Back “home” after a week or so of in-country travel. Trip number one went up to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, and trip two trailed along the coast and eastward to Hambantota and Kataragama. (I can’t manage to trace our trip on this map, but here it is again for reference)
It was really great to get outside of the industrial bubble I'm living in here in Moratuwa. When you're working instead of touring a place, it is all to easy to lose that wanderlust feeling and little reminders of the unique personality Sri Lanka has were definitely welcome.
The goal of trip one was to check up on LLIN distribution. I’m working, or rather learning about at this point, with the malaria section of something called the UN Global Funds project- huge attempt to eliminate malaria from affected countries and Sri Lanka is 99% of the way there. LLINs are just the chemically-treated mosquito nets, but they are a huge component of this entire project, so we went up to some local villages there and monitored, received some paperwork from, and helped distribute these nets. I am really glad that I got to set foot in the villages and be a part of this tremendous project.
(that’s a gov. pub health officer giving the instructional speech up top, and of course village visits always include colorful, photogenic brown children- though I limited my pics)
The second visit was another aspect of the UN plan. In Sri Lanka, gem-mining is a big deal. Which is fine, provided all miners follow legal obligations to fill up their pits afterward. When they fail to, monsoon season arrives and promptly fills the pits with still water- a haven for malaria mosquitoes. Our job was to supervise, discuss, and verify the details of their filling. The grant provides communities with incentives to fill the pits, including crops to go over the new land that can produce financial yields in the long run. I’d show you a picture, but you may have the image of “gem pit” as this enormous hole bursting with a rainbow of fancy stones (like I did) you’d be disappointed. It’s a small hole. With just rocks. But I’ll let you keep that video game-visual, you’re welcome.
Thus far, here are the upsides to field work: TRAVEL. there is so much to see, even in the drives. SINHALA. On these trips I am completely immersed in Sinhala, with zero other native english speakers. More on language later, but I’m trying desperately to learn and it’s too easy to avoid it when I stay at headquarters. Along side that, I’m road tripping with my colleagues. It’s always fun to see new sides to office people, and they’re really cool people at that.
Downsides: I’m immersed in Sinhala. Sure it’s great when it comes to learning (I recognized my first phrase today at work, eavesdropping!) but it also sucks. Like I said, these people here are really cool. All the public health guys that have real cool experience that are actively promoting really important projects have incredible backgrounds. But I feel like I miss so much of it because I can’t understand the dialogue. Even the talk in the car is Sinhala, so all the pass-the-time discussions of healthcare just run past my ears and it’s a frustrating knowing that the talk is so pertinent yet I can’t decode the content. I underestimated that part of the job.
Okay, I’m done talking about downsides. Ultimately, it’s challenging. But cool in theory. My personal goal is to find a niche where I can really be useful. They dynamics of this entire project are unfortunately not very accommodating to my strengths (reading, writing, researching, ENGLISH). Whatever. Cross your fingers. Anyhow, they were nice enough to add some tourist stops to the trip. Which was wonderful. I didn’t realize how familiar being a tourist could feel. Here I was all freaked out about a work life, and as soon as we get on the road I suddenly felt a wash of comfort, finally I was getting to do something I knew. Travel. Sorry that this part of the blog is so short, it’d probably be the most exciting to hear about.
We visited an incredible temple in Anuradhapura, along with a short hike through some ruins (met up with fellow American volunteer, Maia), and Hambantota consisted of another temple visit, that just so happened to be teetered on the top of the highest peak in the region. The thing about third-world tourism; it’s got this built in factor where you will inevitably fear for your life at some point (right brickthomas?). As we scaled this mountain in the back of a pickup holding on to metal poles so not to fall back during the 50 degree incline, I was channeling all of my energy toward NOT imagining the consequences of break failure. Otherwise I’d post a picture. But the view was incredible (see top pic) and it was another reminder that I’m in a way cool place, even if I don’t see that everyday.
Oh and I saw my first elephants. Which went something along the lines of my boss saying, “oh look, elephants!” as we drove through a state park. I immediately squeeled “ALLLLliiiiiYYA!” (sinhala word I’d been taught) and proceeded to take pictures like a quintessential western tourist with each devise I owned and then deciding I needed videos and then realizing It was the worst time in the world to have to pee and then oh wait baby elephants holy cow. They didn’t laugh at me too much. And we fed them watermelon. And like, none of my rapid fire pics came out decent. Here’s one of the first ones though
Ah, as I write this I’m realizing just how many stories came out of that week. I felt like every 20 minutes were blog-worthy, so it’s going to take some practice before I nail down the art of not needing to document everything and adding just the right amount of detail. Whatever. I also experienced a new level of claustrophobia when a clergyman announced God was coming to bless anyone that made it inside temple grounds on Wednesday and we decided, heck, we should try and get in on that.
We should not have tried to get in on that.
It was a non-violent but kind-of-aggressive race among probably a million Sri Lankans of multiple religions, that not only redefined personal space but taught you what it felt like to have absolutely none. They joked about how it was almost as crazy as India, they laughed and headed back for breakfast (this was all before 7am), and I tried with all of my might to keep my stomach in tact, my bowels calm, and my anxiety level manageable. And I did. And marked another day of bizarre survival on my calendar. (This is the view from the bridge we were stuck body-to-body on. It was a huge debate between wading through the water [ironically enough it was considered purifying] and risk a half dozen infections, or sacrifice my oxygen levels with fellow worshipers. Your welcome mom, I stayed on the bridge.)
Alright, I’ll wrap up this novel. The trip was good. Lots of Firsts. Next on the table? A weekend trip to the beach with just us volunteers, another week of work travel in the south, and solidifying dreamy travels for later in the year. Happy September guys, and Happy Anniversary to my parents who are no doubt picking up an embarrassing amount of British slang words as they trek through the UK this week :)