Today was the first full day in Sri Lanka. I started out by waking at 7:15. While I had intended on sleeping until 8 or 9 since breakfast was not until 10, my body had other plans. It turned out to be a good thing as it made it easy to switch my medication schedule to 1 time in the morning, rather than an evening and morning time with different medications. It is only recently that I have had to take regular medication, so I had been trying different systems. I think that this will be the best way to go.
This morning I took full advantage of that incredible view, reading The Dreamkeepers in a chair with a view of the water. It’s a book a colleague and I are considering for inclusion in a Fall class line up. I skimmed through it once, but that was years ago, so I remember only small details. I read through the preface and foreword before breakfast.
I ate pork this morning. I generally try and stay pork free in keeping with a familial tradition that is based in an understanding of Islam passed down from my father. While I am Catholic, I love my father. He forbid one thing in my life, and that’s pork. I generally keep that rule, but even Islamic teachings allow one to have pork when it is offered in hospitality as a way of not offending one’s host. So it was with me. It was offered for breakfast. I didn’t want to put anyone out, so I had what was offered. I definitely don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
After breakfast, Liz and I got met with the Brother Visitor, Brother Denzil, in preparation for our day. It was there that he said, after our initial chat, that we should both change. I was covered from head to toe, which was what I was told was professional attire in Sri Lanka as the culture was very conservative, but it seems that they also wanted business professional attire. I have very few such clothes with me, but for today, I was able to change into a business top while keeping my long skirt.
Considering that I teach future teachers, it was unnerving for my professional attire to be questioned, especially considering that this was a point that was addressed several times in conferences with those that had gone before us. The most important trait seemed to be that one was covered modestly. I thought that I had done this, but this was not how it appeared to Brother Denzil, so change I did.
After that, Liz and I met up with Brother Denzil to visit two schools: St. Joseph’s and St. Benedict’s
… more on this in the morning. It’s 10:25pm and I can’t keep my eyes open.
At 6:15am, I begin this description again. The dawn has rolled in, and I am unable to stay in bed, so I will continue with a recounting of yesterday.
St. Joseph’s is the school on site at the Provincialate. There are about 1000 students, including those at the primary school, which covers, from what I understand. At the primary school, the students take Sinhala, Mathematics, Religion, and Science. They are also exposed to English, but I am not if that is done formally. The Brothers offer a K-12 education, despite what I had originally thought. St. Benedict’s has been existence for nearly 150 years, having been founded first by priests (I cannot remember the order) and then two years later, handed to the De La Salle Christian Brothers to run as they had recently arrived in Sri Lanka. At that school, there are about 2500 students, including those at the primary school. On the site, there is an aquatic center there, used by both the students at St. Benedict’s and those that attend the Good Shepherd-run school for girls on the same site. On site, there is also a large cathedral. We did not have time to go inside, and it was raining during our visit.
Both St. Joseph’s and St. Benedict’s have computer labs, 1 at the first and 2 at the second. At St. Joseph’s, the students use recently purchased computers. At St. Benedict’s, there is a mixture of old and new, functioning and non-functioning. At both sites, the students learn the Office package. As they improve their skills, they are also taught programming languages, including C+, Visual Basic, and Java. They learn web design as well. Also, in Sri Lanka, there are O-level and A-level exams in IT. A student who were to choose to study IT for his A-level exams and, if he were to pass, would almost be guaranteed a scholarship to the public universities. At St. Benedict’s, of those 2500 students, only about 8 would be selected for that opportunity. While those who graduate would be eligible to go to college through their education, the tuition would be too far out of reach for their families. That number, 8, struck me deeply. Around the country, each year, only about 3000 students are selected based on their test scores to receive scholarships to go to university. This is a country of 20 million people, the same size as Australia in population but so much smaller in size. How many of then are university-age adults, I do not know yet. But I would imagine the population to be around 4 million people. In looking at a demographics profile for Sri Lanka on indexmundi.com, the age structure for 15-24 year olds was listed as 15.3% of the population with males making up 1,665,204 and females at 2,615,425. The next category is 25-54 years. Excluding that category and allowing that college for most would not start until they were 20, I think that the number of college age students might be about 2.1 million (halved the total of students from 15-24). 3000 out of 2.1 million can go to the public universities for free. Of those who qualify for university education, those who have the means or find scholarships will most likely go abroad as I believe there are no private universities in the country.
After the school visits, Liz and I were taken back to the Provincialate for lunch and a rest. I didn’t realize how much my body needed that rest until I was asleep. When we had went out again at 4:30pm, it was hard to mobilize myself.
Bro. Denzil arranged for Bro. Augustine to take us to about town, which he did. We went first to the Gangaramaya Temple, one of the most important temples in the Buddhist tradition. There the Bodhitree there is said to have been planted as a cutting from the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment, making that tree on the temple site over 2000 years old. The site also holds relics of the Buddha. On the temple grounds, there is also a museum of sorts, holding coins, printing presses, old woven goods, and other materials from bygone times.
Above are pictures of an old rickshaw with printing presses behind it, Brother Augustine pointing to a cart used to carry people around (he noted that at 61 years old, in his childhood, these were common), the Bodhi tree, and oil lamps that finished burning.
Nearby there is a shrine, the Simamalaka shrine on an island in Beira Lake. We didn’t stop there. Instead we went to another island on the lake, one where lovers and crows gathered. Literally, when we arrived, the only ones there were crows and couples.
After going there, we went on to Galleface Green, an open field area with direct access to the sea. There were food stands offering freshly caught crab, dosas, and more. I should have taken pictures of them.
The second picture attempts to capture a little of the majesty of the place as the mist began form. It was truly a beautiful night. The area is set for a great deal of construction in the coming years. Bro. Augustine shared with us that there will be a “city” built for tourists in that area, including a mall and a series of hotels. By 2015, that area will most likely be a tourist haven, whereas, while we were there, there were very few tourists that were recognizable as so.
While on the trip, Bro. Augustine taught us some Sinhala: a greeting, thank you, sorry, yes and no. Important for any travel to learn.
After this stop, we cruised through the city traffic. We had hit the rush hour going in and out of the city center. We had just a little time to freshen up before meeting with the Brothers. We made the tail end of the evening prayers and then there was a social and dinner.
Let me just say that curry in Sri Lanka is AMAZING! I am hoping to leave here with a few recipes under my belt. Last night’s curry was amazing. French fries fried in coconut oil, blackened local fish, brown rice noodles with curry on top, curd with treacle were some of the highlights for me last evening with the addition of red rice and breadfruit curry from yesterday’s lunch. I am excited to see what will be available for meals today.
Today, we are scheduled to visit two more schools, have a bit of lunch and a rest, before visiting a class of lawyers learning English in the afternoon for a little conversation and pronunciation practice.