I can’t believe I’m finally in Sri Lanka, especially after the craziness I had to go through to get here! Even without complications, the flights from the US to Sri Lanka are incredibly long and obscure. I was supposed to fly from Boston to Chicago, Chicago to Rome, then Rome to Sri Lanka with about an eight hour layover in Rome. Lucky for me I was traveling with four other students because when we got to Rome, we found out that our flight was delayed an entire day. It was a bit of a shock to my sleep deprived system but after a quick shower and nap in the hotel room that Sri Lankan airlines paid for, the five students stuck in Rome were able to adventure around the city via the metro for a good part of the night! During that night and the next morning we were able to hit all the must-see sights (Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, etc.) and eat some delicious gelato. It ended up being a really nice and exciting detour because not only have I never been to Italy, but I was also able to get a good night’s rest to prepare for the rest of the travel to Sri Lanka.
Immediately after getting on the massive Sri Lankan airline, I received my first formal Sri Lankan greeting of “Ayubowan” from the flight attendant dressed in a pretty turquoise dress with peacock feather designs lining the edges of it. It was a nice moment because suddenly, after all the confusion, it was real and I was finally headed to Sri Lanka. The flight was very manageable, despite the length, mostly because of the hospitality of the flight attendants and the room to spread out. The plane was maybe a quarter full, if that, so I got two seats to myself to lie down and sleep. Many passengers were able to get up to four seats to sleep!
When we finally landed in Colombo, the first thing I noticed was the humidity. It was pretty unbearable, but luckily the city of Kandy is in an area of the country that is significantly cooler than the rest. It was a three hour van ride from the airport to Colombo on one of the main roads in Sri Lanka, which is a narrow, twisting two lane road that meanders through the hills and towns of western Sri Lanka. The driving was also pretty chaotic and my program director said it perfectly that “believe it or not, they have rules when it comes to driving but they are VERY different than ours.” Basically, as far as I could tell, you can pass anyone in front of you as long as you beep to give them a heads up and you can squeeze in between them and the on-coming traffic.
We met up with the rest of the students around 2 pm at the hotel we stayed at for our first Sri Lankan meal of rice and curry. I was nervous about the food because I never eat anything like that, but it ended up being delicious. In Sri Lanka, people also eat with their fingers which, if you’re not used to, can get pretty messy especially with the rice and curry. Needless to say, I struggled a bit with that and dropped a lot of food on myself but even by the time dinner rolled around I felt like I had a better grasp on it. After lunch we then went on a tour of the University of Peradeniya with our language partners who are students there. Once we learn a little more Sinhala, they will act as a source for us to practice our language skills. The University is actually on strike, which adds an interesting twist to our semester. One thing I am learning about Sri Lanka is that nothing is set in stone, and day to day flexibility is necessary. Hopefully the university will reopen soon because our classes are supposed to be held there later in the semester (right now they are at the program ISLE center).
This morning I also had my first Sinhala language course. Although my pronunciation is very bad and it takes several, slow explanations of the phrase for me to repeat it, I know a few basic conversational skills. It was perfect because today I also moved in with my host family and they are wonderful! I was able to practice the little Sinhala I learned and they taught me a few new phrases, as well as how to write my name. I have a host mother, father, and a sister who is twenty-two. They also have a little fluffy dog, named Deena. I was so excited to find out they had a pet dog because although Sri Lanka is crawling with stray dogs, you are strongly advised to stay away from them. This dog being a pet, though, meant that I could give it all the attention I wanted. I also found that practicing Sinhala is a great way to bond with my family because, not only are they eager to help, but it is hilarious to watch them crack up at your apparent butchering of Sinhala words. There is a big cricket tournament being held in Colombo (the capital of Sri Lanka) in December which my host family is also thrilled about and was happy to share with me. Overall, I am very happy to finally be in my home because it is nice to have my own room (and even my own bathroom) to feel comfortable in. Sri Lanka seems like a wonderful place so far!
More to come soon, tonight we are headed to a Perahera festival that should be extremely fascinating. This post was mostly just logistics and basic observations about my first two days in Sri Lanka, but I’ll get into more interesting aspects as the semester continues! Now it is time for me to go to sleep under the pink mosquito net above my bed. It actually reminds me of something a princess would have, and when I told my host mother and sister that they thought it was hilarious. I’ll be sure to post more as soon as I can!