Thursday, October 27, 2011

Babies and Broad Strokes

I am listening to the call to prayer as the monsoons rage outside. This is our final weekend of language training and last few days in Colombo together before we scatter across the continent for our respective projects. It is hard for me to believe that almost a month has passed. Times flies, I suppose. The past two weeks we’ve been commuting by train between Colombo and Kandy. In Kandy I’ve been staying with Bryanna’s (the other Fulbright researcher in Kandy) host mom from her time here as an exchange student. The experience living with a Sri Lankan family has been irreplaceable. Every morning we wake up to a slew of boiled beans, coconut curries, spices and tea. An hour or so later Sheshan, a 1 ½ year old boy arrives at the front door yelling one of the four Sinhala words he knows “Balla,” (dog), “thatthi” (granddad), “aya” (brother) and “ali” (elephant). Sheshan is our host mother’s grandson and he spends the day at the house while his mom teaches English at the University. I’ve never had the chance to really be around a kid his age, apart from the occasional babysitting back in high school, so I’ve been relishing in the opportunity. Sitting at the table with him propped up on one knee, a scoop of rice in my hand, whilst attempting to bribe him to eat his food by inventing comical dances and songs related to how fun eating can be, reaffirms my desire to be a mother someday. There are so many lessons to be learned. Annnnd if baby humans was not enough…our host mom decided to adopt a new born Pomeranian the first week we arrived (and if you know me at all, you know that this warrants excessive amounts of joy and squeaking). Playing with Mimi (a perfect name for the puff of fur that is a puppy Pomeranian) while our host mom is busy chopping away jack fruit from the garden is not a bad life at all.

The last week two of the other Fulbright girls, who will be based down south, came up to Kandy with us. It was the first time I’ve had the chance to go from a potential tenet to a sightseeing tourist while being in Kandy. Seeing the city through a different set of eyes was really nice. We went to the Temple of the Tooth, an elaborate temple in the heart of the city where allegedly Buddha’s tooth is located, an elephant orphanage outside of the city, and the largest botanical gardens in Asia—all of which have reaffirmed my love of this country. Sri Lanka is breathtaking.

I continue to be busy meeting people and learning more about the different avenues my research can take. Once we settle into a house (hopefully within the next few days) I look forward to starting to meet with people and learn more about where I’d like to do my work. The other day I had my first meeting with my advisor, an 85 year old Buddhist monk and Pali scholar at the University. We only met for a few minutes, but I ended up talking to several other Buddhist monks who were pursuing their Phds, one whose focus is on the psychological impact of meditation. In the midst of our conversation I was taken aback by a moment of inner celebration, realizing how satisfied it is to finally be doing the kind of work I love. I look forward to the coming days.

I hope everyone back home is well. Once things are a bit less busy I hope to blog on a regular basis, hoping to avoid posts like this one that are littered with a lack of detail and miss so much of the smaller moments I’d love to share. But until then, love to all!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Start of Ceylon

Hello all from lovely Sri Lanka!

I am sitting here in a multicolored moomoo nightgown, munching pomegranate seeds and watching yellow geckos scurry across the wall. The wave are crashing outside my window and the streets of Colombo are settling in for the night. So in fewer words: happiness. Sri Lanka is an incredibly endearing place, I cannot even begin to explain the surprise I have gone through upon arrival. Although I love India for many reasons, Sri Lanka seems to have all of the beauties of the subcontinent without many of its difficulties. I think it is something about Sri Lanka being an island—everyone is a bit more mellow. The fact 80 percent of the nation is Buddhist may also contribute to that sense of serenity, even amongst the clamor and smog of the city.

The past week I have been kept very busy with Fulbright lectures security briefings, finding a place to live, getting a banks account set up and socializing with the 8 other wonderful Fulbright kin. I’ve been commuting between Kandy, where I will be living, and Colombo, where we are taking intensive language training on the weekends. The train ride to Kandy is one of the most phenomenal rides I have been on, with train tracks built in 1847 and a wheezing train winding its way up the hillsides. Emerging out of the seaside town of Colombo reminds me of the stories my grandma used to tell me before bed of Pete and Patty and how they would rise above the clouds into “lala land”-- that is how Kandy feels. The whole town is blanketed by a quilt of green velvet. Kandy itself, although a city, is much more manageable than Colombo. With charming British buildings dotting the road and a lake built in the center of the town, where the Temple of the Tooth (allegedly the location of Buddha’s tooth) floats on the river bank.

Having recently returned from the somewhat atheistic approach towards Buddhism in Japan, I have been pleasantly surprised (and relieved) by how prevalent and practiced Buddhism is here. Although there are the pray-and-go type Buddhist, who go to the temple, lock their hands, pray, throw a few coins at the Buddha’s statue and go, there are also many people who stay and meditate along the temple walls. For selfish reasons, this makes me very happy (finally in a place where meditation is around!) and for academic reasons, this is fantastic. A smiling monk in red or saffron robes scuttling between the streets puddles and traffic is a common sight.

For the next month I plan on focusing on learning the language, applying to graduate programs and learning about the new software I bought for my project…afterwards I hope to start conducting research. I still have not met my contact at the University of Peridineya, but I have met many helpful people through Fulbright, including a Fulbrighter who has returned to the country to complete some work with women nuns, known here as Bhikkhunis. I am so happy to have met her and we’ve been collaborating about places where I may be able to conduct research. I’ve decided that I want to work primarily with women, for cultural reasons, so this is a fantastic encounter. I feel like I’ve been floating around the past week and things are just falling into place. I don’t want to communicate an artificial sense of ease here, considering it still takes twice as long to get absolutely anything done, but I guess what I am trying to say is being here just feels right. And with that, I am grateful.

I hope everyone is well back home and despite the distance I am still thinking of you all.