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.



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