November 16, 2011: The Elephant that Eats Mentos

                I’m so far out of my comfort zone that my dongle doesn’t even work.  So basically for my independent study project, I decided to play with elephants.  Brief excerpt from my proposal, but this will give you the main idea, excuse my conjunctions: For my Independent Study Project, I plan on shadowing a Mahout and learning how they care for and train elephants.  In essence, for the next four weeks I hope to be a sort of apprentice for a knowledgeable Mahout who can not only introduce me to the basic circumstances of domesticated Elephants in Sri Lanka, but also provide me with a glimpse into the exclusively male dominated organization of Mahouts.  Though the main focus of my study will be to learn how to train an elephant, working closely with both Elephant and Mahout will give me a unique experience to study a wide variety of topics, ranging from the relationship between man and elephant, the politics of becoming a Mahout, the social and economic position of those that devote their lives to caring for these endangered animals, and the humane reality of domestic Elephants.  Aka I basically have no idea where this project is going, but I really like elephants so here I am.

                We found this Mahout because, as aforementioned, I was banished from the Maligawa by a sexist idiot in a skirt—who also happens to be the chief Mahout for the sacred elephants.  Long story short, Telak and I rallied some of the other Mahouts and our contact at the Maligawa (who just happened to own an elephant) offered to put us in touch with his trainer.  Sumanasena, Emily, David (more on him later—he’s so special he’ll get his own post!) and I visited Pradeep’s village and met with Saban and Malli, his 37 year old female charge.  And we fed the elephant mentos, because apparently they’re Malli’s favorite food.  Saban agreed to train me for the next few weeks, so we just needed to find a place for me to stay since this village is pretty far from Kandy.  Things got pretty complicated since the Hotel that Pradeep suggested was way out of our budget allowance and I don’t speak enough Sinhala to organize a home-stay on my own, so we left the lake where we met with Saban with absolutely no game plan.  As we were walking back to the van, I spotted the nicest house in the village and told Sumanasena that I wanted to live there.  I also told him that we should go knock on the door and ask because that’s apparently how things work in Sri Lanka.  He laughed at me and told me nobody was home, but I started walking up the driveway anyway, determined to find somewhere to live without David’s stupid opinions.  Just as I started walking up the driveway, an oldish woman with white hair piled into a bun came out of the house and waved us down.  Sumanasena explained the situation and basically asked if I could move in with her for a few weeks, and she agreed.  Only in Lanka.

                I was supposed to arrive in Pol Ambegoda yesterday night, but there was a problem with transportation (the rampantest of inefficiencies) so Sumanasena and Telak scooped me in the Batmobile this morning.  We picked up two bushels (bushels/bunches? What do you even call a ton of bananas?) of bananas to bribe Malli into not murdering me, and some powdered milk as a gift for my new host mother.

                When we got to the house, I realized just how awkward living with a family who spoke absolutely no English was going to be.  We all sat around on the couches in Ammaa Anule’s house and discussed logistics of my stay.  Thank Buddha Sumanasena and Telak came with us, because there absolutely no way I would have survived the inquisition without them.  I sat on the couch sipping tea while the trifecta talked around me.  Being in a room where everyone is talking about you in a different language is quite possibly the most awkward situation in the whole world.  People talk at you, and ask you questions, and all you can do is give a ridiculous smile back and for all you know there telling you you’re an illegitimate bastard or something.  Mid-conversation (of which I was getting absolutely nothing out of) I asked if I could put my bags in the room they had shown me last time I visited.  I lugged my Celtics duffle into the room, and there was a baby in my bed.  Obviously.  A really chubby Sri Lankan baby with a gold necklace and bracelets on each arm staring up at me with huge angry black baby eyes.  Party favor.

                I sat back down on the couch because the rando baby looked extremely angry that I was interrupting its nap, and played with the dog to avoid the awkwardness.  About ten minutes later, some old guy came into the parlor and started lecturing Telak.  He kept pointing at me and asking questions that I obviously didn’t understand, and pretty soon Telak was writing out some sort of legal proclamation at this man’s insistence.  Just as I was debating whether it was appropriate to laugh at the nonsensicality of this entire program or cry because I was about to be chainsaw-massacred, Telak explained what was going on.  I guess Anule’s daughter had told her that she had no idea who I was and I couldn’t live in her house without demanding basic identity information (Peradeniya ID card, Passport, etc), so Telak explained the program/my independent study/lack of tourism/emphasis on immersion.  Since Anule’s husband is paralyzed (he sleeps in a side room with the curtains pulled shut, I’m still not positive he exists), his younger brother came to make sure everything was ok.  He was kindof a blowhard and tried to intimidate Telak, but finally calmed down when Telak agreed to write out a contract.  I guess his wild gesturing at me was some sort of proclamation that I was not to bring home any guests or fraternize with the neighborhood guys or come home after dark or run around naked or in shorts or something.  After forever, we went down to the lake to meet with Saban, and agreed that I would start working with him tomorrow at 8 in the morning.  We fed Malli the bananas, which she pretty much swallowed whole, and headed back to the house.  Sumsies dropped me off, and I was on my own.  See ya iingriisi.

                For the first hour or so, Anole and I went through the awkward first conversation, made even more awkward by the fact that we both spoke different language.  I got to that point where I just couldn’t do it anymore, and told her I was hari mahansi and needed to take a chuTTi nap.  I laid there thinking that there was absolutely no way I was gonna survive the next few weeks.  When I woke up, the entire extended family/neighborhood came over to see the white person staying at Anule’s house.  Finally the kids warmed up to me, and I discovered the owner of the baby in my bed, and everything got a ton better.  I started to understand more Sinhala, and apparently they started to understand my Sinhala even better.  And I used a squat toilet for the first time. Which sucks. 


                So as I’m writing this, I’m pretty sure I just diagnosed a fairly well-established colony of bed bugs.  The bed I’m sleeping in is a glorified (but not) piece of foam covered by a sheet, and about 5 minutes ago I broke a slat off the bottom and fat jokes don’t even apply considering all I’ve eaten in the past few months is god-danmed rice and curry.  I’m using my stupid Lily Pulitzer laptop cover to swat away and hopefully brutally murder the weird moth thing that keeps flying around, and there’s a stick of mortine dangerously close to my oxygen supply.  I just smooshed a mosquito on the Microsoft Word icon and I’m praying that I don’t swallow one of the 7 spiders you eat in a lifetime tonight.  I’ve kindof reached the point where I’m done adventuring and I just want to be back in Annewatta with internet connection and a mosquito net and a regular toilet, but that’s not happening for awhile.  I don’t want to shower in the lake and I don’t want to speak Sinhala and I would really rather sleep in a Burger King bathroom then in this bedroom.  Instead, I’m going to brush my teeth with boiled water and take 3 Benadryl and dream of the seasonal section in Target, which in my mind will remain Halloweeney until I watch Hocus Pocus at least 20 times.  I’m channeling Erica and borrowing her “breath in, everything’s fine, it’s just a few weeks” coping mechanism.  I miss my nangiis and my mental health and I’m going to be royally pissed if Ben Kademus chooses this week to e-mail me my housing assignment.   But you know what, it’s fine.  Study abroad in study abroad, incept that.  

September 30, 2011 ChuTTi Monks and Art house

                Dear blogosphere and Mom and Dad and Emily and Margaret, I haven’t been ran over by a tuk tuk or married yet, we’ve just had a ton of work so I spent the past week writing a paper on Orientalism, sitting through 2394875293 hours of Sinhala, and watching Harry Potter with the Nangiis.

               Anyway, today instead of heading to the ISLE center for Sinhala class, we traveled into the mountains around Kandy to visit the house of Ashley Halpe, who had been an English professor at the University of Peradeniya for many years.  Before arriving, the only thing I knew about Halpe was that he had an incredible house filled with paintings and music, and that at some point (according to a syllabus that is almost always useless) we would be meeting with poets.

                We piled into the bat mobile for yet another lecture, hoping that it would be to some extent more interesting than the other three we had endured the past two weeks.  Slightly annoyed (meaning so over these lectures that I was irrationally angry) that I was going to spend my first Friday off being herded to some old guy’s house to drink tea and listen to poetry, my only consolation was the upcoming weekend (David-less) trip to Nuwaraeliya.  Anyways, Gamini drove us up the flower lined dirt road to the Halpe house and dropped us off at the end of the driveway.  The view from the front garden was way prettier than I expected—the house was at the top of a mountain overlooking the town and surrounded by little pink flowers, vine covered gates, and sprawling palm trees.  The door to the house was open, so we took off our sandals and filed into the tiny little front entryway.

                Walking into the Halpe house was like walking into a storybook.  The hallway leading to the main room was filled with sheets of music, family portraits, record players, tape players, and a giant piano.  The next room was a sort of living room area glass doors and a balcony that overlooked the mountains outside.  Every inch of the wall was covered with paintings and artwork—colorful abstract modern works, intricate and traditional mask carvings, pictures with sandals pasted onto a rainbow of splattered paint, naked women, old women, old men, mosaics, even paintings that Ashley had done himself.  They were hung everywhere; they were over the fireplace, propped up on the stairs, in little frames on another giant piano, over the windows.  Every inch of wall space was filled with some sort of artwork.  A little old man walking diligently slow(who I eventually realized was Ashley Halpe) gave us a tour of the house, pointing out different pieces as we stepped around the Koi pond in the middle of his dining room, and instructed us to take a seat wherever we pleased. 

                We sat in a tiny circle of chairs and couches and pillows while he described the diversity of Sri Lankan culture to us.  He asked us what we had for breakfast, which ranged from yogurt and toast to kiribat (milkrice) and posambol, highlighting just how diverse every aspect of Sri Lankan culture was.  He said that this diversity also manifests itself in Sri Lankan art, illustrated by differences in the paintings surrounding him as he talked.  He showed us political pieces, traditional pieces, abstract pieces, pieces influenced by the West, pieces condemning the West, explaining each painting so we could understand the artists perspective.  He described one of the paintings he drew of his wife and child, as well as a painting where the pinecones on trees were grenades and a pile of bodies lay underneath. 

                After more tea and cookies and little almost-cupcake things that tasted like fruit and chocolate and pink and green meringues the size of pumpkins, we sat down and listened to the poets.  Ashley, as well as an outgoing diva woman who I assumed was another poet, decided that the young authors should go first, followed by the older ones.  We listened as a young man who had just graduated from Peradeniya read a poem about Western celebrities treating third-world children as accessories and collecting them like stamps, while another poet read about a woman who refused to talk to him in public.  The poets were joking around, making fun of each other, making witty references to Sri Lankan authors—it felt like we wear a part of some established literary circle.  Very Eliot-esq.

                Once the younger poets were done reading, the older poets took center circle.  The first woman declared that while much of her early poetry was angry (like the young writers who had just read) her more modern works were decidedly more upbeat.  She claimed that this was because it was the older generation who saw just how awful life was during the height of political unrest.  To show this dichotomy, she read a poem she wrote about traveling on the train and how she always asked the conductor whether he had checked the bags; she was afraid that the train would blow up before she could return home.  However, most of the older artists decided to read from selections that were more upbeat.  Ashley read a poem he wrote about his wife at her insistence (who then passed out an entire book of poems written for her), and told us we were welcome back whenever we liked.

                After eating lunch at the Halpe house, we left for a nearby home for chuTTi monks.  We were all exhausted, but seeing monks casually strolling the streets of Kandy was still a commodity for us and the prospect of playing with an entire Monastery of baby monks seemed pretty hilarious.  Once we got to the home, we were assigned groups of kids to practice our Sinhala with—aka they spoke absolutely no English.  One of the monks, who looked about 8, led us off to a group of chairs past the shrine, and Erica and I sat awkwardly facing the 4 other kids in their tiny little monk robes interrogation style.  We asked them the usual 5 questions we knew, and the conversation basically turned into a Mexican standoff, where the first tiny monk had to ask US questions.  We learned that they like Harry Potter, have brothers and sisters, and like roTi as much as we do.  I kindof thought it was unfair that these kids should be committed to the monastery before they even hit puberty (cruel and unusual x 11), but Amare told us later that many of them were there because their parents were either dead or unable to care for them.  Since they were given food and education at the Monastery, they were given a much better life they would have had if they were regular promiscuous lay people.  We drank our 80th cup of tea and headed home, finally.

                Instead of heading to bed at 9:00 like I usually do, it was Chiranthi’s 10th birthday so the entire family and four of her best friends came over.  I figured most of them didn’t speak English, so when Aammaa pointed out a little girl who she called “the big girl” (she wasn’t really fat, just not Sri Lankan miniature person status) and said her English was good, I figured she was just decent.  I went over to her and said extremely slowly and with hand signals “My name is Alex”, and she looked at me like I was an idiot.  She had lived abroad in Australia and England, so we bonded over our use of spoons and Taylor Swift.  We sang happy birthday in English, played pin the trunk on the elephant and balloon tag, and tackled a tin of rice as big as a small bathtub.  Finally everyone went home and I went to bed, slash I went to bed before 3/4ths of the little kids left because I was falling asleep while they were watching Hop.


September 19, 2011 

                We finally got back from the tour today, which was probably one of the longest weeks of my life.  Standing at the precipice of that week was like cartwheeling towards a cliff (except a really old one that may or may not have been a drip ledge cave).  Even though we were constantly going and dreading getting out of the van for most of the time, it actually was pretty interesting.

                We headed first to Anuradhapura, which is an ancient city where the civilizations of Sri Lanka first began.  We went to an ancient burial ground from like 10,000 BC and then to the caves (drip ledge cave) where olden-day monks used to sit and meditate back when they were wandering nomads.  We finished up the day at a gigantic Stupa, which are these round structures that Buddhists worship, kindof like a temple (being extremely vague, but the pictures will speak for themselves).  On Tuesday we went to another huge Monastery, which was more like a small city than the cave dwellings that the monks used to live in.  We went to a few more Stupas, including one that our professor had worked on for like 30 years.  On Wednesday we went to Mihintale, which is a huge rock with tiny stares smashed into it where Buddhism was introduced, as well as the Sacred Bodi tree where the Buddha was said to have gained enlightenment (and 300 worshipers were massacred by the LTTE).  We climbed a bunch of massive rocks and saw a few amazing, once-in-a-lifetime views of Sri Lanka.  In Sigiriya we climbed to the top of an ancient fortress built on a mountain, which was pretty cool.  And we stayed in an awesome hotel and sat at the bar and bought actual alcoholic beverages!  Finally at Polonnaruwa we got to go swimming in a man-made lake and went to a few museums.  Basically we saw a ton of awesome stuff, including a trillion Stupas, way too many drip ledge caves, and more rocks than we knew what to do with.  But it was definitely worth the effort. 

I’m not doing this trip any justice, but it’s pretty hard to sum up a trip from 10000 BC to the Present.  Peep the pictures and get your own idea.

Sleep for daze

September 10, 2011

                Instead of going into Kandy like we planned, I went home and slept for about 5 hours before the daily dance party.  Staying out till 9 is a crazy night for us apparently.  Nothing really interesting except for usual nangi craziness and awkward interactions with extended family members.  Tomorrow is Poya, which means full moon so everyone goes to Temple for the whole day.  Instead, I plan to read for years and take at least 3 naps and completely avoid the fact that it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 back home.

                **ALSO, I’m heading on a tour of a trillion archeological sites in the North for the next week with our Material Culture teacher (who basically dug up 3/4ths of them) on Monday.  We’ll be heading to Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, and Polonnaruwa (Google it up) and won’t have any access to internet.  No computer no internet no blog, cyur.

Pizza Hut and Masochism

  September 9; 2011          

   So it got to that point in our little Sri Lankan lives that we unanimously decided to book it to Pizza Hut.  Since we were going to a Parahera we all had to be back at the center by six, but a meal that didn’t center around rice was worth the rush, rupees, tuk-tuk ride, and loss of cultural dignity.  There’s a Pizza hut in Kandy (right next to the KFC but since it’s window posters advertized chicken with rice we ran in the opposite direction) so we figured it was totally ok to spend a few hours pretending we were in  America.  The inside of the Pizza hut was just like any other pizza hut, only nice and with actual menus.  The whole thing was hilarious because I saw more white people in that restaurant than I’ve seen since I got here.  The waiter sat us at a big round table, and after about 10 minutes of trying to use Sinhala to order our bottled water, we gave up and pointed to the florescent faux-alcoholic mango things on the front page (except Emma, who ordered vatur botella and somehow ended up with some gross bubbly purple thing).  When everyone else arrived, we got two pizzas and ate them in about 3 minutes. 

                As we were figuring how to dole out rupees for the check, we heard drums and some sort of commotion coming from the street below us.  At first it just looked like a normal parade—there were Kandian dancers wearing their bright red and gold costumes, trucks and cars and rickshaws bearing flower-decorated floats, loud drums and singing, and the usual crowd of people trying to push to the front of the throng.  It took us a few minutes to decide it was worth it to leave the circle table and actually go to the window, but when we did we saw pretty much the craziest thing in the whole world.

                Even though the cars looked like they were carrying floats, they were actually carrying men hanging from hooks threaded into their skin.  We had NO IDEA what was going on, and figured we must be imagining thing because there’s no way in hell that could actually be real and we were just being stupid foreigners.  So obviously we dumped the check on whoever was holding the bill and ran outside.  We pushed our way to the front, which wasn’t that difficult because everyone cleared Moses-parting-sea style to stare at us.  We were about five feet away from a guy who looked around our age with hooks dug into his skin all down his back.  He had one in each arm, thigh, and shin and there may have even been one on the back of his neck.  He was swinging back and forth, expressionless and detached, while the drummers and dancers and cars buzzed around him.  The next man was sitting cross-legged—tangled in a maze of rope connected to the hooks pulling at his skin.  There was another man strung up kindof like Jesus, and the whole thing was crazy and unbelievable and gross and really, really awesome.  Even though there were hooks pulling every which way under their skin, the men looked calm and weren’t bleeding.  We found out later that it was a Hindu devotional, which I still don’t really understand because I haven’t had enough internet time to hit up Wikipedia.  To whoever judged us for caving in to pizza, suck it.

                We went back to the center and headed off to the Parahera, which was about an hour away.  When we got to the giant white temple on a mountain, we passed a few crowds of people and came face to trunk with a giant decorated elephant.  I’m pretty sure this was the first elephant I’ve ever actually seen, and it was just kindof hanging out—not in a cage, not tied to anything, just standing there like there was nothing remotely interesting about its existence.  It was huge, and the skinny wrinkly man standing next to him wasn’t even really watching him.  Obviously I ran up to one, stared at the guy until he motioned for me to come over, and got to pet (or touch, or poke, whatever) the elephant that was 25423 times my size.  Long story short, there were 4 elephants there and I touched three of them, including a baby one.  If I wasn’t so tired from seeing people swinging from hooks or juggling fire and being the only one who actually looked interested, I would probably go into detail about every amazing part of the parade.  But I’m dead, and I have a Sinhala test tomorrow and we all know how good I am at that freaking alphabet.  Goodnight, pictures eventually!


September 8, 2011

                Update on Independent Study Project: Elephants are in the near future and Telak is the man.  Also, Asanke taught me how to use his internet USB because he’s awesome and Chiranthi and Devika are helping me pass my Sinhala script exam because they’re basically the smartest 10 –year-olds in the world.  Also, there were about 11 monkeys of varying sizes waiting for me with bulgy eyes and stupid faces when I got home and I wasn’t even scared. BIG TYMING.

Killing Fields of Sri Lanka

Channel 4’s documentary of the Sri Lankan civil war

Modern Monarchy of Sri Lanka

September 7, 2011

*this is all strictly my explanation of Tisa’s lecture, neither gospel nor assumed fact.  read lightly because there’s always a chance I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.  Also, there’s different sides to every story, and this is just one person’s ideas.

                For the past week we’ve been on a crazy insane class schedule that basically leaves no time for anything besides binge-eating rambutans and fantasizing about slutty clothes.  Since most of us jet-set to Sri Sri without having any real appreciation for the culture, history, politics, or language of the island, the ISLE program is trying its best to pump out semi-educated future Fullbrights in about four months.  After 3 hours of Sinhala, 2 hours of Archaeology and suicide contemplations to prepare us for the Northern tour, and an enlightening monologue on Inter-tropical Convergence Zones (??????????????????) we had ONE. MORE. LECTURE.  Duhhh duhh duuhhhhhhhhhh.  Surprisingly, we probably learned more from this one speaker than we had from any class time or dubbed Tamil Tele-drama this entire week.  Tisa Jayatilaka something actually sat down with us and addressed the civil-war that ended just two years ago as well as the historical ideology that fueled centuries of ethnic tension and decades of murder. 

                So basically Sri Lanka is a tiny bit bigger than West Virginia but stuffed with an extensive and bloody past.  Tisa was saying that while history is often a blessing, the cultural background of Sri Lanka is more of a burden because of centuries of ethnic conflict.  Even though the island is so small, it is home to an amazingly diverse population of different religions, ethnicities, and cultural ideologies—including the Sinhalese and Tamils.  He said that Sri Lanka suffers from a sort of inferiority complex due to centuries of conquest and colonization, which all plays a huge role in the recent civil war.  Because the Tamils link themselves to Tamil Nadu, the Sinhalese population of the island views them as a distinct group of outsiders with the ability to join forces with other Tamil states and gain an immense amount of power.  Instead of seeing themselves as one nation, Sri Lankans have divided themselves into different ethnic groups that try to retain a sort of cultural identity—each viewing the other as a threat.  As a result, Tisa explained that Sri Lanka is not a nation because its citizens are not treated equally.

                Most of the conflict between the two main ethnic groups stemmed from the early colonization of the island (warning: kindof boring post, but pretty cool if you have any interest in learning about the background about one of the most recent genocides in the world).  Before the island was colonized, the different religious and ethnic groups shared land without too much excitement—they were all free to build their own shrines (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and way more) and adhere to their own cultural conventions.  When the British invaded the island because of its crazy resources they favored the Tamils (who are distinguished by nothing other than language) over the Sinhalese because they were a smaller population and they saw strategy in dividing and conquering.  When the tides eventually turned in more modern times, the Sinhalese gained more power in the government and used their larger population to discriminate against the Tamils.  In 1956, they changed the national language from English to Sinhala, leaving the Tamils without means to qualified education and a bunch of other rights.  In 1983 the island erupted in ethnic riots, where the Tamils struggled to assert their rights as citizens and the Sinhalese, who considered themselves the protectors of Buddhism and the true owners of the island, worked to suppress their complaints.

                The islands big problems exploded with the introduction of the 18th amendment, which gave the elected president sweeping powers over the legislation of the island.  Previously, the Present could only serve for a term of 6 years, but with this new amendment he could now serve indefinitely as long as no other candidate was elected.  This completely irradiated the system of checks and balances necessary in any government, and gave the present absolute control of armed forces and such.  The Tamils definitely played their part in the violence of the island, but the forces used to suppress the LTTE were absolutely brutal (see Video Clip).  Even though the civil war ended in 2009, the current president has failed to address the grievances of the Tamils or the ethnic tension that has existed for centuries.  Even more dangerous, he has worked to alienate the Western world that is pointing to human rights violations, using America’s own history of conquest to justify Sri Lanka’s recent actions.  While he assumes that Russia and China will support such a stance, Tisa believes otherwise.

                Rather than work to build a more unified nation with all people treated equally, The President has been throwing dirt in the Tamils’ cultural identity.  He has been building Buddhist statues in Tamil Territory where they have never been before, bulldozing LTTE Cemeteries, and refusing to allow the National Anthem to be sung in any language besides Sinhala.  If a Tamil need to make a legal complaint against something, he or she must do it in Sinhala because there isn’t even a place in Colombo where they could explain their problem in their native language.  Tisa claimed that there is absolutely no measure of self rule for the Tamils, and as long as you were and are a sympathizer of the government it is possible to get away with legitimate murder.  Instead of reconciling and rebuilding, the actions of the government are propelling the island in the same dangerous direction.  Tisa predicts that unless more is done on an urgent basis, Sri Lanka may face another bloody civil war in as little as 5 years.

Sans Obligatory Orphan Facebook Default

September 6, 2011

                Instead of heading home or wandering around Kandy after class we all headed to one of the  nearby orphanages.  We stuffed into the magic school bus (or magic creepy rape-van from 1987) and drove about 15 minutes through Kandy, eventually pulling up a small gravel driveway partially hidden by trees.  Inside, the driveway opened up into a sand-filled playground with a rickety old merry-go-round and faded metal slides and climbing ladders straight out of an All American Rejects video.  There were only a few kids outside, but most of them scattered inside a huge white complex as soon as we rolled up the windows and snapped open the slidey doors.  Even though we assumed someone in charge would be expecting us, no one came outside to tell us where to go or who to talk to (shocker), so we basically just milled around awkwardly for a few minutes before venturing inside.  David led the way with his giant Moses walking stick, looking extremely inappropriate and enormous surrounded by tiny furniture.

                Inside a small Sri Lankan woman attempted to talk to us, but since she didn’t know any English she just kind of smiled and politely brushed us on.  After about 5 minutes of us self-consciously waving to curious children and peeking into sleeping quarters and broom closets, the woman in charge of the orphanage finally gave us some direction.  She led us on a brief tour of the main areas that the kids lived in, pointing out in a slight Sinhalese accent each different type of room and explaining a bit about the history of the home.  The first room we came to was a long florescent room with ceramic tile and faded blue painted walls.  The sides of the room were lined with 15 or so little beds, each with a dresser and matching blue bed sheets.  There were big bright windows and a few tiny boys kicking a ball off the ceiling.  We went into a few other rooms, including one set up in the same dormitory-style as the boy’s room but decorated with pick and purple teddy-bear wall stickers and scattered with second-hand stuffed dolls.  We kindof gawked into each room, staring awkwardly at the kids as they stared even more awkwardly back at us.

                Pretty soon the boss lady disappeared and we all headed off in different directions.  Most of the kids didn’t speak any English, so we tossed a ball around with some 3 year old boys because we figured they couldn’t really talk in any language anyway.  They were tiny and shy at first, but after about 5 minutes were already getting teddy-bears launched at our eyeballs and unexpected piggy-backs.  About twenty minutes after we got there, all the kids ran inside for tea, which we’ve learned is infinitely more important than any other meal in Sri Lanka.  While they were eating and singing happy birthday to one of the children, we sat upstairs in an administrative office and learned a little bit more about the orphanage.

                The orphanage itself holds about forty kids—or at least that’s what I think the woman was saying because David kept interrupting with questions about Japanese encephalitis and malaria outbreaks since obviously it was an appropriate time to discuss his background in public health (more on the David experience later).  I guess a ton of kids lost their parents during the civil war, leaving orphanages more necessary than ever before.  Before these homes were given governmental funding, parents who were unable to care for their kids would check them into hospitals and never come back, assuming that the doctors would take pity on them and somehow make sure they were cared for.  As a result, in almost every hospital there would be children growing up in the wards because they had nowhere else to go.  This woman’s husband was some kind of doctor, and together they both decided to devote their lives to helping these kids.  Even more surprisingly, some of the children actually had parents— since the economy in Sri Lanka is so bad, many of them were working overseas and sending money to fund entire families leaving no other option for the children they left behind.  Even though the orphanage was staffed with great people who really cared, it was obvious that many of the amenities were outdated and in need of repair.  Most of the children seemed happy, but I couldn’t imagine growing up without a family. 

                Once the kids were done with tea we headed outside to play.  I ended up spending most of the time with a group of 10 year old boys who knew about three words in English.  They introduced themselves and pointed at my elephant necklace.  They asked me if I knew Spiderman and the Hulk by pointing to one of the boy’s shirt.  Even though there was such a huge language barrier, they all challenged me to a race.  I taught them how to do secret handshakes and make weird noises, which automatically made us best friends.  We played tag and keep-away and arm wrestling and bloody knuckles and every other 10 year old boy game that I still play regularly, which was obviously like 11 against me and my Tivas resulting in a devastating loss.  When we were leaving, me and Meg were saying bye to some of the kids.  When we got to the last kid, we told them all that we hoped to see them soon.  The kid looked up at us and told us in broken English “you won’t come. You won’t come back”.  Cue dead puppies and self-loathing.

The Horrible things I would do for a Cupcake

September 5, 2011 

                Can’t. Eat. Any. More. Rice.  

   Next page