Outside of school we have kept super busy. On Tuesday we had MEXICAN FOOD!!!!! It was unbelievable! Through our landlords we met some Brits who have been coming to Sri Lanka for over twenty years and now have and enormous vacation house on the beach down the street from us. They are pretty hilarious people, telling stories of bringing their own law mower through customs so they could have it at the house, and all the other comforts of home at they could just not live without. This time they brought all sorts of spices, tortillas, and even jars of hot peppers just so they could have a “Mexican party” here in Sri Lanka. It was so great to taste Mexican spiced fajitas again, though still no sour cream.
Wednesday we tutored the boy and the friend that we committed to over the weekend. They are nice and have great English so we are not sure what we will ever do with them. But, tutoring led to dinner, so that was nice! (Sorry this post has been so food oriented…. It’s thanksgiving so food is on the brain!)
So, since we last blogged things have been going nonstop! Our first weekend was filled with skyping and emailing since we had been Internet-free for so long… We also got started, or shall we say restarted, with the whole grad school application process. Blahhhhh! We had forgotten how awful researching, choosing, applying, and waiting can be.
Sunday we went to meet a teacher at 2:00 for tea. We biked to her house and got to see tons of family photos on different trips which was really cool because it gave us a better glimpse of how and where Sri Lankans travel and what their holidays and festivals are like. We also got to try some awesome sweet rolls, and Jake ate four bananas (for no apparent reason, he was just hungry).
We then went with the teacher, Damayanthi, to her Buddhist temple and met the monk there. He was a really nice guy, though like most of the people we have met, he tried to convince us to leave the house we were renting and rent from someone he knew (really odd…. This has happened at least five times). We then managed to commit ourselves to teaching English at the Sunday school two times a month! Apparently we will just play games and try to get the kids to increase their conversation confidence, we were assured that we do not need expound on the teachings of Buddha so hopefully we won’t embarrass ourselves too much. Naturally, we had tea with the monk too, and we tasted some sort of sweet chewy candy and something called oil cake. Jake ate another banana. (Also we received the recommendation of attending the Catholic Church for the 15th time, for Lankans, Christian means catholic.)
Then, though it was now dark, we went to another family’s house where apparently the other Fulbright had tutored last year and committed ourselves to tutoring once a week. Not really sure why we are doing this but whatever. We were fed, jake ate another banana and we rode our bikes home in the dark. Terrifying! No streetlights, lots of creeps, and a large monitor. Our tea time turned into a full day, getting home at 9:30, nonstop chat-festival.
This week at school has been even busier. Pretty much no one has any idea what to do with us, but the kids are really warming up to us, leading to giggly middle-schoolers asking us to come to their class because their teacher is absent, but then halfway through class the teacher shows up. We also stepped into classes because teachers wanted to go shopping and asked us to cover for them. Over the weekend we brushed up on our song knowledge and have since taught the kids “I’ve been working on the railroad” “this little light of mine” (just the bushel part because we forgot the rest), “baby shark” a camp song, and “who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?” Each day, as we got closer and closer to exams, fewer teachers have showed up, and classes have become less organized. Pretty soon we were allowing anyone who was interested to crowd into our classroom and recite Peter piper picked a peck of picked peppers with us. Yesterday, our crowning moment involved at least, and i mean at least, 300 girls in the most enormous Ring-Around-the-Rosie I have ever seen out on the school quad. Funnily enough we were asked to not come to school today because exams are starting and the girls need to be serious. Thanksgiving Break! Whoot whoot!
First day of school!
The first day was pretty much as we expected, thanks to the blogs from previous Fulbrighters we knew what we were getting into. First we were introduced to about 30 different staff members, and then dropped off in a classroom of 12th graders whose 1st period teacher was absent. We chatted with the girls for about an hour and they sang us a song. Getting questions out of them can be like pulling teeth, but eventually they get enough courage to ask some things. Weirdly enough, most of the questions are cultural comparisons or generalized observations of America, Britian, or Sri Lanka. Very different from home where we would have expected a few “Tell us about your wedding” or “Do you have a sister/brother/pet?” or “What is your favorite food?” None of that.
We then left to receive more instructions about where to go and we were sent to the library. Unsure if we were just supposed to observe it for a moment or to stay there till further notice, we decided to read the newspaper, which was hilarious. (We later found out that this was apparently not adequate when the school librarian introduced herself as we were leaving school later that day with “I noticed that you were not reading in the library today. The library is for reading books and you did not read books. What is your name? I am the school librarian and music teacher” Great first impression.)
We were then thrown into another classroom of 6th graders. We attempted to entertain them but we had no idea that we would be there for almost 2 hours! After four or five games, more songs, and some conversation with the actual teacher, we signed autographs for all of them (soooo uncomfortable, especially after we told them 15 times that we were staying for the year) and chilled out for half an hour waiting for the bell to ring. Now all of this chaos will probably get better once the new term begins in January. For now the students are preparing and reviewing for exams, which are the only thing that matters in Sri Lankan schooling. We arrived at quite possibly the worst time of year, so it is really nice for the teachers to be so accommodating. Basically we had a really good time, we like the girls and the school even though they are confusing, and we are exhausted.
After school we attempted to deal with the internet, unsuccessfully, and Jake’s bike got a flat tire so we went and had that “fixed”. All our bets are that it will be flat again tomorrow. Now its just resting and recovering. It is tough to smile at 5,000 girls on the quad all day as they giggle at you and now that they know who we are I feel I have to be a model citizen even when responding to the creeps on the street and the incredibly obnoxious high school boys from the neighboring school. Most of the time when we are traveling between locations I fantasize about how in America the men would not act like this and if I was in America I would yell back at this guy or punch that guy. Probably not healthy.
We worked in the same 6th and 12th grade classes. Things went much more smoothly and we really enjoyed it. Still creeps on the street as we go and come from school (one day they will notice that it is the same people each time, and maybe get bored), but the students in the few classes that we interact with are so sweet, they make everything right! In the 6th grade class they all stand up as soon as they see us and yell in unison “GOOD MORNING TEACHER! HOW ARE YOU, TEACHER?” which I think is improvement from the whispers of yesterday. Funny thing is that they do this every time we pass by the classrooms (which are open environment) so it happened about five times today. Just as nice was when a trio of the 12th graders asked us to chat with their class through their lunch time. We did, and we learned a lot from them and a lot about Sri Lankan culture.
During our lunch was had the awesome surprise of free short-eats from some of the teachers! Delicious! We also got to sit down with a few of them and get to know them a little better. It is good to see student and teacher perspectives about school, and we even learned a little about the former Fulbrighters. (Jake apparently is known around the school as William’s brother, because someone named William was a Fulbright a few years ago who just recently came back to visit, and since they are both tall and white they must be related!) The teachers were really nice and offer so many nice things, like having lunch with us and taking us to various historical sights. I think it will be really enjoyable to learn from them and get to know them!
Things we noticed: singing is expected from us before we leave the classroom
The girls do school all day. First school from 7:30-1:30, then “tuition” till around 5:00, then homework. I think it really wears them out.
Talking in English is done at the level of a whisper, yet giggling is as loud as a shout.
Sri Lankan friendliness is really apparent in the students and the teachers we talked with. Speaking English with confidence is the biggest obstacle for students to overcome.
Sorry this one is a little rushed, but we don’t know when the internet will cut off!
Naturally everything started out as a disaster. We arrived at the university an hour and a half early because we didn’t know how long the drive would be. We then argued with the university guards at the entrance to prove that we needed to get on campus even though it was a holiday. After that monkey business we then asked for directions from multiple students, who apparently had no idea about where anything was located on their own campus, and went on a wild goose chase for that entire one and a half hours looking for the meeting place. Drenched in sweat (you could see two sweat blobs over Jake’s man boobs and down his whole back, and a small but powerful sweat waterfall was flowing down my neck) we were tired and angry by the time we arrived. Thankfully everyone else was late so we had time to cool off, literally and metaphorically, before they arrived.
The ambassador and her people were very nice and very professional. She has her heart in the right place and has some good ideas for American involvement in Sri Lanka, and you can tell that she is interested in getting out of the embassy and out of Colombo to include the whole country in these ideas (something that I think has not been a thing in the past). What was really nice, though, was meeting the faculty of Ruhuna and other Matara residents. We chatted with two to English Language Fellows (an embassy-related program) from the Twin Cities who will be in Matara for the entirety of our stay, and lots of professors. Some of the professors were even Sujatha graduates, and were very excited to discuss our involvement with the school! Hopefully these will be good connections!
After leaving on a high, we sunk back to reality with the extremely annoying issue of finding quality internet… which is still a problem. Grrr. We were angry Americans trudging from shop to shop, and putting up with the Sri Lankan staring on the street was practically unbearable when we were already under internet-related stress. We also had the super-weird experience of a bat flying around Jake’s head trying to steal a bite of a banana straight out of his hand when we were chatting with our landlords. Thankfully, when we arrived in our home, we had the cutest sight of two tiny frogs that had found a way to hop into our kitchen! We had to sweep them out in case they were poisonous but they managed to find a way back in and were swept out again. I think they want to be friends with the geckos that live on our walls. Geckos, or newts or whatever they are, apparently eat mosquitoes so no one gets upset when they are in the house. We have named ours Huna and Other Huna, because that is the word for gecko in Sinhala.
*That night I got sick, probably dehydration and stress about school starting, and went into the bathroom to encounter my first hand-sized spider. It was scary! The animal life here is just ridiculous!
We have unpacked completely. The past few days have consisted of a lot of walking to and from Matara as we bought new things and found the bank… the greatest news is that we bought bikes! Zipping along is the best feeling ever! Now creepy old men and packs of overconfident young “dudes” don’t have time to come up with their classic English “Helloooooo. Where are you going?” statement. And I don’t have to see their stares! The bikes have baskets and headlights and should be great for school. We even road them along the beach yesterday!
The bikes are also going to be useful because we have found that our neighborhood is a hub for interesting wildlife. Walking around (pre-bikes) we came across two monitors (think Komodo dragon except one was the size of a large crocodile). The first was about three feet long and its fattest part was probably four inches in diameter. Its grey body sauntered across the entire street before Jake even noticed, and then he really jumped! The second was about five seconds later when we were crossing over a ditch-like canal and I noticed a gigantic black (and possibly some orange) tale and body have under the road. Half of its body was probably three feet long and its diameter would have to be about one foot. That one made us run to the other side of the street! Later we found out that large monitors eat puppies and other small dogs and cats, and though they tend to avoid human interaction, apparently they use their tales like whips and people have received huge gashes on their legs from monitors. In the same conversation we also learned that a pole cat (name for some kind of small wild Sri Lankan cat) had been jumping from the trees around our compound onto the roof of the house the night before and that we should be careful when out after dark.
Other than that excitement, we have not been doing too much. We quiz each other on Sinhala phrases and I have been practicing letters in a children’s workbook. We found a bakery right down the street and eat way too much bread. Jake has watched some movies, and we look out the window at the constant stream of people coming and going from our landlord’s house. We are ready to start school and have some direction in our lives!
Our one excitement yesterday was attempting to meet up with our friend Jose. A few weeks ago we received a completely random, yet wonderful surprise, facebook message from Jose (who was our study abroad advisor/student coordinator from Costa Rica) that he was going to be in Sri Lanka for a few days. Now you have to know Jose to know that of course something like this would happen. The guy speaks like 8 languages. We exchanged a series of sporadic messages, and after finding out that he was officially in Galle, we decided to hop on the train and see him. Our decision was so last minute that we literally had to run to catch the train as it pulled out, much to the amusement of the other passengers, and when we arrived in Galle it was all in hope that Jose had seen our last message confirming that we were coming and knowing where to meet up. Naturally, he had not because he was on a whirlwind tour of the surrounding area. After some trouble finding internet (shocker!) so that we could check for any new messages, we wandered around the outer ring of the fort that surrounds the old part of Galle and amused ourselves as we waited. Now many might be wondering what we were waiting for; the meeting place and time had passed by over an hour ago, and it was getting dark… but we were meeting up with a Tico, and in the land of serendip no less! Sure enough we managed to find and joyously reunite with Jose, hear about his adventures around South Asia, and promise to randomly meet up again! So happy!
Side note for anyone who has seen the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie: It was an ok flick that we saw on our plane ride over here but one quote in particular really accurately describes the South Asian mentality that we are coming to adopt, “Everything will work out in the end. If it is not working out, it is not yet the end” (said with a head bobble). Think tuktuk drivers who have absolutely no idea where they are going, people who offer you wifi when it is too slow to load even the simplest of web pages, or flying across the world to a teaching job that still has not started or been fully defined. (Though we did finally figure out that school starts at 7:30.) This quote is running our lives.
At 5:30am our life in Matara officially began with a parade. Yes, apparently some parades occur just as dawn is breaking, probably to take advantage of the cool weather, but for us it was quite a shock. We dragged our stuff out of Natalie, Jeff, and Lisa’s house, and out on the street we admired the tail end of our first Sri Lankan parade.
Without much time to soak it in, Jake ran off to find us a couple of tuktuks to drive us to the train station. He found one, and directed him to our street where I was waiting with three gigantic suitcases, two stuffed backpacks, and one heavy shopping bag. Shopping in Pettah had doubled our load. Before you know it, the tuktuk driver has found a way to cram everything into the one bench seat of the vehicle, pushed me in, and plopped Jake on my lap, and the backpacks on him. If only we could have taken a picture! We were a complete clown car! Acting as though it was normal, the tuktuk driver sped around the corner and immediately slammed on the brakes. It was the parade of course. With traffic slowed, we were able to take in the sights. Little girls dancing with baskets, grown men in traditional Kandyan drummer dress, fire twirlers, families and groups walking and singing. Because of our visit to the traditional dancing exhibit in Kandy, we actually recognized a lot of the dances and costumes! It was so cool!
At the train station we were the object of everyone’s stares (no surprise there) but for the first time, I think their reasoning was legitimate. Never again will we travel with so much! We managed to get seats and stuff the luggage into the racks, and then we both passed out on the train. When I woke up, it was because the train had slammed on the brake unusually hard, and I realized that we were at the bridge with a sign that reads something like, “Unstable Bridge 10kph”. Nice. As the train crept over the river, I had time to check out the wildlife. There were lots of birds of different neon colors and log that was swimming through the water. Oh wait! First alligator spotting!
After that we also spotted a friendly goat that was walking along the railroad tracks at one of the stops and looking up to see if we would throw it some scraps. The goat theme continued when we ran into a pack of them just as we exited the Matara station and forced ourselves (and our stuff) into another tuktuk.
The house is just like it was last week except better! Two bedrooms, combined living, dining, kitchen areas, and a good bathroom that had all been freshly cleaned. The family was extremely welcoming, and after chatting for a bit (while sipping tea) we unzipped our bags started “nesting”. As of right now the house looks pretty good! We have food and dishes in the kitchen, a messy 2nd bedroom filled with all of the books and school supplies I’ve been collecting, and most of our clothes unpacked and strewn around our bedroom.