Our week back in Matara has been very mellow. We had a nice weekend visit from Sheela and Andrew, and boy did they click with our landlords/host family. Sheela is probably the only person, foreign or Sri Lankan, who can fully understand (and already have complete familiarity with) our landlord/host grandfather/siya’s obsession with old Sri Lankan and Hindi film soundtracks (this is Sheela’s research project as a researcher Fulbright). He has asked numerous times about when she will be back.
After the weekend, we just got into a rather lazy routine. We wake up early and Jake gets bread from the lady down the street or I make pancakes. Then I work on my Penn State Rural Sociology application (which is now finished and submitted, whoot whoot!) while Jake “researches” random stuff on the internet. Since it has been raining quite a bit, and we even had a “cold snap” of 75 degrees, we stay in and watch movies or nap until the kids of the family come over to play. Our landlords have 5 grandchildren, and since it is a school break they come and play together at the grandparents house everyday. Siya now refers to his house as the orphanage, and to the kitchen as the tea shop because the kids have no problem demanding tea from their grandmother, achchi. (Thank you and please are not very common in Sri Lanka) We hear a lot of “Achchi! Plain tea! Lion King cup!”
We are making friends with the kids, and we have taught them to play go fish and uno. Uno is a huge hit with the two oldest girls. Their main objective is to give everyone as many cards as possible, rather than to get rid of their own cards, so the games last FOREVER! It is pretty hilarious when they start laughing maniacally as they lay down a “draw 2” card. We also play keep-the-ball-in-the-air-as-long-as-possible game, which is more difficult than it sounds because the youngest cousin, Mihin, age two, insists on participating. Did we mention that he is completely spoiled and it is pretty hilarious? He is constantly screaming, which has helped us improve our Sinhala greatly with words like “NO! I DON’T WANT! STOP! GRANDMA COME HERE! GIVE ME THAT!” He also likes to imitate his grandfather, so he whacks at an old radio with his screwdriver and tape measure until it is “fixed” and then does a little jig while singing something like, “wowowowowowoow” and then apparently the radio breaks again and must be fixed. I think we are finally becoming friends because when he gets in a hitting mode, and throws his body at the cousins and punches them, he now runs up to me and just barely stops short and then gives me a pat on the arm with a sneaky face. Its weird but I love it.
When it got sunny yesterday, which also happened to be when I finished the application, Jake and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We are not good with free time. Our initial response was to bike over to the grocery store and get a popsicle. We did that and ate them in the parking lot. Then we biked along aimlessly until we remembered that we live at the beach and should probably use that opportunity. As we bike, we still constantly get the “hellloooooo” from old dudes, and now that school is out we get a lot of screaming “HELLO! WHERE ARE YOU GOING? HOW ARE YOU? HELLO! HELLO! HI! HI!” from little children. Jake now mimics them which really gets them going and joyful screaming matches have occurred. Yesterday, Jake was yelling back, “HELLO! HELLO! I AM FINE! I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM GOING! HOW ARE YOU? ARE YOU FINE? KOHOMODA? HONDAI? HONDAI! GOOD! HELLO! GOODBYE!” A bus was parked nearby and you should have seen the driver’s face. His jaw was on the floor.
When we got to the beach we had a glorious hour of complete isolation. But of course, that ended as various groups of high-school boys walk up too close and then decide to point and laugh at us. Jake combats this too (I know, I am useless when abroad, such is the life of a woman in a culture that does not yet respect them). He walks up to the guys and starts up conversations, which really freaks them out, and then he casually mentions that we are teachers at Sujatha and Rahula (the biggest girls and boys schools in Matara). Ohhh that immediately closes mouths. Yikes! You don’t treat teachers like that here in Matara! So far it has worked well, and we have even made some good connections. One time it resulted in the boys wanting to each take pictures of themselves shaking hands with Jake on the beach. The life of a celebrity. We also saw an adorable golden retriever puppy with a family that was teaching it to swim near us! So cute!
Most of our other time has been spent researching our plans for when Mom and Marielle come to visit. 2 days and counting! We also look forward to various skype dates with people! Technology is so awesome! I even got to have a chat with Ezra.. more awesome! Skype us, email us, facebook us! We love it!
Since Nepal we have recovered from travel sickness (Annelise) and attempted to get a Sri Lankan license (Jake). We also attended a very cool 2-day seminar on development and met people from the World Bank, WHO, the UN, and tons of Sri Lankan academics and NGO workers. The exchange of ideas was really interesting, and it was cool to see the differences in thinking between ourselves and the others (as well as the similarities).
We found an amazing Italian restaurant in Colombo, and it was a nice change of pace to eat pasta and a wood-fired pizza. They even gave us extra parmesan cheese!
Back in Matara we met with some embassy people as well as the Matara ELFs (English Language Fellows), and played with our landlord’s grandkids. They called us auntie and uncle which was cute! It feels good to be back. We have made the house much cozier with our new decorations purchased in Nepal, and we found and played a Christmas channel on the radio (which we access through our phones).
Plugging through more grad school stuff, emailing, and lesson planning has been taking up the rest of our time. Hoping to get it done soon and get to the beach! I did buy about 30 children’s books on amazon today to use in school! Hoping they make it to the house so mom can bring them in a week!
As I lie shivering in a deserted, dark airport employee’s lounge in the Mumbai International Airport at 3 am, I think about landing in Kahmandu, Nepal, excited that I will be a the foothills of the Himalayan Mountain Range. As I doze in and out of sleep, Annelise beckons me awake, and we proceed to go through another two security checkpoints, which inevitably include thorough pat downs. I board the male-dominated plane and three hours later begin the steep, quick descent to the Brevard High School-esque Kathmandu International Airport. Exited to be at the airport, I want to take a deep breath of fresh mountain air but my lungs fill with the terrible smog that blankets the valley. We meet a few Fulbrighters from India and proceed to Manaslu hotel, located in the northeast section of the historic city. The arrival committee is welcoming and the room is cool, with actual bed spreads tucked neatly. We throw our bags down and rush out to walk around before the required welcoming ceremony. The air is refreshingly chilled and the streets are filled with colorful clothing and souvenirs as we pass little shops. We enjoy a cup of tea at a nearby restaurant and chat about our excitement to be in a different world and the potential adventures to come….
The 2012 SCA Fulbright Conference featured all the ETA’s from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangledesh, Tajikistan, Kazakistan, and Kyrgastan. For four days, the purpose of the conference was to exchange ideas and reflect on the experiences that each group/individual had. The first day consisted of introductions through presentations. One thing to keep in mind is that each group has been in there respective countries for varied lengths of time. For example, Nepal ETA’s began in July while we began in October. So, some people had many more experiences to share regarding teaching because they are nearly complete with there Fulbright. Overall, the presentations were great, it gave everyone the opportunity to learn about each country and also some teaching stories describing which strategies work in regards to teaching English effectively. To end conference talk, the symposium was educational and informative as Annelise and I noted many ideas that can implement into our young, limited teaching arsenal.
Onto the adventures: We were able to tightly squeeze in all of the world heritage temples and stupas within the city limits. We saw everything from devoted power-walking Buddhists, to the open cremation of Hindu bodies alongside the sacred river. At the gigantic Boudananth Stupa, we listened to the pleasant sounds of the thousands of pigeons collecting on the stupa, and watched devoted followers add to their goal of reaching 100,000 proselytization’s. Buddhas eyes were following us as we walked clockwise around the stupa, observing the hundreds of hands turning the prayer wheels. Onto the Hindu Pashupati Temple, we saw morning cremations while our guide educated us on nearly every aspect of the Hindu Religion. The history and architecture of the place was amazing, it was really neat to see some real Hindu practices. We also visited the monkey infested Swayambhunath which overlooks the expansive city. After our walk around this stupa, we learned that we do not like monkeys due to their disgusting habits and bad attitudes. Lastly, we visited the famous Kathmandu Durbar Square where the living goddess Kumari is housed until she reaches womanhood. (A girl who is selected based on caste and horoscope to live in total confinement in the Hindu temple until she reaches puberty. After that, she is often isolated from the rest of the world because of superstitions surrounding her “supernatural powers” and the legend that anyone who marries a former Kumari will die shortly afterwards.) Knowing that it was a third generation visit for the Barrett family (ok, probably without knowing that), the young child allowed her presence to be shown to the public for two minutes, apparently a “rare” sighting. Wandering around the square was also interesting when our guide pointed out the highly erotic, explicit figures carved into the sides of the temple. While at first I was taken aback by the carvings, we learned that the reason for the artwork was because the population was dwindling so to inspire people to have more children they very clearly carved the actions for how to produce children. After some though my first question was, So children have to stare at these public images all their childhood, yet would be shunned from society if they participated in any of these engrained actions before marriage? Answer: Yes. HaHa
The last adventure in Nepal was thrown together hours before we were scheduled to return to Sri Lanka, but it was a once in a lifetime experience. We took the mountain flight along the Himalayas to see Mt. Everest!! It was absolutely beautiful to see the entire mountain range, as we took turns in the cockpit taking pictures. The plane company we flew with was called Buddha Air, and the prop plane sat 16 people.
After the hour long Everest flight we went back into Kathmandu to eat Mexican food for lunch, it was surprisingly delicious, and they actually had some form of sour cream. After relaxing with the group we said our goodbyes to the other ETAs and proceeded to the airport. That sums up our Nepal adventure, we are looking forward to return to Nepal some day, to explore the rural villages outside Kathmandu.