Sri Lanka – Jan 3rd noon
I left the group on New Year’s Day. I think some were a little nervous but I think it’s cool. I didn’t want to leave the group but, my dad said it was necessary for me to go ahead of the group and make sure things are ok. So far so good. The library is almost complete. It is raining alot here.
I’m in an internet cafe in Dambulla, the closest city to Sigriya. We are buying a few more things for building the library in town. It has been raining alot and it’s been trouble to get around. So things have slowed a bit.
I met the principle of the school and he is very busy as school has started again after the holidays. He is also the Buddhist monk in the village. There is a funeral he must attend too in addition to helping to manage the building of the library.
He seems like a cool guy. Very calm. He’s brought the village together to progress since he’s been here for 30 years. If you visit the north center of Sri Lanka, you should visit him. The garden in the school is very nice. The kids seem to enjoy what they have. The teachers bus in from far away. The classrooms are really open air halls with 3 classes per hall. One of the classrooms was built with Beligium during a friendship pact with Sri Lanka in the 1980s. They have electricity through solar cells and collect rain water through filters for drinking water.
People here seem to like it slow. Here are some conversations I have overheard. First in the news, people are talking about a bomb blast in Colombo that killed 4 people yesterday and also about the a minister that was killed. Right now, I don’t know if it’s confirmed but people think both were done by the LTTE.
Jan 2nd, I was on the road all day. I met my grandfather’s little sister and her family. She was so happy that I came that she almost cried. She held my hand for like 15 min. We talked about my grandfather (he died when I was 3 in Sri Lanka). We also got to visit my dad’s old elementry school. My dad seems to enjoy how most things in the village have not changed much. 2 people saw me and they thought that my dad had somehow grew young by being in the US. My dad’s village is in the middle of a rubber plantation. Even though it’s a private plantation it isn’t separate from the rest of nature. There are also tea, rice paddies and other trees around the area. It’s lots of different pretty shades of green.
On Jan 1st, we visited a Tsunami refugee camp. There were 30 families there. We asked what they would like and they asked for shoes for the children. We tried to get all the right sizes as best as we could, but there was a mistake with some of the girls’ shoes and toddlers’ sizes. We felt bad we couldn’t help everyone, but nobody was angry. We called DSI, the shoe company, and asked them to let those people exchange the shoes. Hopefully it will work out. We also bought some rice, sugar and milk powder for each household. One of us immediately gave a huge sum of money to expand our group’s “share the love fund”. We played with the kids and talked to some of the folks. They feel forgotten and frustrated that they can’t get out of the temporary camp. The houses are made of sheet metal and are like ovens in the day time. We heard the story of a 3month year old baby that was knocked out of the dad’s hands during when The Tsunami hit. The baby was miraculouly stuck in a coconut tree and found after a few hours. Another baby was stuck in barbed wire and died while a woman tried to untangle the baby from the wire. While we were playing with the kids one of them fell and hit his head on a rock and Sonali rushed with the boy’s father to the doctor in a three-wheeler. It cost about 200 rps. ($2 US) to get stitches and an ice cream. He came back all good.
Another one of us gave a lady running the wholesale store we bought goods at 2000 rupees to buy some gifts and visit the camp with friends. We also did the same thing with our friend from the Hotel we stayed at, Nishanta. We tried our best to remind people not to forget and begin some good conversation as best we could.
We stayed in a wonderful hotel right next to the beach near Matara. The staff and owner helped us out a lot. Here is the address: Beach Inn, Beach Rd, Madiha – Matara, Sri Lanka, Tel: 041-2226356. They fed us very well and took great care of us.
On Dec 31, we went to another Tsunami Camp. This one had 17 families. We also bought them some food (rice and paripu–dahl). Madhvi sang a hindi song for the kids after they sang some songs for her. Laura, Anna, Gianna, and Sonali struck up a good conversation with a family in their house. This camp had families that were “sub-families” from a house that was lost to the Tsunami. The new houses that were built are not big enough to hold more than one family. So they wait for their family to be helped again. Most of the families are young. There was a mother that was 19 and her husband was about 22. Some were married while living in the camp. a few of the babies were born in the camp. I felt sad mostly because it feels like they can’t do anything but wait for the last 3 years. It was said that no group came to visit and spend quality time with the folks here for more than 2 years. It felt good to share some good times. They made us feel good by telling us how much they appreciated it. They said it will take about 200,000 rupees ($2,000 US) to build a decent sized house. They still own the property where their houses once stood, but there is a genuine fear of going back. One lady said, “What if this happens again and we end up like this again.” The children say they can’t sleep when they are by the ocean. I don’t know how to convince them not to be scared after they’ve been through that devestation. I wonder if there is some way for them to be micro-funded to build one house at a time by people from abroad or even people in Matara or Colombo. Most of the people in the camps are fishermen or day laborers. They live day to day and don’t know how to go about saving money yet. They are also weary about taking loans because they know they won’t be able to pay back consistently. I wonder if they can work for building materials and have a shermadhana to build each house. There was a the story of a family that had already been able to get a house built, but they were staying in the camp hoping to get another one. The actions of one or two make more beauracrazy for the rest.
We also visited a couple houses that Sonali and LifeNets had helped get back on their feet. They were so happy to see their old friend and kept asking when Sonali would be back.
I’m reading an article about Gandhi-ji when I have time: “A Criticism of Modern Civilization”. It’s a very iconoclastic rhetorical argument to get “India” to not be dependent on what is being sold as “civilisation”. To a westerner, it may seem backward as he is speaking against doctors, lawyers and even railway systems, while saying India needs to go back to Spirituality. But, reading this rhetorically, I can understand where he is coming from. He says human thirsts for comfort has made Indians want to keep the English ruling. He says there is nothing wrong with English rule, other than India becoming impoverished with the imbalance of economic and cultural exchange. He keeps saying there is a lot India can teach to the “modern world” and is careful not to just specifically target the English Imperialists. He is very harsh about Indians too saying that they have become effeminate and fall to bow the the English rule too easily. He is also harsh about how Hindus and Muslims and other religious sects have been brainwashed by the European “divide and conquer” technique to believe that different cultures can’t live together. One mental experiment I want to do is to see if we are too comfortable in our western digs. Maybe living locally with a few mosquitos and lizards and squat toilets aren’t that bad?
Dr Ariyaratne also was saying how much better South Asia would be if Gandhi lived at least another year. He was saying he would have been able to keep the partition of the different countries from getting out of hand. Gandhi-ji was a unifying force. He took alot of ideas from all over; he referenced many English writers in his critique of “Western Civilisation”. Maybe Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, etc would be a lot more unified if that was the case. Also extremist violience would not be so rampant, I think. Because Gandhi-ji and others of that time stressed Ahimsa as a pillar of South Asian society. It’s so strange when Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, etc are the ones buying and using bombs and dressing in western military dress and spending so much time and energy on destruction.
I know I’ve digressed to a tangent. Sri Lankan people are so nice and calm. Almost too much. Here are some stories I’ve overheard: My dad’s friend didn’t have change in his pocket when a beggar asked for some money. He said he’ll bring it tomorrow but never saw him again; he felt bad about not doing something at the moment. Kuncuhn (a green plant used in malun) needs to be dried when grown in the Central North province otherwise you get loose stools and phlem. There are 2 kinds of bananas, ambulata and colikootung, one will help with diahrea while the other will make your stools more loose. When driving you should go behind a cow (they are stubborn and will keep going forward) while you can go in front of a dog (he will follow the path of the car if you try to go behind him). There is a very noticiable common courtsey when driving on the roads that’s common to both Sri Lanka and India that I’ve noticed. People are more aware of judging who should go first because there are not many rules of the road. Cell phones are used more than land lines here. Before the LTTE started organized attacks the Sri Lankan army had 6,000 men and were only used mainly as a police force and in holiday parades. Now, there are 100,000s of men and women enlisted and the military spending is the biggest part of the national debt.
I’ll meet up with the rest of the crew on Jan 5th. We’ll go visit the Sigrirya archeological site and go on an elephant safari on the 6th. We’ll concentrate on the library on the 7th.
A week has gone by.
From Sapun’s report all is going well. I think it is interesting how quickly we forget people after a natural disaster. It is as if we have just a limited amount of compassion to give and then that’s it. The human touch, the conversation, the real interest in the lives of those who have suffered is what is most important. I am so glad you got to spend some time doing that.
Your comments on Gandhiji make me want to go back and read him again. It is true that if he hadn’t died so soon maybe things really would have been different.
The school project is going to be wonderful. Books, books, books and learning, learning, learning.
Hope the archeological site and the elephant safari go well.
Keep safe. Love to sri Lanka and her people.