I am just going to write down key ideas this evening as I am incredibly tired. I will write more in the morning:
3:30 am departure from Colombo, motion sickness, stopping by the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Cross to use the rest room and chat, dropping off Brother Kanistan, Brother Denzil, and Brother Kantha at Bro. Kanistan’s graduation, unassuming way of this, seeing the local insects up close as we waited for a gate to open, going for breakfast at a bakery, the bathroom situation, walking to the Buddhist temple, this one were the tooth of the Buddha is really held (it was just the Bodhi tree that we saw before), the ceremonies, the museum, the view, off to the large statue of the Buddha on top of a hilltop/small mountain, not climbing up because of my nausea, pictures with Malin and Liz, picked up the Brothers, went to have a small snack, dropped off Bros. K. at a bus stop to go back to Colombo, headed off to Aurelia, saw the University of Parendiya (sp?), saw monkeys in the open, went from there towards Aurelia, switched with Bro. Denzil for the front seat, huge difference, traveled to the upcountry, saw tea estates and waterfalls, the woman who begged for food to whom I did not know how to respond, then having tea at Mackwoods, the tour and learning about the tea process, buying tea, heading to the Nazareth Retreat Center (maintained by boys from Boys Town in a year long tourism program), saw the chapel, finally a rest, a social with the Brothers Denzil and Noel, talking about humanization and liberation theology, dinner at a Chinese restaurant in a small hotel next to the Grand Hotel, back to the room (gorgeous)
Needless to say, writing all of the small recollections out for each thing will take quite a while, but I am exhausted having only taken that short nap this afternoon. I couldn’t sleep in the car for my own motionsickness. I suppose the timing of my writing doesn’t matter as I don’t have internet to post this until later. I expect that I may be posting all of my reflections at one time, perhaps in Mannar or in Colombo. Such a busy and full day.
7:27am Friday June 28 (though the post will say Thursday)
I will take a moment now to go through some of the major pieces of yesterday.
My body does not enjoy being robbed of rest, and it is very vocal about its dissatisfaction. With the 3:30 departure to Kandy and sitting in the back seat of the van, I found myself motion sick with a restless stomach, nausea, and general weakness. Throughout the day, I suffered mightily. It wasn’t until Brother Denzil offered to switch seats with me in the afternoon that I finally began to have a better experience.
The reason that we had such an early departure was because Brother Kanistan was graduating with his Bachelor of Arts degree. In the van on the way in, we were told that we were going, because he had a convocation to attend. I assumed that he had been invited by a friend, not realizing that he was graduating. It was said in such a nonchalant way that both Liz and I did not realize that it was he that was graduating until he put on the black graduation robe over his Brother’s white robe.
After dropping off the Brothers, our driver, Malin, took us for a breakfast before going to one of the most sacred sites for Buddhists, the home of the Buddha’s tooth. Breakfast was when my sickness most manifested itself. I ate very little, red rice and a little curry, as all of the baked goods there were beyond my reach because of my gluten allergy. I truly wish that I could have tasted them as there was such variety in the baked goods.
After breakfast, Malin took Liz and I to the temple. It was definitely frustrating to him as he wanted to share with us some of the stories and the importance of the area, but he was unable to do so due to limited English. I listened in to a French tour guide and then an English one, learning about the moonstones within the temple, but soon enough we had all gone our separate ways. I will read on the history later. Here are some of the pictures.
I wish we had had time to sit in the space and be within it, not as tourists or worshippers but as those who can appreciate a sacred space. There were so many people there with lotus blossoms, presenting them to the face of Buddha, or sitting against a wall to pray. It was beautiful and holy.
What struck me most about the temple was its destruction in 1998. During the civil war, a lorry loaded with explosives was driven onto the grounds and exploded as a terrorist act. Luckily, the tooth itself was not destroyed, but much of the temple was. There were pictures in the museum of the terrible destruction. I shared with Liz how nonsensical and desperate that seems as a terrorist act, to destroy something sacred and important to, not just those within the country, but those around the world. As a world heritage site, such areas should be revered, honored, respected. They help use to see all that we are, all that we believe in, our strengths, our weaknesses, our hopes and fears.
While at the museum, we were able to to get access to one of the top balconies from a worker there at the museum. It had an incredible view of Kandy, its lake, King’s Island, and other significant points in the city. Here’s a picture from that place.
After walking the temple grounds, going to the museum of the tooth with all of the history of the Kings of Kandy, going to the museum of the elephant Raja that was made a national treasure and at his death, bodily preserved, Malin took use to a Buddha statue, perched on a mountain. There was an incredible view of Kandy there. One could climb to a place at the Buddha’s shoulder for an even better view of the city, but I declined that opportunity as my body was still suffering from the motion sickness and weariness. Liz took my camera and took pictures for me.
After this experience, we went back to pick up the Brothers, went to have a small snack, dropped off Bros. K. at a bus stop to go back to Colombo, and were off to see the grounds of a university (around 5000 students, one of the public universities of Sri Lanka, as, from what I understand, there are no private universities), before heading to Aurelia.
As bookends to our time in Kandy, we visited the Sisters of the Holy Cross, meeting the mother superior *43 years as a sister) as well as a sister who had served for 9 years. The order are primarily nurses. On the site, there is a church, a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, a preschool (54 children and 1 sister works there), and a nursing home that the sisters run (13 elders and 4 sisters run it). Even in our short time there, there was a restfulness within that place as well as such great hospitality offered to us by the sisters.
On our way to Aurelia, we stopped by a tea estate to see what is picked on the tree. We saw waterfalls, valleys, washes of green, fertile fields and estates. The road side stands with fruit reminded me of those along the road in Jamaica. The waterfalls, wildness of jungle parted by agricultural, and the steep climbs along sharply turning mountain roads reminded me of the road to Guarujá in Brazil and the wildness there.
At one of the waterfalls, I was approached by a begging woman, an elder in a bright pink sari. She extended her hand and cupped it, pointing to her mouth. I immediately responded, “Sorry Ma’am”. Malin pulled away the car to another spot so that we could see the waterfalls. Internally, I asked myself, What are waterfalls to this woman’s hunger, and responding, Nothing. I was troubled by not helping her. I had no food to give her and this is what she requested, but I could have given her money. Would this have ended her hunger? Perhaps for the day or for several days, but it would not have stopped it permanently. Still, I could have done something. I am here to do something for those within my world community, and when grandmother comes to me, tells me what she wants and needs, I am stalled and ineffective. I continue to be troubled.
I also am continuing to think on what I have to offer to these communities that we have visited. We are staying at the Nazareth Retreat Center. Liz and I will write reviews for Travelocity, Hotels.com and Yelp. We will be going to Mannar and will be offering our hands in whatever way we are called. But there are also infrastructure issues that I have seen: the center could do with a repaved road, the schools we have visited could do with better computer labs and more teachers to decrease class sizes, etc. How can I continue to be of service once this visit has ended?
Continuing on the visit, about an hour outside of Aurelia, there is the Mackwoods tea estate. We tasted some of the Orange Pekoe, a very light tea that can be experienced without tea or milk. We then took a tour of the facilities, learning about the tea making process, from the time that it is picked to the time it is packed into tea bags. 65% of their tea is sold at auction in Colombo with tea marketers buying the tea, mixing it with other tea from different producers and selling it under their own labels. 25% is sold in Sri Lanka under the Mackwoods label. 10% is sold in England at places like Harrod’s, where I have been for high tea service. There was a tea that I thought of buying on site, the silver, 160th anniversary tea, but it was over $100 for 50 grams of tea, way over my price point for tea. I did buy 5 boxes of the orange pekoe for myself and family for a little over $10.
On arriving at the Nazareth Center, our bags were brought to the room. We saw the beautiful chapel on site, and then we were able to rest for an hour and a half (not enough time as I was nearly falling asleep at dinner), before meeting Brothers Denzil and Noel for a social sharing of coconut arrack (the local liquor) and snacks of local veggies, French fries made in coconut oil, and little chicken weiners with onions and tomatoes. When we went out for Chinese food (it seems that Brother Denzil loves Chinese as he suggested it both times we have gone out), I ate very little, but enjoyed the company very much.
In our conversation, several topics came up: humanization, the love of all people, “let us remember that we are in the presence of God” and the brilliance of that message in relation to humanization and even a liberation theology, the work of the Brothers here and overseas, what American education can learn from Boys Town, especially in regards to civic engagement and communal invitation of those who have been historically marginalized and disenfranchised.