Sri Lanka Part 2 – The rest
Final group shot in Sri Lanka
back row – Daniel, Joan, me, Aimee
middle row – Soraya, Yael, Angela, Cathy, Julie, Elizabeth, Karinsa, Ramya
crouching – Jill, Karen
front row – Diane, Tissa, Ally, Marty, Chitra
Hello from foggy Oakland. I’ve been back now for a little over a week and am slowly settling in. It’s good to be home with time to see my loved ones and some much needed time by myself. My trip was wonderful, and I feel so lucky to have gotten to participate in this program. Each place we went, people had taken great care to ensure that we had a positive and enriching experience representative of the great diversity that exists in India and Sri Lanka. Each leg of the trip, there was something new that would cause us to grin with joy or to breathe deeply in awe. My challenge is going to be in preserving those memories and adequately conveying even some fraction of what I got out of this journey to my friends and my students. I also feel very fortunate in getting to share this experience with my groupmates – a fantastic collection of intelligent, funny and caring people.
My only complaint about either of the programs was that I always wanted more. I think the organizers did an amazing job considering the impossible task they were set – to give us a comprehensive view of two countries in such a limited amount of time. I plan to return to both countries now that I’ve gotten a glimpse.
So now, my final installment – about the second half of my stay in Sri Lanka. After Kandalama we drove south to Kandy, a small city in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. At the very end of the 16th century, Kandy became the capital of the last kingdom in Sri Lanka, successfully fending off invasions by Europeans until it fell to the British in the early 1800s. Because it was the capital, Kandy became home to a very important Buddhist relic – the Buddha’s left canine tooth, taken from his funeral pyre – which remains to this day in the Temple of the Tooth. Many Buddhists pilgrimage to Kandy to visit this temple, and each year there is a big festival celebrating the sacred tooth. Usually the tooth is kept in an inner chamber, but during the festival it is paraded around. I didn’t take any pictures inside the temple, but here are a couple from wikipedia:
The relic chamber inside the Temple of the Tooth and a painting inside the temple of how the tooth got to Sri Lanka
We were in Kandy just before the festival, so we got to see people (and elephants) doing preparations, like stringing up lights and sewing costumes.
An elephant helping with preparations for the festival
A bodhi tree (Bo to Sri Lankans) in the Temple of the Tooth complex
Kandy was special for us also because Tissa, the executive director of the Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission, whom we had met in Austin and who met up with us again in Sri Lanka, has a strong connection to the city. He grew up in Kandy, attended university there at the University of Peradeniya, and has taught at the university for years, so he was eager to show us the city.
One of my favorite parts was our tour of the botanical gardens.
Mary, Aimee, me and Tissa in the orchid house; Avenue of Palm Trees
On Monday the 4th we had one of our fullest days, that left all of us happy. In the morning, we visited craftspeople in their homes. The people in this area of Kandy work from their homes to produce beautiful crafts that are sold in Sri Lanka and beyond. One of the craftsmen even produces work for Tiffany. We met metalworkers and woodworkers and were able to ask questions about their craft, meet their families, and buy some of their work to take home. In the home of a woodcarver, I was befriended by the artist’s teenage daughter, who took me and another groupmate back into their home to show us more about her father’s work. Before we left, she gave me a bracelet and Cathy a necklace “to remember her by,” and her little brother, not to be outdone, presented the two of us with a tiny wooden carving. Moments like these when we were able to have personal time with native Sri Lankans were so precious.
In the afternoon we traveled out of Kandy to the village of Medawala Raja to visit a temple and watch a dance and drumming performance by the villagers. The temple is tiny – about the size of my walk-in closet – and covered in murals from the 18th century depicting the past lives of the Buddha. There is also an after-the British-have-arrived temple immediately next door which is bigger and has large sculptures akin to images we had seen in other temples. Ramya (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned her yet in my blog, but she is one of the best things about Sri Lanka. She’s the program officer at the Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission, was the one who did most of the planning for our tour, and, like Tissa, she traveled with us throughout our stay. She is also one of the best poets in Sri Lanka today.) translated for us, so a couple of us were able to have an extensive discussion with Ramya and a woman from the village about Buddhism.
And then, just when the day couldn’t get any better, we settled in for the performance in the central courtyard, for which the entire village turned out. We sat down first, on some mats up toward the front, and then at some invisible signal, everyone else sat down. The children poured into every available space, and when you turned around, you could see people all the way up the stairs behind us as well. The performance was fantastic and of a tremendous scale, with experienced dancers and small children, with dueling drummers and dazzling costumes, and the head monk presiding over it all to the left of the performance area.
The next day, we left for Colombo for our final few days. On the way, we stopped at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It was originally founded to care for orphaned elephants found in the jungle, but it has expanded over the years to include a captive breeding program as well. We got to feed the elephants contraband bananas and pet them. They are covered in surprisingly coarse hair that’s kind of prickly. Twice a day, they get led through town down to the river so they can have a bath, which was also fun to see, though it can be intense in the road with all the elephants coming through. Notice my friends huddled in the doorway across the street in the second picture below.
In Colombo, we had another academic program, with lectures about development, politics, women and gender and ayurvedic medicine. It was really nice to have a low-key, air-conditioned day with people who could answer some of the questions that had been surfacing about Sri Lanka. We also met Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne of the Sarvodaya Movement, an extensive program based on Buddhist and Gandhian principles that seeks to initiate and sustain self-governed development in Sri Lankan villages. They are active in about half the villages in Sri Lanka, including some that are in LTTE occupied territories. Dr. Ariyaratne is the grandson of the founder, and I was really impressed by their philosophy and the strategies they use in helping people bring about change.
That night, Wednesday the 6th, we had our farewell dinner at our hotel. This was the final time we would see most of our Sri Lankan friends, since we would be heading down the coast on our own the next afternoon.
The next day, we had one final artistic morning in Colombo. We visited the Cathedral of the Living Saviour, an Anglican church in Colombo, where we viewed a mural of the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine, as interpreted by the Sri Lankan artist Stanley Kirinde, who was there to show us the mural and answer questions about his artistic process. Then, we visited the galleries of the Sapumal Foundation, which focuses on Sri Lankan art from the 1920s to present.
And, just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, we left Colombo for our final night’s stay, at Blue Water, a beautiful hotel about an hour south of Colombo on the ocean. Like the gorgeous hotel in Kandalama, this hotel was also designed by Geoffrey Bawa, and it was built to maximize the view of the water. We had that night and the following full day to relax before leaving for the airport at 9:00 in the evening on the 8th. As you can see from the pictures, we were pampered to the last. We fit in a round of bingo on the veranda (it was so Dirty Dancing), and we even got to see a Sri Lankan wedding in the afternoon.
Jill, Callie and Mary in the ocean; me, Karinsa, Joan and Elizabeth hard at work at bingo; the bride arrives:
And, finally, a few last bike pictures:
And one final warning to keep in mind:
Thanks to those of you who’ve been reading the blog. It’s been fun writing about my journey as it was unfolding. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.