Thursday, November 3, 2011

Homes, Holes and Happenstance

Hip hip hooray! I have finally moved to Kandy for the rest of my time in Sri Lanka! Three cheers for a little less transiency. Colombo has been great, but I am happy to finally be somewhere a bit more permanent. Annnnnd to compound the joy of prospective stability, after a month of searching for a house, we (another Fulbrighter and myself) have found a place to live. Alas! We are living in what is known as an “annex,” a very popular Sri Lankan phenomenon, where part of a house is rented out for short periods of time. Annexes can vary dramatically between being a detached “servant’s house,” only sharing property with the family, or it can be as intimate as living inside someone’s house with a room to call your own. The place we’ve decided on is a happy medium between the two. We have two bedrooms, a small kitchen, a long corridor hallway and a living room that are all built on the side of a house that is built on the side of a cliff. If this was not already enough of a bizarre set up, smack dab in the middle of our kitchen floor is a hole leading down to a narrow set of black spiral stairs and into a separate room with a small medicinal herb garden. It feels like something out of Alice and Wonderland—a rabbit hole in our very own kitchen. After trying to decide what to do with this space, either a meditation area or a dining/pub/hang out room, we’ve gone with the latter. The reason being, our next-door neighbors just so happen to be 1. A Buddhist school and 2. A massive stupa. Much like a mosque’s call to prayer, in the morning the temple blares chants from loud speakers, echoing across the nearby hills and directly into our annex. As a result, our entire apartment may as well be a meditation room… whether we like it or not. :)

The past few days in Kandy have been wonderful. The day I arrived I ended up meeting some friends of another friend’s friends (i.e. the social matrix that all of Sri Lankan society is embedded in and the means by which everything seems to be accomplished) for a class on the “Jatakas,” the stories of Buddha’s past lives. The people who were holding the class are Buddhist scholars from the US living in Sri Lanka and have written a book about the Jatakas. Seeing as they were expatriates themselves, I drove their house for the class thinking that the majority of the audience would be primarily foreigners (Kandy has a surprisingly well linked expatriate network). Much to my surprise, however, I did not walk into a room of expatriates, but a room of smiling bhikkus and bhukkunis (Buddhist monks and nuns) from Malaysia, Bhutan, China, Japan, Laos, and Myanmar. Ken and Vishaka (the authors) have been English teachers in Asia for over 30 years, so part of the class is to not only talk about Buddhist texts, but to help new student to the University with their English. Many of the monks and nuns there were also students working under the same advisor at the University as me. Afterwards I walked home with ne of the monks from China, who is doing hi PhD in Buddhist Psychotherapy. Sometimes I am taken aback by how widespread the interest in the relationship between contemplative practices and psychology are. We talked excitedly all the way back home and have since been pdf swapping.

The next day I was invited to go to the International Buddhist Center with the same group of students for another class about Buddhist economics. Again, not knowing exactly what to expect, I drove up to a temple outside of Kandy. Although we talked some about the readings that was given prior to the class, we ended up playing “Buddhist Trivia” for the majority of the time. Not only would I be bad at a game called “Buddhist Trivia” (and yes someone actually did manufacture this) in a regular setting, compared to these students bad was an understatement. It was wonderful. Despite the fact I was the clear loser of the game, it was an endless source of laughter and a prime learning experience.

To completely contradict my expression of the “joy of not commuting to Colombo” any more, tomorrow I leave for Colombo yet again. Haha. We’ve been invited to attend the “Marine Ball,” which is a celebration put on every year by the US Embassy to celebrate the Marines and their hard work. Much like many of the US’s ever so wise allocation of resources, the ball from what I hear is nothing less than an extravaganza. Dancing, food, drinks, processions (did I mention Marines?). It should be fun. All of us Fulbright ladies have bought saris to wear to the event, which will be the first time I’ve worn a sari since I was 16. We’re hoping to find someone in Colombo to help us tie them, considering negotiating such a massive piece of fabric is not only daunting, but near impossible for the average Westerner.

After this weekend we’ll move into out apartment and then real research will begin. But in true Sri Lankan style, you never know what the next day will bring, let alone next few months, which is also precisely why I am so grateful to be here. Life is one adventure after the next.

I hope everyone is well and love from afar!


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