many pictures of the site on facebook. After a morning of touring the area we drove up the west coast to Hikaduwa. A well known tourist area with beautiful beaches. We sat on the beach, under an umbrella having a drink and lunch. Yummy prawns and fries! I wanted to go into some of the roadside shops and browse. I did some bartering and buying but I think Rajeeshan outdid me! When he phoned his wife I heard him say, “Sonia said it looked good on me!” He is so enjoyable and so good natured to travel with!

That evening we headed to Columbo to be at the immigration office bright and early to extend our visas. It took all morning but other than waiting dead easy, $55. later we were again off on the road home.

This week I have been busy. When I am not teaching I am at the computer preparing for my 2 day teacher inservice! Tomorrow I will run off booklets I’ve made and get everything organized. Saturday is the womens meet that I am chairing then the inservice is Sunday and Monday. One of my students measured me today and is sewing me a sari to wear on Saturday. They also have teardrop beads to stick on my forehead (my choice if I want to wear one).

It’s 7:30 and dark so I am heading home now to curl up and read. I am half way through THE BOOK THIEF and want to read for a bit before I fall asleep.

Busy days filled with teaching, exploring and smiling faces!

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Hello all, since my last email I have been busy with classes, exploring and more travels. The next few days after arriving home from Trincomalai were busy working days. I am using materials that I was given from CSLI to teach my early morning classes, those and my own creations when I want to expand on an idea. I try to involve them at each activity, either by speaking, working together, worksheets or boardwork. The class is comfortable with me and are not afraid to give answers; they have the ability to laugh at themselves or with others in such a fun way. Trying to get them to use the articles like a, the, or prepositions in their phrases, has been a standing joke. They now know by the different expressions on my face what they need to do when we are orally or visually correcting work. I make the pucking sound when they forget punctuation marks, da dut da du sounds when I want them to finish the sentence, etc. It is definitely worth a laugh to have them imitate me when correcting each other! That class usually varies between 18 and 22 staff workers. I’d say the average age is 27 or so. There are at least that many preschool teachers that I also work with in my other classes. Mostly I am trying to model how to teach young children. I have been singing songs (hilarious because as you all know my singing leaves lots to be desired!) doing lots of action and finger plays, teaching games they can play with 3 and 4 year olds, etc. They have to teach english but their knowledge of the language is extremely weak in many cases so it works better when I have a translator. I was asked to do a 2 day workshop on Sunday and Monday with all the teachers. I want to make it a “Make and take, kind of workshop” plus I want to go over what things I feel should be in a preschool curriculum. I was asked to write a curriculum for the schools and a timeline for what should be done with 3 year olds and what should be done with the 4 year olds. They call them upper and lower kindergarten classes. Using my bkgrd. and the internet I have been working on that and now want to explain it to them so I have been putting together examples of activities, songs, ect. I spent the time between my classes today at a preschool to see what they are doing. This was Rose’s english preschool in Kalmunai which I found out is competitive with the other preschools. (There are ones run by the nuns & the public ones) The parents (not unlike parents in Canada) want their children to succeed and be professionals so think that they should be printing and reading by the end of upper preschool. This preschool has over 100 little guys, all smiling faces wearing their little uniforms. They are like little people anywhere, some pushing, some crying, some so eager to get your attention, some focused and some in la la land! When I arrived it was assembly so they were all lined up and quietly listening to their teachers. I started doing the hokey pokey and action songs so the disciplined children that started the assembly were laughing, falling over and acting just like I would expect excited 3 & 4 year olds to act. The other 13 preschools in the villages around Kalmunai are quite different. The teachers are members of the village and the areas have not got the facilities or supplies that the Kalmunai school has. You cannot begin to compare the differences between a Canadian preschool and the ones here. The only similarity is the children. I wish I could bring over the things that our schools just throw away and waste in a day!

This Saturday is another women’s group and sports meet of girls (similar to the one I first attended at the Lawrence community center) Anthony informed me that I was going to chair the event! He showed me the agenda (invitation) that already had my name as chairperson. I demanded a democracy only to be laughed at and then at a meeting of staff and teachers he asked who thought I should chair the event and of course they all put up their hands! Guess I lost that one……they will all have a good laugh as I stumble to try to pronounce the 10 syllable names everyone here has!

My afternoons are spent working with the two different groups that are doing the online computer program. I originally was going to facilitate the program but instead am teaching and guiding the students through it. One group just finished the first weeks lessons and activities and the other group is still working on it. There are 10 weeks of lessons so obviously we will not complete the program as was originally hoped for. My goal is to have them understand what we have done and give them some time to practise. I also hope that when I leave they can understand the setup of the program enough to try to complete it on their own. The ones taking the program are employed by Rose so are coming for their 1 1/2 hours daily and leaving their workplace office at that time. They are also coming into work early so they can attend my 7 in the morning classes. That’s called dedication to learn English and improve themselves!

Last Saturday after a day of teaching that began at 7 and continued with no breaks for me until 3 in the afternoon I ran home to pack to leave for the south. Don’t get me wrong, I could leave or take breaks but the 1/2 hour between classes doesn’t give me enough time to run home plus I want to organize myself for my next class. I do not like to have the guys wait for me when their time is also important so i just keep going like the energizer bunny! Good thing I brought along my pep pills and vitamins! Anyway our driver and Rajeeshan, Amanda and I left for a driving trip to Galle. That was a very fun time so my next email will chat about that and I will also post some pictures showing you some of the great sites! I need a break and am hungry so bye for now and hope you all had a good Easter!

A quick update on our progress here.

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Hi, Just a quick update on our progress here. Yesterday my K 1 group wrote the first week’s test. One student achieved 50, one 90 and the rest not as good. I do not feel this is a fair evaluation of how well they understood the first week’s lesson, though. I do not agree with their questioning technique and I even find the questions difficult the way they are phrased. I do not think the questions evaluate how much they have learned and am not too concerned with the marks. Our progress is slow, which is quite obvious when I have been here since the beginning of the month and we have done one week’s lesson. There are several reasons for this:

– the first week involved more than just the lesson content
– they really do no get enough time on the computer to practise the skills
– they need more time to process the information (I do not want to rush them and go forward if I feel they are not understanding I give other examples, etc.)

I know they would like to have time to practise emailing more, which I feel is an important skill so I am going to give them another part of the class tomorrow to write an email to you.

I guess by now you know we extended our visas Monday without any problems. Even at that it only gives a short time to accomplish the tip of the iceberg. Rajeeshan says not to stress about the work load but if I am going to do something it is not in my nature to do it half assed. Just found out I am scheduled to do a two day workshop with all the preschool teachers on Sunday and Monday. Supposedly I can just use the knowledge I have in my head and just spend time with them. (I hope you can imagine the expression I had on my face right at that point) That plus I have been chosen to chair the women’s sport’s meet on Sat. ” OK but what if I say no? This needs to be a democracy!” At that point Anthony asked all the folks at the meeting if they wanted me to chair the meet and they of course put up their hands. It was a consensus so I guess that takes care of saying no! The guests will not recognize their names when I pronounce them!

I have my 7 oclock class coming in so will run. After that I am going to the english preschool to observe what they do and check schedules, etc. I am trying to write a curriculum for the preschool to follow but want to know what they already do. I will resume my K 1 classes this afternoon. As the saying goes : No rest for the wicked! I think I must have been wicked in my former life!

Take care,
Sonia