I managed to get through my first week in Sri Lanka in one piece and as I’ve been enduring the second week, the ISLE program certainly keeps us busy. I start every day by walking to class at 7:30 and have Sinhala from 8-11:15. After a short lunch break, we then have a material culture lecture from 11:45-1:45. It is a lot of class time in the morning but the afternoons are filled with such wonderful excursions that I almost always end my day on a really positive note. This country has so much natural beauty and social complexity that even just walking to and from class everyday can serve to be an eye-opening experience.
I have a few highlights from this week, the first being the Perahera we attended at the end of last week. A Perahera is a parade-like festival that reflects relic worship, Buddhist values, and god veneration that is well attended by both Sri Lankans and foreigners. The ride there was so twisty and there was so much traffic that I was almost dead from motion sickness, causing the first few minutes at the Perahera to be very glossed over. Once the feeling passed, though, I was able to soak in the atmosphere. Apparently there was some sort of organization in the pre-Perahera madness of spectators, but I had hard time finding it. People were running around everywhere and it was very crowded, so you had to push your way around to get anywhere. Once it started, though, it was outstanding. Various types of dances, drumming, and flame spinning unfolded on the street in front of us, including about 15 elephants in elaborate, lit up costumes. I absolutely loved the elephants, especially the babies and the fact that they “danced” (bobbed up and down) to the beat of the drums.
I also went to my first Buddhist temple service last week. It was a Poya Day, meaning a full moon day, which is significant to the Theravada Buddhists here. Apparently, the Buddha was born, enlightened, and died on a full moon day. Dressed in all white, I watched and participated in various rituals involving flowers, water, and flames. Although I didn’t know any of the prayers, it was nice to listen to the rhythmic hum of the Buddhist chants.
Yesterday after classes we visited an orphanage in the general Kandy vicinity. It was wonderful to play with the kids! Because they were so happy and giggly, I almost forgot that their current living situation lacked parents. Reflecting on it, I felt sad for the children but at least there appeared to be a loving staff there to act as their parental figures. I am happy that I was able to give them a few hours of entertainment, though, despite the exhaustion! Apparently I’m getting too old for piggy back rides, tag, playing catch and dancing. Regardless, I know that I, and many of the other students, would like to visit again. I loved being called “akka” (meaning older sister) by the children! It would probably be a good idea to not bring my camera this time, though, since many of the kids would take literally hundreds of pictures on one camera and refuse to give it back.
My favorite part of this week, and possibly even the semester so far, was visiting a drumming village about 25 minutes away from the ISLE center. This village is devoted primarily to making different types of drums for various occasions. The village’s existence stems from a diminishing caste system, which unfortunately I do not know enough about to elaborate on. All I know is that sixteen families remain in this drumming village with many members deciding to pursue other careers elsewhere, rather than make drums like countless of generations before them. The man showing us the stages of drum making, as well as the different types of drums, was very hospitable and wonderful to be around. The children of the village were also adorable, and apparently very intrigued by our presence. All the families were out and about their homes, many of them running over to us to give us a quick wave or just see what we were up to. The atmosphere was very warm and family-oriented in this village, tucked in the quiet hills just beyond Kandy. Definitely a place I would like to return to!
It is monsoon season right now, meaning that it randomly pours for about 10 or 15 minutes throughout the day. I think it makes the weather more manageable, mostly because of the overcast skies. It is kind of a pain to carry an umbrella everywhere, but I can live with it. Overall, I can’t believe I’ve only been here a week and a half. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but as I adjust I’m really starting to enjoy my time in Sri Lanka more and more! I run into surprises pretty much every day, but approaching them with an open mind and a laugh is probably the best way I can face them. For example, the spiders here are huge. Oh, and there bats, A LOT of bats (about a foot tall too). Sunset is the best time to see them because the sky is literally dotted with thousands of flying bats. It is kind of an ominous spectacle until you think about how many bugs they are eating, then suddenly you’re appreciative of these creepy creatures.