Be the Cause

Black Tea and The Sea Inside

For me, there’s something completely unsettling about travel because it totally screws everything up about my life. Just when I feel familiarly cozy in my self-prescribed comfort zone, it’s time to shed the borders around me – take flight into an unknown journey, deep within, far from my known self.

Whether it be climbing into a tut-tut with a total stranger, meditating by candlelight at dusk, sitting next to a beautiful friend you suddenly look at with a whole new set of eyes, or eating manioc like it’s for the first time – the journey mostly imparts a glimpse into my long-forsaken self.

You know, that longing for an unhindered existence – free from the chaotic, noisiness of the mundane, in search of deeper connections with street vendors, bus drivers, hotel clerks, fishermen, village elders, giggling children, and even drunken revelers …

I do not know if it is irony then, that the most profound connection that takes place, is the most disregarded one – somewhere deep within the sea inside me. Each beautiful person, unwittingly, draws me within; to a place unbound by convention or conformity. A glimpse within a vast body of watery-like commotion, which has eluded me back home, time and time again.

Please feel free to scoff at this, but, as an ‘American,’ I leave the entrapments of the West, with such high ideals of changing the world, uplifting a child’s heart, transforming a village’s need, or feeding the hungry. When it is I that am nourished in return. So much so, that I can hardly digest their compassion. Unable to contain it, it oozes out of my every pore, spilling forth like entrails, leaving everyone stained.

And that is the transformation then. It is not I, I am a mere vessel – a cracked, faulty, empty cask – transferring all the love I have the privilege to receive. It is so humbling, really; to realize I am but a simple funnel for their unfettered love. A metamorphosis of the heart as a plastic kitchen funnel you would toss into your junk drawer and use on occasion.

I bow my head at the thought that I should traverse 6,000 miles to marvel at this revelation. So be it.

The plethora of experiences are numerous and boundless: a lush winding trail up to Ella Falls; holding a beautiful little Cherub’s hand as blood mattered his fine hair; tossing candy at unsuspecting children; going around the Mulberry Bush with my sister in hand; dancing in the rain with beautiful souls; sitting in silence at a festive Hindu Kovil; immersing my hands into cement pails; enjoy witnessing friends trying questionable fruits; counting rupees that never seem to add up; sitting alongside Silva as he takes on the crazy Sri Lankan roads; savoring numerous cups of black tea with my loved ones; dipping my feet into the sacred pools of Sigiriya; crying over a dying puppy; attempting to teach English and discovering how little I grasp in the first place….. .

As usual, I was conflicted on my drive to Katunayake airport. As I exited the bus for the last time, I kept glancing behind me, at Silva, with such longing. All I had to do was to jump back in that bus. As I shouldered my backpack, a funny little lump in my already sore throat began to arise. Amidst the chaos and tumble of duffel bags, trolleys, and countless tourists, I suddenly felt as a lone sojourner headed home after an incomplete task. Looking forward to embracing my son yet dreading the cessation of onward movement. Finding joy in my bed at home and knowing it would leave me with the urge to set out again into the greater expanse.

Back Home from Sri Lanka

I feel drained and tired and slept most of the last 20 or so hours. I got the flu too.But I’m awake now and thinking of what to write. I hope the others will write more too. Putting things on the blog help me remember my state of mind on certain days and I wish to swim in the mind of the other travelers too.

First I’ll start with my disappointments (there were few and nothing all that bad). The first on on my mind was how I ran out of time to get some really cool flyers that we thought of printed out. I asked Christine if she can work with Sarvodaya to get that last minute project off the ground. While we were on the bus going back to Colombo we started to talk about if we could do something to counter the bomb blasts in some small way. Our friend Dinoo was on the same road in the same place as a bomb blast just an hour or so before it went off. Shwetha suggested that we meditate and I think some of the crew went to a Kohvil and did just that. The plan with the flyers was this: the phrases “Send this to where there is suffering,” “Without violence, let us progress,” “Be the change you wish to see in this world” were translated into Tamil, Sinhala, and English. The top of the flyer that a few lit candles in a row followed by a couple of candles touching and one lighting another followed by a more unlit candles. At the bottom was stick figures holding hands until there is one stick figure offering the flyer and other stick figure receiving the flyer followed by a few stick figures that aren’t holding their hands. I hope we can get a few 100 printed and would be nice to have people reading and passing on to others. Unfortunately time was not enough to accomplish it fast enough. I think one mistake I made was to give my uncle the job of translating it, instead of just asking people on the street. Laura and I went to a store that did photo development in Vellawatte. It was a good mix of Tamil and Sinhala speaking co-workers. They were all respectful to eachoother and got along great. They would call each other “akka” “aiya” “mali” “nangi” (Brother/sister) when addressing each other. So that is big hope to know the “ethnic problem” does have a model of solution for when the violence stops. I realized how stupid I was not to take the oppurtnity to have those workers translate my flyer and print it for me right then and there just 2 minutes ago. d’oh!

I think alot of us Be The Cause gang members feel that we didn’t do enough after a project. I feel the same way after a very fulfilling 2 weeks. There was more to do.

I think I know how to end the war. I think we all do, but I am disappointed I don’t know how to start or have the fearlessness to just start anywhere. Maybe in another 2 years or tomorrow…

Christine and I had a tough conversation during the middle of the trip. I don’t think I was able to completely lay my thoughts out to where there was full understanding.

I gave 1000 rupees to a 3 wheeler driver and asked him to do something nice for someone. He asked if it was ok if he used it and I responded by saying “if you are hungry, and you need to do something for yourself, go ahead.” But what I wanted to say is that if he wanted to do something for himself take someone random along. For example if he was hungry, to find someone else that was hungry and enjoy a meal together. But I was too lazy to think of the translation.

I didn’t do enough to show the mason that helped building the library the appreciation I had for him. He was very shy, and I could not create a long conversation with him.  I’m still one of the shyest people I know but I think I worked through that a lot on this trip having to translate and kind of be a “spokesperson”. But I can’t figure out why I didn’t do that with him.

I wasn’t able to bring up my experience with the India trip enough when having conversations with locals.

Of course the little tiffs with fellow travelers were dissapointing , but I’ll accept that as “part of the process.”

After the India Service trip, one of the main changes in me was to be aware of my waste and my delusions to depend on luxury. Going to Sri Lanka reminded me of what I forgot from that in the last 2 years. Reading Gandhi’s “Criticism of Modern Civilization” added to my awareness on this trip.

After the stupid bullshit ethnic wars are resolved in South Asia, I think the poverty problem can be solved if they analyze how much money is being wasted in trivial imports. The lack of debt from the shrinking of war budgets will be a big help too. South Asian minds don’t feel free unless there is a sensible balance of self-rule and self-control, I think.

Now on to the good thoughts:

Raj, Anna, and Christine were my biggest inspiration during the trip. Of course everyone is a living inspiration especially the rest of the gang I traveled with. There was a very unique sense of calm and quiet analysis that I fed in from Anna, Raj and Christine.

Jason and Gianna were our smile. They brought a free spirited light to the group. They smiled through a little bit of sickness. When they sang they put good feeling into it. They were good at teaching and have a great understanding for showing joy. They were able to create joy.

Laura, Shwetha and Sonali were the personification of our hearts. Their spiritual awareness to each moment kept us in a special place where ever we went.

Sudi, Raju and Madhvi were the personification of our blood. They were always down to do anything and everything and make it fun. Seeing Madhvi sing a Hindi song while feeling shy at the first tsunami camp inspired me to be less shy and I think I ended up being more talkative in a group setting when I had to talk for the group. I always noticed these 3 as the first to invent new ways to interact. They were creative too.

So many people helped us along the way. Sonali’s aunts and uncles were always there for us. Without the support of the various school staff the interaction at the schools were not possible. Most of the shop keepers and hotel management did take the time to understand where we were coming from. Our drivers, especially Silva our best friend in sri lanka, took us safely. So much good food was made for us with love because the cooks also knew why we came. It felt good that whenever we arrived somewhere it was cause for people to come together if only to welcome us. Every person that came to welcome us made the trip fulfilling. Each person showed us about where they lived in some small way.

I learned alot. I’m still not sure if I move away from America that Sri Lanka will be a long term place for me. But there is certainly more consideration in my mind that I had before I came back.

Hopefully, I’ll use this trip to be more Sri Lankan in my interaction with people in LA. Hopefully I can think a little differently.

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