Monday, August 5, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things

A Few of My Favorite Things

As we prepare to leave Sri Lanka, I am reflecting on all the wonderful things that I love about the country.

First there are the people, who must be the friendliest in the world. Everywhere we go young men yell hello as they zoom by on their motorcycles,  families in their Tuk Tuks all wave with big smiles, the little kids wave and yell goodbye as we pass their houses and young girls giggle at hearing our simple good morning. Even grandmas stop us on the street to chat, shop owners greet us as we pass and everyone wants to know where we are going.

Children wanting to talk with us
Nuns at Lipton's Seat all smiles

Saris and sarongs are also one of my favorite things, all the women and men who wear them are just beautiful with brightly-colored fabric gracefully draped and flowing around them. There is an art to wearing them, especially the saris, which are five yards of fabric that is carefully pleated wrapped and pinned to perfection. The men wear the simpler sarong that is two yards of fabric sewn into a tube that is stepped into, pleated, tied, and tucked, no pins or buttons or zippers so there seems to be constant adjustment from short to long and loose to tight. Sir Lanka is definitely a more beautiful place with saried women and saronged men.
Ruhuna students ready for interviews at the Job Fair

A traditional red sari worn for the coming home from the honeymoon party
Men in sarongs waiting to sell snacks to bus passengers
Sujeewa and Margaret after a long day at the Job Fair

The flora is just amazing here with exotic plants like hibiscus growing in tall hedges and showy anthurium everywhere. And many more beauties that I have never seen before.
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The  fauna provides endless entertainment from our veranda to everywhere we go, there are playful monkeys, regal peacocks, endearing elephants, scary monitors and beautiful birds of every size and color.

A mother helping her baby cross the road in Uda Walawa
A peacock struting his stuff for the ladies

A monkey getting a tourist handout

Of course the beaches are beyond incredible, and they never seem to end.
We have had the great fortune to visit many of the gold and black sand beaches that circle the country, from Arugam Bay to Negombo and from Jaffna to Matara, their blue green waters and foaming white breakers are mesmerizing.
Our beach, can it be any more beautiful?

Misty Matara beach, how lovely!

Thank you Sri Lanka for all the wonderful memories. It has been a great year!

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Vesak Celebrations

When Sri Lanka has a celebration, they go all out and Vesak, the celebration of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death is a big one.  On May 24, 25 and 26th Vesak Poya Day (full moon) is celebrated all over the island, be you Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim. The streets are packed with people going to the temples and the Danselas, free food given out by villages, army, navy, businesses and even schools. Long lines form for a free ice cream cone or a cream soda or a cup of tea. Farmers drive their tractors pulling wagons full of people to the celebrations, stopping for the free food along the way. Everyone comes out from tiny babies in arms to barefoot grandmas.

On the way to Vesak celebrations

Waiting in line for free food

At the University, the Arts Faculty students made beautiful lotus lanterns to float in the pond symbolizing the seven steps Buddha took.  A few lucky boys swam out and anchored the lanterns in the middle of the pond avoiding the 6 foot monitor (giant lizard).

Students attaching bamboo floats to the lotus lanterns
Lotus floating lanterns on campus

University students perform songs of reverence for the Buddha.

Our Sri Lankan friends took us to see the Blow Hole, a spot on the coast where the water comes up 60 feet in a roaring fountain.  It was packed with locals.

The Blow Hole

Vesak crowds

We took a bus to Galle to see all the lanterns and got another bonus of kite flying. May is a windy month and everyone comes out to fly kites off the walls of the fort.

A sky full of kites

Kite flyers galore

Thousands of lanterns are hung along the streets and from every house and business creating a magical effect. Some of the lanterns are simple hexagon frames covered with paper and streamers while others are very elaborate with intricate paper cut designs and multiple lanterns, that are motorized to rotate. Some even have animated figures of Buddha.

Huge lantern over a Tuk Tuk.

Lanterns blowing in the breeze

Multi-teired carved wood lantern

Lantern detail

Spinning lantern with Buddha statues

The story of Buddha on a giant billboard of flashing lights

Going home from Vesak in a covered wagon

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Northern Sri Lanka

Northern Sri Lanka

Hindu temple

After two days of travel, we arrived in Jaffna, the northern most city at the tippy top of the island. Jaffna is the economic and cultural center of the north with a predominantly Tamil population, who are mostly Hindu, making this a very different culture than the south, that is Sinhalese and mostly Buddhist.

Entertainment at your seat on the train for only a small donation
Eating rice and curry Jaffna style off a banana leaf, McDonald's, take a lesson!
Jaffna public library after renovation
Margaret on the 1680 Dutch fort wall constructed out of coral

The highlight of our Jaffna visit were the Hindu temples festooned with color and statues. The largest and most elaborate temple,  Nallur Kandaswamy, is Jaffna's claim to fame. It is a huge temple with a gopuram that towers like a huge multi-layered wedding cake with hundreds of brightly colored statues of gods reaching high up into the sky. Inside the temple a wide, wide corridor circles around a square pool that is open to the sky. The colorful terrazzo floor of the corridor pales next to the scores of beautifully painted geometric arches that each repeat their patterns with new color combos and entice you onto the many shrines of the blue, green and yellow-skinned gods. Oil lamps burn and shirtless men worship at each shrine while women dressed in white drop coins in the wooden offering boxes.

Nallur Hindu temple entrance (photos where not allowed inside)

30 foot Monkey God

All dressed up for the temple
In order to reach another temple on a small island off the tip of a series of island off the peninsula we drove on a very long causeway and took a rather old fishing boat to the island. It was a Sunday and the boat was filled with worshipers all dressed up for the temple.

Our ferry boat to the temple

Repairing their fishing boat and staying cool

On their way to temple

When we arrived, a Puja was in progress, which is a ceremony that has four men carrying a throne with a Hindu god statue. The procession was accompanied by a drummer, priest and a woman with a bowl of fire on her head. As they proceeded around the temple, the faithful followed carrying fruit and flower offerings. Very dramatic and colorful.
A sacred cow hanging out in front of the temple with the faithful

A pregnant woman holding up a god, women here do all the work

Refreshment stand for worshipers on the way to temple

The northern part of Sri Lanka is where the war was fought, and there is still a lot of evidence of war, including red skull and cross bone signs along the road where they are still deactivating the land mines. In those areas you can not leave the road. The war ended in 2009 and there has been a lot of reconstruction of roads and homes, but still you can see bombed buildings and houses full of bullet holes. I feel so sorry for the people who were caught in the war.

Warning sign for landmines not yet deactivated

A ship captured by the LTTE and used for selvaged metal for barricades

 After visiting six schools, we realized the children are way behind because of the war. Only 15% passed English on their 10th grade exams.
American English Access class and their teachers

American English Access class in Mullaitivu of 14 and 15 year old kids

We did two day workshops for the English teachers and they begged us to come back because they have little to no training and are struggling themselves with English. Sometimes it is hard to stay positive when the need is so great. One town we visited just got power after not having electricity for the 30 years of the war. Other villages still do not have electricity.

Jenise working with English teachers

None-the-less the children are resilient and are so excited to talk to us when we visit. The most common questions are "How old are you?" and "Where are you from?"  It really is fun to have celebrity status in those villages where we are swarmed by the children and adults alike.

Lots of smiles


This area was the hardest hit by the war. The main road, after four years, is almost reconstructed, but all the other roads are full of potholes big enough to loose your cow in, making travel very slow going.
Abi and Lithu off to school

Making hoppers, noodles that are steamed in tiny stacked baskets in a covered pot over a wood fire

We had the good fortune to stay with one of the teachers and meet her extended family. Mary and her mother-in-law cooked us many traditional dishes including coconut pancakes, hand-made rice noodles, and pitu, a rice flour and coconut  dish. It was great to watch them prepare all  the food and cook over the wood fire.
Mary and her husband with his delivery truck full of bananas

Grandma making pitu, rice floor and coconut cut into a fine meal and browned in a hot pan


Our last stop before heading back home was Kilinochchi. We stayed in one of the few guest houses and had our meals in the attached restaurant. What we noticed about this area is there are few cars and many more bicycles that carry everything, including entire families and six foot high stacks of wood.

The schools are all open air with no windows or doors, to allow the breeze to blow through if there is one. Schools have only the basics, small very used desks and chairs and blackboards and no other media equipment or even pictures on the walls.

Typical Sri Lanka classroom