This past week or so has been incredibly busy with activities closing the second session of the program. Field trips, final exams, papers, and independent study prep has basically consumed me, but it’s pretty wild because on Friday I leave for my independent study, the final portion of the ISLE program… The semester is flying by!
Our last field trip as a group was a short “southern tour,” visiting areas such as Kataragama and Galle near the southern coast of Sri Lanka. We were exposed, for some of us the first time, to various Hindu traditions on this trip, which was awesome. At one temple we visited we all performed a coconut-cracking ritual where we smashed a coconut with a small burning flame onto a stone slate on the ground. It is meant to represent a “vow,” or possibly a prayer that if your coconut breaks, it should come true. We also visited the Kirinda Temple on the ocean, which has an interesting mythological context. Apparently, a queen named Viharamadevi landed here on a boat after her father sent her to sea as an offering to the gods. It was a really beautiful temple, and the first sight of the ocean! The southern tour’s final visit was to Galle where we learned a bit about the island’s colonial history, and could see the remnants of European influence in the buildings and road structure. We even had an afternoon to ourselves on the trip as we relaxed on the beautiful beaches of Unawatuna!
Later during the week we visited an Ayurvedic hospital just outside of Kandy, focusing on herbal and ritual healing. It was really fascinating seeing this perspective on medicine, since I have always been all about popping in an advil or tums with every little pain or ache I have. The Ayurvedic tradition puts more value on natural healing elements along with ritual tradition for healing, sometimes proven to be more successful than Western medicine for certain people. We saw one man being treated for headaches, lying on his back with oil dripping over his head and another man massaging his scalp. Not sure if it’s something I’d like all over my head, but I’d try it!
The next few days are devoted to final exams, papers, and presentations, and a dance/drumming performance on Thursday. Some of the students took an optional dance or drumming class (I took dance) and have the opportunity to strut our stuff for the other students, staff, and host families. I’m a little nervous for this, not going to lie, but am really looking forward to trying to dance!
The day following the performance the students all disperse for their independent studies, and we really are going to every corner of the island. Some are going to Colombo, some to the east coast, others to the southern coast, one to Anuradhapura, some in Nuwara Eliya, and even a few in Jaffna. For a month we will be researching our respective topics, and I know everyone is really excited to get started. I will be going to Hatton, a town in the Nuwara Eliya district, to study the value of education and the role of children in the communities who live on the tea plantations. These people are mostly Indian Tamils who live on a very small income, so I am interested to see how education is perceived within the community. I will be working with PREDO, Plantation Rural Education Development Organization, to talk with people and work in schools while I am there. Can’t wait to get started!!