My aim in this post is to summarize the orientation we recieved the first three days of the program. Each day comprised of 8 or 9 hours of lecturing with tea breaks every 1.5 hours or so. The first day was all business during which we recieved the first installment of the stipend and opened back accounts at a local bank (MONEY!). Also, the Fulbright directors proceeded to make sure we understood the exact details of the scholarship/grant agreement. Then we dove into lectures ranging in topic from politics to food. The lectures were all given by well-educated, super English-literate Sri Lankans (definitely better command of English than we have) who informed us about the diversity of Sri Lanka. Our lecture topics were as follows: media, politics, food, education system, history, personal account of civil war, biodiversity, women and gender, literature, Sri Lankan English, security, and development. Every topic had very interestinh details that allowed us to see the diversity of opinions, religions, and attitudes that encompass Sri Lanka.
One of the topics that most intrigued me was the discussion of the history of the civil war between the LTTE and Sri Lankan goverment. This 28 year civil war, the longest war to every occur in Asia, ended in 2009 but it was physcially and emotionally brutal on the people of Sri Lanka. The lecture inspired me to think about how war affects lives. One point of the presentation was that the 30 year war only ended three years ago, which means it directly affected the majority of Sri Lankans, whether Tamil or Singalese. The weight of this notion is difficult for me to grasp, but it made me realize that the civil war might be a sensetive subject that should only be discussed in certain, comforatable situations. Note: it is important to understand that the civil war was not necessarily waged by all Singalese and Tamils. Only the extreme views of both sides waged the war, while those in the middle just suffered from it.
In addition to the lecutures we recieved a visit from the ambassador who told us about her work in the foriegn service. She has served for almost 30 years, in two-year stints, across the world including Iraq.
Another note of particular interest to me is the lunch that is common in Sri Lankan. Sri Lankans typically eat a “lunch packet” which consists of rice, curry, vegetables, and either fish or chicken, all wrapped up in a packet. The packet costs 100 SKR (less than $1). I have found this to be filling and delicious so I eat it everyday.
Lastly, we went to the beach today. We took a tuk-tuk to Mt. Lavinia beach where there is a huge resort. When we arrived we stood and observed the happenings of the beach. There were not too many people, nobody in the water, and everyone was wearing jeans. As we walked down the beach we noticed the trash that was accumulating on the shore. We saw toothbrushes, baby toilet seats, pieces of rubber tire, large branches, and other things that do not belong on the beach. Overall, we were slightly disappointed with the trash, so we are anxious to go to Matara where the beaches are supposed to be pristine and clean. However, we were glad to practice our language skills with the tuk-tuk driver and get some sun, which caused melatonin to release in our bodies, establishing a more regular, reliable sleep pattern for ourselves.