Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Taking Chances

“What do you say to taking chances? What do you say to jumping off the edge? Never knowing if there’s solid ground below or hand to hold or hell to pay…”

At sixteen you decide on courses for CAPE with an idea of what you what to do in life, two years later you’re thumbing through university prospectuses hoping you’re making the right choice for the career path that you’ve decided upon.

We take so many chances everyday hoping and praying that they’ll work out for the best and sometimes they turn out far better than you ever could have dreamed.

Just about a year ago I took a chance. I accepted an eleven month placement in Badulla, Sri Lanka. I agreed to pack up and move clear across the globe to a city I’d never even heard about before where they spoke a language I didn’t know for almost an entire year.

Well that year is almost over…and it wasn’t always an easy year. Then again nothing worth having comes easily but it was worth it. I speak enough Sinhala to not get lost and I also know my way around the south of Sri Lanka so I’ve come a long way since I arrived here in the wee hours of July 28th 2010.

I helped write an annual work plan and a semi-annual report; I’ve participated in Tracer Study analysis and facilitated a workshop on monitoring and evaluation; I’ve scaled some pretty ridiculous hills in terrible footwear to speak with beneficiaries and I’ve had my world view challenged more than once. I went outside of my comfort zone and instead of breaking am now stronger for it.

So what do I say to taking chances??? I’m all for it and I’m looking forward to taking some more in the Fall.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Sound of Silence

Each country has it’s own unique mix of sights, sounds and smells. It’s part of the fun of travel…discovering a culture through one’s senses. The way a mountain air caresses the skin in the wee hours of the morning and way the sun dips below the horizon on the coast.

The scent of incense hangs heavy in the air early in the evening and each morning is punctuated by the preparation of a variety of curries. Passing through the market on the way to work one smells the fish and the fresh produce. The produce so fresh that one can still the earth from which it has been removed mingling with the aroma of spices.

Without doubt however, I’d say that I’ve experienced Sri Lanka as an auditory adventure. Badulla is awake at the crack of dawn…the neighbour begins welding around 5.45 each morning and the sound of metal on metal fills my bedroom and I am jolted out of sleep. Around the same time the garbage truck comes around the strains of “It’s a small world” and it is clear that the day has begun.

As I complete my morning rituals and light beings to stream in the windows the house is also filled with the sound of women chattering and planning for the day.

Walking through the market each day I am greeted by the vendors hawking their fare. You have never heard a more cheery greeting than a Sinhalese street vendor saying “Good morning, Madam” – one gets the feeling that they genuinely want you to have a good day. The greetings seem to come out of thin air as you walk the through the market but they are always there and in the same breath they return to advertising their vegetables in Sinhala.

Throughout the day the sounds of various birds and wildlife can be heard. The buzz of large insects seeking refuge from the sweltering heat and the low of cattle in the field adjacent to the office.

Suddenly, one hears the sound of drums and singing…a firecracker goes off in the distance then another – maybe nearer, maybe farther – and music, a voice on a loud speaker speaking in Sinhala. In most cases it’s a pera hera (festival) a religious celebration of some sort…a parade on the road just passing through. It may be an electoral campaign – the firecrackers in celebration of someone from the district receiving a nomination.

As the day winds to a close and the shadows lengthen in the town of Badulla the soundtrack takes on a different quality. It’s the sound of dogs howling in concert and a variety of bird songs. Women’s voices can be heard recounting the day’s activities mixed with the sound of clanging pots as dinner is prepared over a fire in the yard. The tink-tink of metal on metal continues with an annoyingly steady cadence until it doesn’t.

Some nights one can hear the exuberant singing of groups of men…the exuberance that can only come from one too many glasses of Arrack (Sri Lankan liquor). Last night was punctuated by the sound of fire crackers – I did not get to watch the World Cup finals but was able to ascertain the performance of Sri Lanka as they sounded to celebrate the heights of the team’s performance and shouts of elation air.

When silence comes in the sleepy hill town of Badulla it is deafening. It hangs in the air in such stark contrast to the symphony of sounds that characterised the previous hours. But silence is such a rarity in Badulla.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Only Time

How do I have just about fifteen weeks left on placement?

How has it been twelve weeks since I last posted something here on the blog?

How do I have a mere seven weeks to my 22nd birthday?

The passage of time is a truly interesting phenomenon, sneaking up on you when you least expect it.

Since returning from my Christmas holiday I’ve been increasingly busy at work – not only in Badulla but also in the main office in Colombo. And coming on the heels of what were my two most productive weeks of placement I realise that there is more work left than there is time.

That super productive two weeks started out as a two day trip to the city but I ended up participating in the annual work planning. I still have follow-ups to do on the monitoring and evaluation work I did last year, a whole new assignment on labour markets and let’s not forget ‘T’ for which I only recently received permission.

Where does time go to hide? In many ways I know that I’ve been living in Sri Lanka for seven months – I’ve got some pretty decent Sinhala and stories to prove it. And yet some days it feels like I’ve only just arrived and more importantly like I’ve still got so much to do and learn.

But seriously time…send me a message, let’s do lunch or something. I really feel like you’re running away, maybe we can talk this over. I don’t feel much older than sixteen, on many days I feel younger and yet everything (and everyone) around me seems to be pointing to the fact that I may indeed be a grown up so if you could also provide some insight as to when that happened, I’d be appreciative.

Well, I’m going to ease back into the blogging and keep this post short. Plus I’m sure you’ve other things to do with your time Winking smile


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cricket, Lovely Cricket

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped watching cricket. It may have been somewhere in my sixth year shortly after daddy moved away to work, what is for sure is that by time Ambrose and Walsh hung up their hats I had long lost interest in the game. Saturday afternoons sitting on the living room floor watching matches just weren’t the same without daddy to explain the nuances of the game.

Occasionally, I could muster interest in a one day match, test matches are just far too long; and I was drawn to the world cup only because of the spectacle an event of that scale is in of itself regardless of one’s feelings on the particular sport.

I arrived in Galle three days ago on one of my field visits. I was informed by one of the residents at the office where I’d be working that the West Indies were in the area playing a test match and that I should go see if I had the time. I nodded politely, aware that my schedule would not allow for such an excursion and simultaneously glad of that fact because it is has been a long time since I have been a fan of cricket. The years of West Indies’ lack lustre performance on the international scene did little to entice me back.

I arrived to the office on Thursday, my primary contact was on leave and the person who was to assist me with my work was away at a wedding but would try to make it back to the office by 3.30 to help me. After some work on some other projects it was clear that I suddenly had a huge hole in my schedule – but what was I to do with this time.

Cricket? I was told by one friend before leaving Barbados that I had to go watch a cricket match while in Sri Lanka, and while I told myself that it would have to be a 20/20 match, an afternoon of test cricket seemed just as good.

After an early lunch back at the hotel I boarded a three-wheeler and headed for the Galle International Cricket Ground. Admission was Rs.250 (approx. $2.50CAD/$5.00BB) somehow I had expected it to cost more but that was it and I was seated in the a pretty nice covered set of seats pretty much on the boundary. Though, to be fair Galle International is a pretty small ground so all the seats seem to be right on the boundary.

The grounds are located in the shadow of the historic fort built by the Portuguese. On the other side the Indian Ocean glistens, its shore lined with colourful fishing boats. Today is Day 4 of the match and Sri Lanka is at bat – 276/7.

I have long since forgotten the fielding names of the fielding positions but the basics of the game hang vaguely in the corners of my mind. I took my seat safely out of the reach of the blistering sun and began to observe the game – first, simply as a means of killing time; a promise I had made to a friend to partake in this ritual but soon it as more than that.

It was the first time since my arrival in Sri Lanka that I had seen black people in  the flesh. It may seem a trivial thing but when one is constantly on display as some kind of novelty, every element from your odd skin colour to the texture of your hair critically examined; it’s a pleasant reminder that there are other people who look like you. That you aren’t actually an alien, people just look at you like you’re one.

But as the minutes ebbed away at the cricket ground the feeling I was experiencing was more than identifying with people of my own race. I was suddenly invested in this cricket match…amidst the rhythmic chants of "Sri Lanka" and the Sri Lankan flags and supporters I felt like the only one backing the West Indies and it was right that I should support them. Every saved run, every near miss and wicket that fell I felt it. This was my team.

A group of wide-eyed youngsters scrambled into the empty seats next to me, the area had previously been occupied by an old British couple which had since retreated from the turning sun. “Miss? Miss? You, West Indies?” A smile crossed my face…it was the first time since arriving here that my being black did not make me African. I proudly responded in the affirmative and they chattered excitedly amongst themselves in Sinhala before asking which country I was from. My limited Sinhala and their limited English meant that this would be the shortest of exchanges but it is definitely one which I will remember.

“Sri Lanka has lost their final wicket. 378 all out. They trail the West Indies by 202 runs” came the voice over the loud speaker. He repeated his announcement in Sinhala but I was no longer listening. I was the only person who applauded the catch that would bring the Sri Lankan inning to an end, beaming with pride in a team and sport that an hour and a half earlier I merely felt indifferent towards.

I’m not even sure of the present roster of players for the West Indies. There was a time I could recite the team in order and knew which batsmen were strongest in which position, but that time is long gone but today it didn’t matter. Today I was a West Indian watching a team that represented me and feeling a bit at home.


P.S. A camera man got pretty up close to me so if by any chance you see a black person with a frizzy coif in blue in any coverage of the first test match – That’s me!!

I’ll post pictures once I get back to Badulla and can get them off my camera but I just wanted to share.