7:21 am June 29
Today Liz and I will be doing some site seeing in Aurelia with the boys of Mannar. I have no idea what we will see or do, where we will go, etc, but I am learning to give up on controlling my schedule, to go where I am called and led.
As at this point I have no events to recount other than a very unhappy body (lentils and cabbage do not do a body good) this past evening, I will spend some time on some of the larger topics that I introduced from conversations with Liz.
One thing that is interesting are those “mistaken moments of consensus with the Brothers”. We think that we have come to an understanding only to find out that there was no understanding at all. I may have said that I am allergic to gluten, and this is understood, but then I am offered a bun to eat. I just politely thank them and remind them of my allergy. Or there even how much time we will stay in Aurelia. In conversation with Brother Denzil, we thought that we had determined that we would leave for Mannar today. “You will leave on Saturday … or maybe Sunday,” he later said after a conversation on departure. We are learning to be flexible, let go, let them make all the decisions. It happens to be the best course of action as often there are wonders at the end of the road, which turns so sharply one cannot see the way ahead, but all of a sudden, something awesome, miraculous, incredibly beautiful, or filled with calm happens. This is a lesson that I need in my life as I truly believe that my health is negatively impacted by internalizing stress.
An area about which I find myself especially passionate is education here. I want to observe some of the classrooms and strategies that are used in order to learn more about what the purpose of education is here and how it is put into practice through the teaching strategies that are chosen and used.
Today has been an incredibly full day, but first, I must correct something. In earlier posts, I wrote that we were visiting Aurelia. The place is actually written Nuwara Eliya. I was no where close to the spelling, but the place name is pronounced as Naurelia with a nearly silent “n” at the beginning.
That said, I can now begin with a description of the day. Liz and I had a very full breakfast (for me, 2 fried eggs, chicken sausage, peas, fruit, and a sambol), before being picked up by Brother Yohan (he said that the number of boys was really at 85) and a fellow from the group. After this, we spent quite a while lost in Nuwara Eliya as Brother Yohan tried to figure out the way to the St. Xavier’s Church community where the boys were staying, as the bus was supposed to be near there. After asking three-wheeler drivers, police officers, mothers walking their children to school, passersby, eventually, the driver just had to come seek us out. We then followed them to a dairy farm, Ambeleya (sp?), sponsored by New Zealanders. There was a place for milk production, cheese production, and even a little restaurant that sold some of the products. It was a small farm that proved really educational and an opportunity for us to be introduced to the boys (with cheers and a strange chanting of a former teacher from St. Mary’s College, Heidi’s, name). At the bus, preparing to leave, one older boy greeted each and every returning child with a handshake and two toughts of the cheek. I thought, how much would that affect a school culture to have children greet each other in a similar way, even in the act of mounting a bus.
After this sojourn, we headed back to town for a quick bathroom stop and to pick up lunch for the boys at St. Xavier’s. After that brief stop, we were off to the Botanical Gardens to enjoy the beautiful plants and the company. Liz and I momentarily became celebrities as child after child wanted to take pictures of us, especially in the rose garden. Just before that, we had just learned from the accompanying sister (of the FMMs, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary) how to eat rice with our hands. It was actually a really enjoyable way to eat food, one that I hope to use more frequently in the coming weeks.
After the Botanical Gardens, we were all off to Victoria Park for a quick walk with a quick stop at a Hindu Temple dedicated to Sita, who was said to have been kept there by Rama. It was a beautiful temple by a rushing river.
At Victoria Park, Liz and I ended up playing a makeshift game of football (kicking a rock) with one of the boys, which was some of the only exercise that we have participated in while here in Sri Lanka. It was great fun and the other students seemed to get a kick out of watching us play.
After Victoria Park, it was off to the lake. As the Brothers had dropped us off and then gone on to visit someone, to the park, we rode with the boys on their bus, which was one of the most exciting, entertaining, and dynamic experiences to this point. One of the chaperones pumped up the music, playing songs like “Gangham Style” and local favorites. The boys danced so hard in their seats and in the aisles of the bus. One of the older fellows broke out the drums and played along with the rhythms.
While at the Lake, Brother Nelson and some of the “old boys” and chaperones led the boys in song, starting with a different version of Happy Birthday. They had all surrounded the birthday boy, so I didn’t know whose birthday it was. They then sang songs in Tamil, dancing widely on the beach with Brother Nelson and the chaperones at the center of the throng. There was one boy, a young child of perhaps 9 or 10 years, who seemed to know all of the dance moves. The other boys cheered him on, often dancing with him, copying or complimenting his moves. This was the same child, when we first mounted the bus, was singing behind me, unconsciously adding song to the bus until the boys put on the radio. While on the green of the lake, there were other groups there, and all seemed fascinated and joyous at seeing these young children so jubilant. It was too misty and the ground too muddy to take a walk along the lake, but this was so much more thrilling. While I certainly did not have anywhere near the energy of the children, it was exciting to see the care that they had for one another and that which was shown by the chaperones to them and them to chaperones. They danced and sang with their whole hearts. You can only do that when there is great trust and respect for one another. How can I learn from these teachers and children? I find myself asking that question again and again. There are so many lessons to learn.
After spending this time by the cold lake, we went back to St. Xavier’s Church, where the boys would settle and prepare for Mass. Sister arranged for us to have coffee at the convent. While there, we learned more about Sri Lanka and the life after the war. In truth, she has shared with us stories throughout the day. We learned that the Tamil people are a simple, loyal and hardworking people. In this area, they were brought to Sri Lanka by the British to work on the tea estates, at which time they were not given any citizenship, education, or support, even called Indians, though after a time, generations had been born in Sri Lanka. We learned that within the group of boys, those we had seen so joyously dancing and singing, there was one boy who had seen his mother killed in front of him. She had been praying the novena with friends in a bunker, but when she learned that there was bombing, she went to see if her children were alright. She was killed by a bomb before she reached that bunker and they saw her die in that way. She shared with us her own history, that the island where she was from was taken by the Navy. All of the residents were told to leave the place, a place that had been very well developed, particularly because of it having been used by the Dutch, English and Portuguese. The residents left everything behind. When they arrived on the main island, they were given no compensation and had to struggle to make new lives again. Rather, the only compensation for their loss was to be given one day a year, February 15, to return to the island and celebrate a holy day at the church. Only 4 hours they were given for this celebration before being driven once more from the island. Sister went this past February as part of her holiday to celebrate the feast day with her people and to see her own home and land, the place that they had confiscated, but she was not allowed, even having sought permission to go. She told us, that she now works with her people, those who have been displaced, and how when she once went to hear what was happening in the village, her, her sister and brother, a member of the CID, someone who tries to identify others, was asking her questions of her history, past and why she was in that place. This is so that she can be tracked. We learned of the cultivation of suspicion. Brother Yohan works with former child soldiers, and she observed that it is difficult to work with these children as many were pulled in to the fighting, unwillingly and with no training. After having seen so much, these children become distant from the prospect of learning academic work or a trade. They see only the hardness of life, that life is a gamble and unpredictable, that there is nothing to build and no hopes to have for the future. She shared with us, too, that in the country, there is no counseling offered to those who have suffered (particularly in the North), because there is a governmental attempt to whitewash the past. There has also been no attempt to bring those who may have committed to war crimes to justice, either through the legal process or a reconciliation process. There has been no admission of wrong doing on either side. Sister shared, too, that for 30 years she had been gone from her country, and that now, on her return, she could not recognize the people (their faces had gone from puffy, smiling and happy to gaunt), cities (all of the streets and roads had changed with reconstruction after much had been destroyed/bombed/burned), or the country. I wondered at how healing it would be for a restorative justice to be implemented here, how difficult it would be to be away from your country and know your people are suffering so much within it, and later, how difficult it must be to be a part of a particular group that fought for rights, lost, and still seeks justice within the government, or for the majority group to also have lived in fear throughout this time, to have been oppressor and victim in one. Later, in chatting with the Brothers and Sister over a social hour, Brother Noel pointed again to the humanity of people, being able to see that, and the importance of a common language as once people can communicate, they can see to the heart of one another.
In this beautiful country of cascading waterfalls, tall and wild trees, brilliantly colored tropical flowers, fruits of thousand different shades and tastes, lithe wildness and proud strength in its animals, in this paradise, there is such sorrow and joy, intermingled and distinct.
Topics to still explore: infrastructure, “Come and See and Come Again”, skills inventories for participants, literacy, healthcare and education in Sri Lanka, the education of girls.