An Ode to Mango Friends: Weeks 5 and 6

Mango Friend: a Sinhalese saying for a long-standing friendship.

My final two weeks in Sri Lanka were two of the best weeks of my life, weeks filled with so much joy, adventure, and love, intermixed with tearful goodbyes and an emotional drainage that I’ve never really experienced before. It will be hard to put my final days into words, especially as I’m writing this two months later, but I’ll do my best to put myself back into those moments, no matter how painful it may be.

Things got off to a pretty poor start with our morning class; I had prepared a dialogue for the girls to memorize over the weekend and to perform that Monday, but they forgot. Obviously I wasn’t about to scold these women who are older than me/are employed and are productive members of society (unlike me), so we just let them do it the next day. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it involved a phone conversation about making plans for the weekend, filled with a couple obvious subliminal messages that didn’t really register with them the way I hoped (“I am craving Pizza Hut! It would be really nice to have a break from eating rice”). Otherwise the week was spent continuing with their short stories, with Hannah and I doing our best to explain the words they didn’t understand or couldn’t pronounce. “Three Musketeers” kept being pronounced as “Three Mosquitos”, and defining the word “source” was probably a bit more challenging than necessary.  Things quickly spiraled into a calamity when one of the girls came across the words “garter” and “girdle” (Really, what are those words even doing in children’s stories?), forcing us to Google Image both. So much discomfort. So much giggling by the girls.

I exerted a lot of effort with the boys during my 5th week, pushing myself to the limits with my intense and grueling crossword puzzles. WITH pictures. That’s some serious business, I’d say. We taught them as much as anyone can about clothing, and spent some time getting them to differentiate between domestic and wild animals. I think by the end of the week they may have finally understood that King Kong is not, in fact, an actual thing that exists in the world. We played so much cricket this week, and if I can’t say anything else about this class, at least I can say that these boys taught me how to play this game semi-decently. By the end of the week I was hitting so many “sixers” (still no clue what those are), and probably felt too much personal satisfaction over getting Jude out a few times. I was doing so well that I received the honor of Chamindu calling me “champion” a few times, which was honestly fantastic. Mostly I was happy that I progressed enough to stop hitting those damn sticks with my paddle-bat.

Jude on his way up the tree

Jude on his way up the tree

One time Jude launched their only tennis ball way up into one of the tallest coconut trees in the vicinity, but of course this wasn’t a problem for him. He climbed dozens of feet up the tree, and all I could think about was that I was about to witness the death of this ridiculous boy. I really should have stopped him, but these Sri Lankan boys must just be genetically predisposed to tree climbing. I couldn’t even handle climbing 8 feet without falling down and ripping open my wrist, so I was understandably dumbfounded.

I was also smacked in the penis this week while standing too close to one of the boys as he swung the bat.

Oh, and I wore my sarong to work. Because I wasn’t getting enough attention by just existing there. I was reduced to some serious waddle-walking.

Look at us!

Look at us!

I continued showing up to Bosco hours before my evening class this week and was rewarded by having to teach a class in the afternoon by myself to a different set of boys. This was predictably disastrous, and my attempts at covering some of the grammar we had been teaching to our evening class lasted roughly 9 minutes before I gave up and played Hangman. What can I say, I’m just that impressive.

Should've known they wouldn't be interested in "The Brothers Karamazov"

Should’ve known they wouldn’t be interested in “The Brothers Karamazov”

I was lucky enough to watch the boys play some fun new games in the afternoon, the most fascinating being the one in which they just threw a ball at each other with no apparent goal in mind besides to cause bum bruises. Otherwise, I just enjoyed the standard cuteness that took place on a regular basis. I made the (probable) poor decision of breaking out my Kindle with the innocent intention of helping a couple of the kids practice reading English, but that just deteriorated into the kids pushing all the buttons and trying to find the games that don’t exist on that device. My iPod was another hit, and no matter how many times the kids begged and pleaded, songs by Akon and Gangnam Style will never appear in my Purchased Songs list. Sorry, weirdos. No “Smack That” for you.

The majority of our energy was spent preparing our evening class for their first exam, the culmination of all our weeks of mostly unsuccessful attempts of getting these kids to understand topics we barely understood ourselves. I spent hours preparing a study guide, and hoped (in vain) that they would really listen when I said that reading through the examples and explanations would guarantee a decent grade.  Hannah and I created the exam together, and we both agreed that it was our crowning moment at Bosco the day we distributed that test. Sure, our expectations were about as low as they can get, but we still had some infinitesimal hope that they would not all, I don’t know, fail.

Our exam!

Our exam!

Guess which portion I contributed to

Guess which portion I contributed to

Our crowning moment

Our crowning moment

Based off our new criteria of needing to score a 50 and above to pass, everybody came out a winner! There was a lot of internal crying as I graded the papers and saw so many of them getting in the 50s and 60s, but cried actual tears of joy when one of the boys, Yomal, scored an 88. It was the happiest moment of my time there as a teacher as it was just so unexpected. He never really spoke much and kind of looked like he was about to start drooling on the desk every night, so it was such a pleasant shock for us. Selfishly, it made Hannah and I feel like we hadn’t been completely useless those past few weeks. Do all teachers feel that way when grading exams?

YOMAL!!

YOMAL!!

...Anthony.

…Anthony.

Our weekend trip to Mirissa was the one Hannah and I had anticipated the most (after Kandy), a trip to the beach culminating after 4 grueling weeks of virtual non-stop bustling around. We desperately needed a weekend to just do absolutely nothing, and as it was Hannah’s and Bev’s final weekend in Sri Lanka, we were determined to make it as relaxing, sentimental, and booze-filled as possible.

Just chilling out the train door

Just chilling out the train door

Supposedly one of the most “appealing places” to spend a few days, Mirissa is located right on the southern tip of the island, and we were eager to take one last scenic coastal train ride to get there. There was roughly 12 volunteers converging at our destination, some whom I had never met before, so I basically decided to ignore the people I would never see again after that weekend and just enjoy the company of those I actually liked had spent the past weeks with.

Our train ride to Weligama (a few kilometers away from Mirissa) took about 5 hours, hours spent mostly standing and crammed against each other. The crazy guy I am, I decided to spend a large portion of the trip hanging out the open door, clutching the handles and just, I don’t know…living. Such a large portion of my life is spent confined within closed doors, so damn it, I just wanted some exhilaration. Hannah and I squeezed our bums together and sat side-by-side with our legs dangling over the edge, nibbling on our spicy roti served in somebody’s old used school exam and newspaper. It was really fantastic.

I <3 sanitation

I ❤ sanitation

There was a moment of complete giddiness that was unparalleled in those weeks when we arrived at our guesthouse, the Central Beach Inn, and realized that we’d be living directly on the beach for the weekend. A clean beach! And completely empty (so we thought)! We were greeted by these boys who looked like they belonged in Malibu, but were actually just some young, life-loving, marijuana-smoking hotel employees.

Mirissa Beach

Mirissa Beach

And so commenced our weekend of doing absolutely nothing; good food, swimming, sun-bathing and reading was intermixed with some passive-aggression towards those we didn’t really know/didn’t want to know, and of course, the alcohol. Naturally, the wild alcoholic I am, I only had a couple cocktails, one called Sex on the Beach. Definitely fitting. As the night deteriorated wore on, the young hotel workers kept on blasting the same songs over and over again, songs I would grow to permanently despise by the end of the weekend, namely “Get Lucky”. The absolute worst song. Everyone was becoming more and more intoxicated, and I basically just sat back and watched everyone devolve into their varying degrees of sloppiness. Throughout the night the boys kept on smoking, constantly trying to get me to join them. I’m pretty sure they had a feeling how abnormal I am and just wanted to laugh at my expense, something I’m more than used to at this point.

Anyway, I did it. I smoked the ridiculous boys’ weed (their names are Chamin/maybe Charmin and Diisa). Having never done something remotely crazy/fun in my life, I naturally struggled. Really struggled. Chamin attempted to teach me how to do it, but it was just not happening. Including this little tidbit wasn’t something I really planned on doing, lest my mother keel over, or, I don’t know, employers somehow decide to read this and think I’m some kind of rascal and miscreant, but my desire for full disclosure won out. And really, it was just one inhale, or whatever you call it. Hit?

Now that I’ve probably shocked the few who read this entire world, I’ll redeem my loser image by saying I decided against staying up past midnight like everyone else who wanted to continue being fun, choosing sleep instead. The ridiculous music and crazed singing happening prevented any possibility of sleep, so by around 1:00 AM I ventured back outside, shocked by how much things had deteriorated in such a short time.

Me and Bev before the struggle happened

Me and Bev before the struggle happened

Bev. Dear, beautiful Bev. I don’t think anyone in my entire life, in any instance, had ever been as excited to see me as Bev was when I showed up at the bar. It was unbelievable, really. “Matthew, you came back!! I’m so happy you’re here!!!” was uttered repeatedly, and so many hugs were given. I had no idea how to respond to these foreign declarations of affection towards me, the awkward weirdo I am, so I was basically reduced to a lot of uncomfortable laughter and blushing. It was just so unexpected, but definitely appreciated. Didn’t stop me from running back to my room as soon as possible, however. My main reason for getting out of there was that there was this other group of girls, also volunteers, who were just so loud and drunk (my two least favorite things) and I just wanted to punt these ladies off our beach. Oh, and “Project Sri Lanka” will NEVER be better than Projects Abroad, no matter how much you rave about the cheap prices. So shush.

That damn music didn’t stop playing until after 4 AM, so sleeping was rough. Unsurprisingly, most of the crew wasn’t mobile at 8 like I was, and that wait for my pancakes was not enjoyable. I got over that nonsense, and we all wandered the beach, climbing up the small island nearby and just taking in the beautiful views Mirissa offers. We were a little disappointed that there weren’t any stilt fishermen around that morning, but that didn’t really take away from how perfect the day was. Throughout those sun-filled hours, Diisa and Charmin kept on being young and crazy, and kept on trying to corrupt me.

You can see the stilts in the background

You can see the stilts in the background

Me, Charmin and Diisa. Too bad my shirt was nasty here

Me, Charmin and Diisa. Too bad my shirt was nasty here

Just so much relaxation, a wonderful reward for our weeks of hard work, a nice boost to get me through my final week, one that was equally one of the best and toughest I’ve had in my life.

We left that Sunday afternoon, a train ride that brought a sad goodbye to Kym and Bev, two of my favorite people from the trip. The ride took roughly 8 hours, a massive delay on account of some ginormous church feast which apparently mobilized the entirety of the population between Colombo and Negombo. The bus was literally unable to move for over 45 minutes because of this. Thanks a lot, Jesus.

My favorite picture with Bev. We never did find out what that ice cream flavor was

My favorite picture with Bev. We never did find out what that ice cream flavor was

My final week began with the arrival of two new volunteers, Kirsten from the Netherlands and Jakub/”Kuba” from Poland. Apparently Jakub is too hard for people to pronounce? I wasn’t too enthusiastic about having 5 people in the house, the social butterfly I am, but luckily they met my usually-unattainable standards for likeability.

Having these new people in the house meant that Mac and Paulita needed to increase the food supply, so instead of preparing food that would be adequate for about 8 people (a reasonable amount at this point), they prepared food sufficient for at least 12. One morning, we walked into the kitchen for breakfast and were met with a platter of 20 “pancakes”/taquitos. Maybe if they actually tasted good I wouldn’t have minded, but they were just nasty. We ended up hoarding them into some plastic bags, smuggled them out of the house, and threw them away. We were awful human beings that day, but really, Macmilan, you need to learn about appropriate portion sizes.

NOT OKAY

NOT OKAY

This week was really about spending as much time at Bosco as possible. One more day was spent going over animals/clothing with the boys, including an “exam” that involved matching. Their horrendous scores affirmed the sad fact that we really didn’t accomplish much with them, but it was always the personal connections forged with the kids, really getting to know and understand them, that mattered to me anyway. We spent the last few days going over the human body, allowing us to display our artistic deficits capabilities one last time. And more word searches! If I can’t say anything else about that class, I can say that at least I helped develop their concentration and problem solving abilities. Maybe.

Volleyball Turmoil

Volleyball Turmoil

A lot of volleyball was played that week, probably the most popular sport in Sri Lanka. These boys are good, like…I didn’t want to participate and embarrass myself. Of course we did participate, and thankfully Hannah absorbed a majority of the jeers as her volleyball abilities are about as dreadful as my abilities at everything else. Jude was so pissed at her a few times, and I was really concerned that their friendship would be at jeopardy, devastating considering how much they loved each other. My cricket prowess was developed further, and football continued to render me disgusting looking and injured. One of my toes still hurts from kicking the ground instead of the ball, the talented athlete I am. Jakub solidified his status as Football Champion, his standing as Poland’s most talented young player leaving the kids in awe.

Our final week with the evening class was wonderful, as always. Hannah and I had purchased some biscuits and something extra for our shining pupil Yomal as rewards for surviving our grueling exam. That Monday night I marched into our office where I had stored the food, took out the bag and discovered that one of the biscuit packages was missing. Realizing that somebody had stolen it was one of the most miserable moments I had there; so many rupees down the drain (but really like $0.80)!! I had to dig deep into my pockets to muster the money required to replace what was taken, but in the end, there was so much joy over the food/”passing” the exam. We realized that we probably should’ve given that exam at the very end of our stay, because then we had to awkwardly begin a new topic, prepositions (why are there so many?!), that we’d only have about 4 total days to teach. These kids were struggling a lot with this topic, culminating in my favorite student, Anthony Saviour, writing, “I was under my wife when she died.” It was honestly one of the greatest things I’d ever witnessed, despite the fact that it likely underscored how ineffective I was at teaching. Oh well. At least we had some laughs.

It really began to dawn on the kids that Hannah and I would be leaving, and there was a noticeable somberness in the kids’ demeanor. It was different when I was in Ghana; I would say I’m leaving soon but the kids never really acted like they understood what that meant, that I wouldn’t be coming back. Here I just got the sense that everyone did understand, and I could tell that they were going to be hurt. They just kept asking when we’d be back, as if it’s so easy to hop back and forth throughout the year.

Hannah’s final day on July 3 would be the second saddest day of my 6 weeks in Sri Lanka, after my own, of course. I don’t really know how to describe her final day (and mine, for that matter), how to capture the beauty and misery that alternated those long hours.

This picture's perfect because Jude's actually smiling

This picture’s perfect because Jude’s actually smiling

I think we really tried to treat the day as normally as possible, to not dwell on the sadness and just make the day as fantastic as it could be. And for the most part we were successful, at least in the morning. And then as we were heading out of Bosco for lunch, Jude ran over and gave Hannah this card that he supposedly wrote for her. In reality I believe that card may have been one his parents had sent him; he had crossed out “Dearest one” and replaced it with “Dearest Hannah.” This beautiful act began our downward emotional spiral, one that became more and more severe with each passing hour.

We were back early that afternoon, desperate to spend as much time with the kids as possible. Those few hours before the evening class were again spent normally enough; we played a lot of volleyball, and basically did everything we could to ignore the fact that tears were likely on the horizon. At the end of Hannah’s final evening class, our students presented her with gifts—this plaque with a prayer, and this tiny model boat. It was so unexpected and sweet, but definitely deserved. That girl worked her ass off, and like me had really no idea what she was doing. We made the best of a difficult situation and devoted ourselves completely to those kids. Receiving some recognition was a real pleasant surprise, from a group of people who really made our trip worth it.

Our evening class <3

Our evening class ❤

After we took some group pictures, we made our way to the study room where all the kids work until dinner so Hannah could begin the impossible task of saying goodbye. I left her alone to spend time with Jude, and just wandered around trying to keep down that dread I mentioned from boiling over. Sasara helped with that; just when I thought Starbucks had exhausted every possible way of ridiculously spelling my name (Mat, Ben, Met, BET!!!!!), he comes up with “Matiw”. Granted, their Sinhala words are difficult to say/spell (Tuesday=Angaharuwada), but really. Just so creative!

It was at around 8:00 PM that everything really deteriorated; the entire Bosco Sevena population gathered in the room, forming this circle around Hannah. Clapping commenced, drums started being played, and everyone began singing this song with lyrics including “Thank you, thank you Hannah” or something like that. I couldn’t really make out much of what was being said because I had a serious case of the dreaded “insta-tears” that I seem to be really prone to these days. Hannah at this point was overcome with tears of her own, while simultaneously attempting to console Jude who was absolutely sobbing. There really is nothing more devastating then the tears of a child, someone so young who should never have to say permanent goodbyes yet. And the fact that this was Jude, truly one of the most special people we’ve encountered, just escalated the pain. I didn’t want to take away any of this moment from Hannah, so I snuck out of the room and just let her enjoy one of the most beautiful experiences I’m sure she’s had. If I’m honest with myself I know that I also left because I knew that I, too, might be receiving a similar send-off just a few days later, and it felt like I was gazing into a future I really didn’t want to see come true.

We all shared a feast prepared by Father Melinda, and finally by around 9:00 had said her final tearful goodbyes. She was given a Bosco Sevena shirt, really the one thing both of us had been looking forward to since we got there. Sure that shirt may have about 4 colors too many, but it’s still the greatest shirt she (and later I) have been given.

We had second dinner (of course) back home, and stayed up talking and just trying to prolong the inevitable, I suppose. As I laid in bed that night, I was reduced to someone I never thought actually existed: the person who cries himself to sleep while listening to Adele. Yup. That happened. It was just an emotionally draining day, and I guess it all caught up with me. And I suppose a lot of it did have to do with the thought of having to part from a friend the following morning. People who know me are probably going to be shocked to read that, and really, I was taken aback myself. I will always be the first to admit to not being the easiest person to be friends with; I’m guarded, insecure, apathetic, even, when it comes to forging relationships. I think my main issue has always been assuming people would just not see anything likeable in me, so I’ve just avoided trying to find out, really. But in situations like the one I was in with Hannah, when we were thrust together and forced to spend basically all our time together, it’s a little hard to avoid some kind of relationship, whether it’s one founded on like or disgust. By some miracle we experienced the former, and I can honestly say that she’s one of my favorite people today. I really don’t know how I would have made it through those weeks at Bosco without her help and laughter. Also she’s British, so…can’t really go wrong there.

Here's Hannah. With my underwear.

Here’s Hannah. With my underwear.

We said our final goodbyes the following morning at our bus stop, one final hug to start off a fairly miserable morning. Poor Anthony Saviour set the tone for the day when we arrived, saying to me “My heart is crying,” a sentiment I could definitely relate to, albeit in probably a less dramatic fashion. That kid really has a thing for hyperbole, as he would later tell me, “You are the greatest human.” Like…how does one really respond to such an over the top compliment, from somebody the same age as you?  I was not equipped.

Anyway, after our class with the girls (we talked extensively about Sri Lankan weddings again), we spent our usual time between classes on the Internet. At one point Jude came sulking in, looking about as glum as I expected, and said softly to me, “Hannah SMS?” Awwwww. I pulled out my phone and called Hannah, something we’d agreed to do before she boarded her plane. It was easily the cutest thing I’d seen so far, how completely Jude’s mood changed once he heard Hannah’s voice again. Obviously Hannah did most of the talking, but just seeing him smile again after the previous evening was wonderful.

From then on things were substantially better. I was encouraged to see that the boys weren’t sitting around mourning Hannah’s absence, which made me feel a little better about my own impending departure. The one thing that kept me worried in the months after leaving Ghana was the thought of the kids at Beacon House feeling sad or abandoned by me. Instead, when I arrived back to Bosco after lunch, I was treated to a mini concert put on by Jude and Kasun. They were bashing this symbol and rocking out on a chair/drum, unfortunately singing Gagnam Style. But that’s okay. They were so ridiculously happy! So much laughter. Also Kasun was wearing a FIRECE shirt.

That Friday afternoon, my three remaining housemates went off on their weekend trip to some wildlife park, leaving me to enjoy my final weekend on my own. I had decided weeks before to spend my final days at Bosco, partly because I didn’t have a lot of interest in spending time with a massive group of people I would only ever see for those 2 days, and because everyone I had known and became close with were gone at that point. My main reason was because I wanted to spend as much time with the kids as I could, because really, the weekend traveling was only secondary to the true reason I was there: to work. And also, I didn’t need to see more elephants.

I was really curious about what went on at Bosco on weekends, and was pleased to see when I arrived that Saturday morning that they have IT classes; they were learning things like where the Spacebar and Tab Key is. Adorable! Afterwards, they had a lot of free time, and I was treated to the first of many drum/singing performances by Sasara and the others. Their main objective was to get me to take videos of them, using me for my technology, basically. They certainly aren’t camera shy, which resulted in a few really amazing/sometimes violent/always cute recordings. I tried finding videos that didn’t devolve into bizarre faux-brawls, but that would have left me basically with one video to share. So…enjoy!

Sometime in the early afternoon, the boys were instructed to partake in some kind of chore. When it became apparent that that chore involved clearing the entire grounds of the hundreds of coconuts that had fallen over the past few days, I just couldn’t believe it. There was just so many. But they apparently loved every minute of it; really, I don’t think American kids would so readily spend a couple hours in the heat hurling coconuts into a massive pile.

Ridiculousness

Ridiculousness

That afternoon for lunch we were all brought to this nearby family’s home, for reasons I was a bit unclear on. I’m not sure how one family can prepare food for over 60 people, but it was lovely. I was fortunate to spend that hour sitting with a group of possibly the oldest people in existence, treating me to some awkward intelligible exchanges and some fabulous questions. The old man who was the most fond of me asked if I knew the Pope. Well…not too well, surprisingly.

I woke up on my second to last day to the surprising news that a new volunteer from France, Hugo, had arrived. My first thought, unsurprisingly, was No! Why?!  I did my best to come across as friendly and welcoming (probably unsuccessfully), but really wanted to get out of there and go to Bosco as quickly as possible. So by around 7:45 AM I had awkwardly left him alone, probably not the nicest thing to do to somebody who just landed. Sorry! Just to make my departure more unfortunate, I may or may not have been responsible for little Herma falling on her face. On concrete. Just so many screams and tears. I’m really not sure what happened, but…I just got out of there.

I got to Bosco in time to see what these kids eat for breakfast everyday: So. Much. Bread. Basically half a loaf per kid, making me feel a little better about my own giant pieces of sugar bread I was forced to consume every day. After breakfast the kids either played more games or attended their “Good Manners” class. With that name I assumed they’d be learning some dining etiquette or something ridiculous like that, but I’m pretty sure it just ended up being something Jesus-related. It was taught in Sinhala so I have no idea what actually went on there, but they certainly weren’t learning to say “Please” and “Thank you.” Afterwards I took a few more videos of crazed drum playing until I was treated to the biggest surprise of all that day:

BAND PRACTICE!

Almost everyone plays some kind of instrument, to the standard drums to the bizarre accordion/piano thing Sasara plays that involves blowing into a tube. And Jude with his tambourine? It was just too much. This powerful, authoritative lady arrived to conduct them, and she really took this seriously. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw them marching around the grounds rehearsing Sri Lanka’s National Anthem, looking like a legitimate, cohesive talented ensemble. It was just so strange, and so special to be a part of. Jude of course couldn’t refrain from causing mischief.

More games were played in the afternoon, and then a large portion of the boys were called away to do what I believe was cleaning out more gutter poop. Once again, boys were hoisted down into the depths of Bosco’s smelly sewers, shoveling bucket after bucket of (hopefully) mud out. My sympathy got the best of me once again, and I attempted to help. It took just about 12 seconds of me being in their presence for Sasara to drop a concrete slab in a puddle I was standing near, splattering me from the knees down in whatever it is they’re swimming around in. If anyone but Sasara had been the culprit I might have been displeased, but there’s no way I’m about to scold that kid. Especially when right after, he and a few others immediately proceeded to douse me with water in crazed attempts at cleaning me off. Really not that big of a deal, guys.

EW.

EW.

Thanks, guys

Thanks, guys

The boys finished their strange assignment just in time for the sunset, which I watched descend for my second to last time as they all washed off in the ocean. It was a rare cloudless evening, allowing for one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve sat through.IMG_4532

By the time I arrived back home that evening, everyone else had returned from their weekend travels. I heard all about the countless elephants they encountered, which I feigned some interest in learning about. In my mind I just kept thinking about how my weekend was probably superior. I mean…band practice! That’s worth about a thousand wild elephants, I’d say.

And so we come at last to my final day, July 8th. I never wrote about this day in my journal, but now, two months later, I still have basically every detail inscribed in my memory.

Like Hannah’s final day, mine began routinely enough. I had my final class with the girls, and they thanked me in the end for all my help. Honestly I struggled throughout with my role as a teacher to them, women who were substantially more accomplished and experienced than me. But I think we all helped each other, really; we learned so much about Sri Lankan culture from these women, and if Hannah and I managed to improve their English in any small way, then I’m satisfied.

I was surprised (and pleased) to see Sasara at Bosco that morning; It turns out he had done some sinister thing the previous day and his punishment was to stay home from school and to copy page after page of this history book. It was a mess, but I was happy to spend more time with the kid, probably getting him into more trouble by allowing him to play football with us when he was supposed to be working. But this was my final beach football game, so…the kid was going to play. I distributed some food offerings to all the boys in my class as a parting gift, including sweets Hannah’s mother had sent for her which finally arrived literally the day she left.  England really does know how to make some fantastic candy.

What every kid dreams of receiving

What every kid dreams of receiving

I returned to Bosco after lunch while the others went off to the pool, arriving in time to catch Sasara burst into tears over the “impossibility” of his writing punishment. Really not what I wanted to see on my last day, but I had at least brought some gifts to cheer him up! Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have purchased those 18 or so tennis balls, since, you know, there are over 40 total kids there. But I didn’t feel like blowing my remaining rupees on balls they’d probably be losing within 2 days, and I didn’t even know many of those boys. Definitely didn’t stop them from demanding asking for my goods. And the fact that so much joy and excitement came from receiving a tennis ball never ceased to amaze me, kind of like the balloon fiascos at Beacon House. Then I remember that these boys never receive presents and it all makes a little more sense. So as expected, Sasara’s mood picked up once I presented him with his tennis ball offering. Those tears needed to wait.

My emotional state started its slow descent into debilitation by the time my final evening class began. They all knew it was my last day, and Anthony was basically a complete mess. He demanded that I write down all my contact information for him, told me a few more times how his heart was crying. Mine too, buddy. We made it through my final lesson on prepositions (Hell), and that’s about when my first tears made their appearance. After I wrote down my email address on the board, I was presented with three(!!!) gifts from a few of my students. The first package contained a mug, and another this cross that flashes all these lights. My instant thought was, “Well…my mother is not going to want me hanging this up in the house…”.  The gift that really mattered to me was this plaque that’s specifically for teachers, and contained this prayer and words of gratitude. It was really just the sweetest thing anyone’s given me, and just made my heart begin its painful collapse. I made my way out to the study room where I knew things were about to get a lot worse.

Things were fine for a little while; I almost believed I’d be able to get through these final moments without any fuss. I still had a few tennis balls to distribute, and by this point everyone knew I had them. Unfortunately by this point I only had about 8 left, so I really had to think hard about who I was going to give them to. Except as soon as I made a move to take out the bag, I was swarmed by the entire room and the decision was (literally) taken out of my hands.  Welp. Sorry, guys.

At that point I wasn’t sure what I should do, so I decided it was time for me to finally get going. I made my way over to the few boys I really cared about, planning on saving Sasara for last, and that was about when the misery I had been expecting made its appearance. One by the one the boys starting coming up to me and commenced handing over these offerings, mostly some pictures depicting Don Bosco, or some kind of doodle. So that was really cute. Some of the boys had started to tear up, even ones I had barely spent time with. Before I knew it there was a lineup of kids against the wall, each looking sadder then the next, just standing there with tears streaming down their faces. All I could think was, “This is over ME?! Did I really matter that much to them?!” At a complete loss of what I should do, I just started hugging everybody. I don’t know how many tears my shirt absorbed that evening (mostly my own), but for the most part I had managed to keep myself together.

And then I look over and see Jude and Sasara in similar states of sadness, and it was at that point my efforts at keeping myself poised and collected began to crumble. I tried, really tried not to break down in front of them. I didn’t want them feeling worse than they did, and for me, I’m never one to let myself display that much vulnerability and pain in public. To that point I had never made a scene of my emotions before, always finding ways to keep my feelings bottled up until they could be released privately. I just couldn’t do it this time.

I eventually looked up and realized that the entirety of Bosco Sevena had crowded into the room, and once I saw a few of the boys holding drums I knew what was coming next. I was trapped in the circle of clapping, singing children, many of whom were still crying, chanting their “Thank you thank you Matthew” sendoff and if I had managed to keep myself under any semblance of control, that was basically gone by then. I couldn’t control the tears anymore, and just gave in to them. I suppose it was a really cathartic experience for me, one that I kind of wish didn’t have to happen in front of the other volunteers I had barely known. Sorry that you had to witness two emotional collapses within a week, Kirsten and Jakub. But I’m sure they had similar experiences when they left, even you, big manly Kuba.

At some point during the singing and drum blaring, Jude came in with one of the Fathers carrying a bag. He was sobbing uncontrollably, and before I could crouch down to hug the kid, he was on his knees, and KISSED MY FEET. I believe there was a “Matthew God bless you” uttered by him, but I just couldn’t believe that had just happened. Once I opened the bag and saw there was a Don Bosco shirt and Sarong(!!), there really just was no stopping the crying. I don’t know how to describe a moment like that, really. When in life are you ever shown so much love at one time by such a large group of people? It just doesn’t happen, at least not to me.

Finally the singing had stopped, and many of the boys left to go to the dining room, leaving a few crying stragglers behind. I took off my watch and placed in Jude’s hand; I just wanted him to have something of mine, something that would let him know that I cared, that his tears weren’t wasted. And then Sasara. I reached into my bag and pulled out my copy of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, my favorite book, one I had originally intended to leave for my host parents (sorry, guys). Obviously there is no way that kid will be reading it anytime soon, but I hope that one day, when he becomes Sri Lanka’s most intelligent young adult, he will pull out that book and read it/remember the awkward white boy who gave him it. Inside I had written “Goodbye, mango friend,” spending about 15 minutes writing out “goodbye” in Sinhala. It was time for some final hugs, giving Jude and Sasara extra long ones, hoping that somehow they understood that they were important to me. I led them out of the room and parted ways, giving one last look as I walked out of Bosco Sevena for the last time.

By the time we made it home by 9:00, I had managed to get myself together somewhat, just in time to enjoy my final Sri Lankan meal of…spring rolls. Freakin’ spring rolls. Fitting, I suppose. My flight was at around 4:45 the following morning, and since my host father was planning on driving me, I decided I would just head to the airport right after dinner. I wasn’t going to make him stay up so late for me, and I really just wanted to get these final goodbyes over with.IMG_4243

So at around 10:30 I was being driven alone by Mac, a quick 30 minute ride to the airport I assumed would be fairly uneventful. Of course there was some light conversation; he thanked me for coming, expressed hope that I would return and stay at his house again as a guest. That sounded like a pretty good deal to me, but then things started becoming exponentially uncomfortable. Mac started talking of his desire to come to America, asking me if I thought it would be difficult for him to find work there. “Well…I guess it depends on what you were looking to do” is what I basically told him. Cause I really don’t have any idea, really. And then he may or may have not requested my assistance in getting him a visa to America. UMMM…does it look like I have any knowledge of that process? I think he wanted me to go search out some kind of sponsor who could help get him into the country, or something to that effect. Yeah, I’ll get right on that. Thankfully by this point we were pulling into the airport, so with a quick goodbye I rushed inside, finally alone, finding myself with absolutely nothing to do 5 hours before my flight would be boarding.

So how does one spend those long hours at Bandaranaike International Airport, too early to even check in and sit by your gate? Well…if you guessed sitting at the check in area struggling to contain reemerging tears, then good work! Because that’s really what ended up happening. For hours. Apparently I wasn’t finished publicly purging myself of the overwhelming sadness that had taken over me that day. Luckily I had numerous tissue packets stashed away in my suitcase, and boy did those come in handy. Those around me were probably confused as to why some white boy was sobbing alone at 1 in the morning (I was listening to Adele again, guys. So bad.), but there was just nothing that could be done.

I remember thinking to myself how strange it was to be having such a strong reaction, one that leaving Ghana didn’t come close to inducing no matter how sad I was that day too. It just didn’t make any sense. But I think now, after reflecting for a weeks on it, I do understand what was happening. It was just a combination of thoughts and feelings which, taken together, were too much for me. I was sad, so sad to leave those kids behind, and to leave behind yet again an experience that left me feeling fulfilled and had given me purpose. I had said too many goodbyes that year, and I was just tired of it, angry really, that they had to be said at all. There was some anger towards myself as well, anger that I let myself once again become attached to temporary people. And finally, most significant of all, I think, I was just sad to be returning back home to a life I just didn’t really want to go back to. I knew the calm, the contentedness, the excitement I felt waking up every morning was going to vanish in an instant, and it was just unbearable to think about at that point.

There were more tears to come throughout the 24 hours or so it took me to get home, including during the beginning of both flights. I managed to watch a ridiculous range of movies to take my mind off things, beginning with the light-hearted, fun and uplifting Stoker. I can’t even. What did you do to your face, Nicole Kidman?? Landing in New York the following afternoon, I took a little extra time to get myself through customs, just wanting to prolong for a couple minutes the bombardment I knew was coming my way.

My family, as always, did not disappoint.

Welcome Home balloon meant for war veterans

Welcome Home balloon meant for war veterans

IMG_4553 IMG_4571 IMG_4570 IMG_4555 Excerpts from Matthew’s Journal:

  • “A random turtle was placed on the stairs and pooped everywhere” (June 24)
  • “Those kids better study for tomorrow’s exam or so help me gawd” (June 25)
  • “I was hit in the peen” (June 27)
  • “God help Anthony. Scared for that boy” (June 27, after I graded his exam)
  • “Bev and I bonded, we talked about America sucking…” (June 28)
  • “They gave me their weed just to laugh at my inability to do it the right way. Whatever. I’m pure!” (June 29)
  • “Poor Himali. “The Three Musketeers” wasn’t a good choice since she can’t pronounce French names. Or musketeer” (July 1)
  • “One more week before I never have to have rice and curry again. I could cry from joy” (July 1)
  • “Another boy ran into a coconut tree and impaled himself” (July 1)
  • “He’s nice. And funny. And kind of miserable looking, so I approve. And he hates curry and water. HAHAHAHAHAHA. GOOD LUCK” (July 1, about Jakub)
  • “Oh, it’s 4th of July! NO FUCKS TO GIVE” (July 4)
  • “Woke up to the news that we have a new boy living here. French. Igu? That can’t be right” (July 7, about Hugo)
  • “Came back and faked interest in everybody’s weekend trip. DON’T CARE. Elephants? LIVED WITH ‘EM” (July 8)
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Adam’s Weak: Weeks 3 and 4

Weeks 3 and 4: June 10-June 23

I would say that during my third week, there was finally some semblance of a routine in place. Our evening class was finally up and running, and we seemed to have some idea of what we were doing in each of our 3 classes throughout the day. Here’s a breakdown of how a typical day went during the week:

      • 7:00 AM: Wake up
      • 7:30: Breakfast, consisting of tea and disgustingly large slabs of sugar bread. If you’re lucky, the bread is actually bitable/won’t harm your teeth.
      • 8:00: Leave for Bosco, arriving by 8:45ish
      • 9:00: Spoken English class with the girls
      • 10:30: English class with the boys
      • 11:30: Back home for lunch/Second shower of the day/Lesson planning/relaxation
      • 4:30ish: Back to Bosco (would start leaving earlier)
      • 6:30: Evening grammar class
      • 7:30: Home/Dinner/Third shower of the day

8:30-9:00ish: Sleep

Breakfast. Every day.

Breakfast. Every day.

So really that 11:30-4:30 time-slot during the week is the only time outside of the weekend that we occasionally did something worth noting. The word “worth” may be a bit of a stretch, but for a town whose post office is the main place of interest, anything extra is exciting. Really all that’s around is this local pool/restaurant, and we took this week to treat ourselves by consuming something that wasn’t rice and to drink something that wasn’t tea. As an added bonus, there’s the occasional feral cat and decrepit puppy around just begging for me to cuddle with/get scratched by. This week really began my issue of having to pick up literally every cute thing that came in my path, no matter how unfortunate it looked or how many worms it may be infested with. Take, for example, this kitten:

Cute! And look at Herma!

Cute! And look at Herma!

In the middle of the week Hannah and I traveled to Colombo to purchase train tickets for our upcoming weekend trip to Kandy, just so we could finalize what time the trains leave and to make sure we don’t end up in third class where the chickens are supposedly kept.  So we arrived after probably 90 minutes of traveling just to learn that you apparently can’t reserve second class seats ahead of time, and we weren’t about to shell out $2.50ish for first class seats (so many rupees). This trip could almost be added to my list of times over the past year that time was wasted or travel plans imploded, but at least we got to meet up with a few friends for a nice afternoon wandering Colombo.

The Pettah

The Pettah

We visited the Pettah, Colombo’s main market, described as a “chaotic bazaar” which is “slow and rather exhausting” to traverse. Look, travel guide. I wandered through the largest open market in West Africa, so I know a thing or two about “chaotic” and “exhausting,” and I think you might need to consider dialing down the hyperbole. The Pettah is basically just a smellier, filthier NYC China Town, and without the fabulous dumplings.  The streets were a bit narrow and getting lost is almost guaranteed, but at least I didn’t encounter any slaughters. It did rain, however, and by then I really should’ve known to carry an umbrella on me at all times on this island. Luckily we entered a store selling the most appropriate umbrellas imaginable for me:

So unprepared for Sri Lankan weather

So unprepared for Sri Lankan weather

This umbrealla

This umbrella

Also, Hannah and I went to Pizza Hut for the second time that week. The halfway slump is real, people.  My lowest point was really yet to come.

It was on this day that I had to say goodbye to Charlotte, the beautifully-accented girl from Manchester. She loved the way I pronounced her name (Shar-lit vs. (Sha-lit), and I loved the way “book” and “buck” sounded exactly the same when coming out of her mouth. But really, Charlotte’s wonderful.

Over at Bosco Sevena, we reached our peak with our morning class with the girls, covering topics that were actually potentially interesting for me as someone interested in development and public health. We discussed the environment and social issues, hoping it would evolve into a discussion on what they believe Sri Lanka’s main issues are today.  I brought up gay rights and university costs as issues in America, and they basically looked at me like I was making less sense than usual. They offered up unemployment and self-reliance (the latter intrigued me), and then rambled about drug and sex trafficking. I attempted to get them to discuss women’s rights, but they brushed that off and basically said there aren’t really any gender disparities worth mentioning. Well…I obviously wasn’t going to say it, but two of them are getting married soon and plan on quitting their jobs to become housewives (a pretty standard practice), so…I’d say that’s a bit of an issue worth examining. But this was English class, so just getting them to speak for extended periods of time about anything was deemed a success.

With the boys, this week we had two new additions to our class; I thought they were going to be there every day after, but apparently they were only there in the first place because they didn’t have the proper shoes required by the regular schools. Seems like a pretty reasonable punishment. The boys:

Udayakamara: Co-cricket champion with Chamindu and one of my favorite kids. He constantly attempted to get me to flex my “muscles” for him, and no matter how many times I tried explaining that there was nothing there to see, he kept on grabbing my arm and squeezing the flab.DSCN3560

Sasara: I was always skeptical growing up when teachers would say they didn’t have any favorites in the class, because if this kid is any indication, having a favorite is really inevitable. No matter where I end up working, if it’s with kids, there’s always one that I get too attached to. It was Prince in Ghana, and it was Sasara here. Maybe it’s self-destructive or I’m sabotaging myself by letting myself get so close when it’s just temporary, but I don’t know. I think it would be worse, not letting myself feel what I want to feel, you know? Yes, saying goodbye is the most painful thing anyone can do, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to just avoid letting connections form. I think if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that. Anyway, miss ya, mango friend.

<3

This week we attempted to give lessons on food and clothing, and since variety is not the first word one would use to describe Sri Lankan cuisine, food was a bit of an issue. Really, it’s just rice, beef, chicken, pork, fish, onion, pepper. And food may have been an issue, but clothing was basically a catastrophe. We learned pretty quickly what happens when someone from Germany, America, and England attempts to teach words to Sinhala-speaking Sri Lankans whose grasp on the English language is infinitesimal.  Take, for example, pants. You know, those long, things you wear in the winter or for a nice dinner. For Hannah, they’re trousers, which, you know, is fine and all. But pants for me is underwear for her, tank tops for her are vests for me. And Oliver. Poor, poor Oliver. Look, man, you’re a really smart guy, and I’m sure you’re highly regarded in your field of expertise. But honey, you are NOT about to try getting these kids to think that the word for hat is “zelinda.” Sorry for completely obliterating that spelling, but seriously?? You do not get to express surprise when Hannah and I have never heard that word used before, and let’s be real. Between the three of us, it’s probably a bit more likely that Hannah and I would have a firmer grasp on appropriate English words than you. And don’t get me started on “chucks” and “gearbag.” (gearsack?) We did the best we could, and we Hannah had to incorporate her artistic talents often, but I think we managed to make some kind of progress. Getting them to draw out and write down each article of clothing might have been useful, but getting them to remember how to spell these words the next day was always impossible.

Notice Rauhl's injured foot. My fault.

Notice Rauhl’s injured foot. My fault.

But really, more noteworthy than classroom struggles was my first encounter with cricket, a sport that never ceased to confuse me and whose entertainment value I still find questionable.   Throw in the fact that these kids never followed the proper rules (as if I know what the proper rules are), and it was always just a mess. I was absolutely dreadful in the beginning, not knowing how to swing those weird paddle bats at all. I would end up swinging them tennis-style, and in those early attempts I always ended up just hitting those stick things that the pitcher is attempting to throw at. Needless to say, the kids were not pleased with me. Oh, and sometimes the ball was hit far into a coconut tree. This was never a problem for these psychos:

One of the many times the ball ended up in the coconut tree

One of the many times the ball ended up in the coconut tree

Over at the evening class, Hannah and I began the difficult task of actually, you know, teaching grammar.  We spent this week largely going over articles (the, a, an, some), explaining the differences and going over the rules and when they should be used. I’d give further details, but I don’t think I even remember the specific rules a month later. The fact that, growing up, we weren’t taught these rules ourselves and were just expected to instinctually know them, is probably concerning. We felt silly having to use the internet to look up how to explain something we should just know by now, but we didn’t have a choice. Hardest of all was explaining to them that sometimes an article isn’t used (I like pizza vs. I like the pizza). It was a struggle, we really needed a Teaching English Grammar for Dummies book, but little by little we started to see some results. It was a lot of work, there was a lot of frustration, but this is the class I really felt like an impact could be made. Even though we had no idea what we were doing, this belief pushed us to do the best that we could to organize exercises, to put in the extra time to grade papers and provide explanations. I wouldn’t say that the morning class with the young boys was neglected, but that there was a real understanding that this class was where we could really make our time at Bosco worth it.

At the end of the week, the three of us led a beach cleanup at Bosco. The amount of trash that littered the beach there wasn’t too monumental (I’ve definitely seen worse), and much of it was just branches and other natural debris that was a bit of an eyesore. Naturally, the kids focused a majority of their attention on these branches and not the actual, potentially hazardous, garbage. But hey, everyone had a good time, ridiculous pictures were taken, and an actual difference was seen by the end of the day.

Cute!

Cute!

Jude was being extra productive

Jude was being extra productive

Adorable!

Adorable!

Jude's picture of Hannah

Jude’s picture of Hannah

Hannah's picture of Jude

Hannah’s picture of Jude

LOVE

LOVE

Oh, and Hannah got wet.

Womp.

Womp.

This beach cleanup occurred on a Thursday, and we spent around 11 hours at Bosco that day, giving us a glimpse of a what a full day is like there for these kids. Thursdays became my favorite day there when we found out that the boys have their traditional Kandyan dance class in the afternoon. Impressive wouldn’t be an appropriate enough word to describe how musically talented seemingly everyone there is. It was a really special moment being able to watch them for a while.

We left that Friday morning for our trip to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s last remaining independent kingdom before it fell to the British in 1815, and the region I looked forward to visiting more than any other. There were a few new people traveling with us: Kym from Scotland (lovely), Lena from Germany (also lovely), and Basma from Egypt/London (…). The trip from Colombo to Kandy was probably the most memorable, being my first train ride in Sri Lanka and all the ridiculousness that trains there involve. Our expectations were low, so not having a seat wasn’t unexpected.

Not sure whose hands these are

Not sure whose hands these are

We ended up spending a majority of the trip huddled on the floor, but I didn’t want to sit for long as we went further inland and the landscape began to change. Our surroundings became more and more beautiful as our elevation increased, slowly rising along steep green hills which sprang up the closer we got. I spent a lot of time standing right by the open train doors, taking in the breathtakingly perilous-looking mountainsides we were riding along. Was it the safest idea? Probably not. But man, it was definitely one of my favorite moments of my 6 weeks there.

After settling into our hotel and having lunch (and cherishing the cool climate we were finally in), our driver for the weekend, Diisa (so much more on him later), took us around the city and showed us basically everything there is to see there. We were taken first high up to a viewpoint, allowing us a glimpse of how truly beautiful this city is, its central lake surrounded by beautiful, European-esque buildings; I really couldn’t believe how different everything looked and felt there.

Kandy from above

Kandy from above

We were taken to this massive mall (lame) before attending a Kandyan dance and drumming show, one of the few tourist traps we visited that weekend. I generally feel weary about entertainment when traveling that’s catered mainly to white people, but I brushed aside those ridiculous thoughts and allowed myself to be blown away by the performances. Kandyan dance is intensely acrobatic, featuring “flamboyantly attired” men leaping, backflipping and twirling around at speeds I would never fathom to be possible. We were all left in awe at the end, really.RSCN3596

whatever the heck this is

whatever the heck this is

Our final stop that night was the Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist shrine, containing the “legendary” Buddha’s Tooth since the 16th century. This Tooth was supposedly taken after the Buddha was cremated in 543 BC, and has since surpassed its original religious significance to represent Sri Lankan sovereignty. Anyway, we were all really excited to see this tooth, even though I was forced to wear a pink bedsheet sarong and endure the laughter of large numbers of children (again).

Hawt

Hawt

We paid our hundreds of rupees to enter the Temple, quickly finding the line to enter the shrine and visit the tooth. After about 50 minutes of standing in a claustrophobic entranceway, the doors finally opened and we began pushing our way through the eager crowd. But wait! Turns out that since we’re white, we’re only allowed a one second glimpse of the shrine from a faraway distance. So really, this was all just a complete waste of time and money, and I we left saying some not so kind words to the Buddha.

Where we waited in vain to see the Tooth

Where we waited in vain to see the Tooth

We woke up early the next morning to visit our most anticipated pitstop of the weekend, Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, home to over 100 elephants of all ages, apparently the world’s largest group of captive elephants. I had read about Pinnewala in the days leading up to the trip, and I was more than a little apprehensive after discovering all the criticisms and animal rights’ concerns that people have after visiting. There is little that I despise more than animal cruelty, so reading about these elephants being chained, being abused during training, and often being sold for private ownership left me feeling more anxiety than excitement.

DSCN3640I don’t know if I was the only one feeling this major internal struggle once we entered the orphanage, but seeing what I just described in person was heartbreaking. Yes, there is little that’s more amazing than seeing elephants so close in person, and yes, I did pet those baby elephants who were chained (it’s impossible not to. They’re just too cute to be real), but really…it was hard. All I could think about was that I was contributing to their exploitation, and I honestly would recommend people to avoid visiting Pinnewala when visiting Sri Lanka. It’ll probably be difficult to resist, and at this point I have no right to criticize those who can’t, but it’s my advice nonetheless.

LOOK HOW CUTE

LOOK HOW CUTE

whatever's happening here

whatever’s happening here

Amazing, really

Amazing, really

Play time?

Play time?

The entry fee to Pinnewala included a “free tour” of an Ayurveda spice and herbal clinic, Sri Lanka’s system of traditional healthcare. I knew pretty much immediately, and especially after we were served this fabulous cinnamon tea, that we’d be spending all our rupees there.  Right after the tea was thrown at us, we were treated to a demonstration of their best-selling product, the herbal hair removing cream.

Effective.

Effective.

In order to entice the 7 or so ladies I was traveling with, the guide decided to demonstrate the power of that cream on one lucky individual. Naturally I was that lucky individual, and of course I didn’t protest being the guinea pig. Everyone crowded around as the cream was applied to a small area on my right leg, and after 5 minutes, gasps of shock and awe filled the air as the hair was completely wiped away. According to the man, if you apply that cream 3 times within a week (or something along those lines), the hair will not grow back for 30 years. I was just a little skeptical and should’ve requested a money back guarantee, but I can say that the one dose of the cream left my skin silky smooth for weeks. And the guide made a point of emphasizing that the cream was NOT just for ladies, using hand gestures and all to indicate where boys like to use it. THANKS FOR THE TIP.

We all bought some.

The scalp massage

The scalp massage

I and a few of the others were sporting a bit of a cold that weekend, and of course this clinic had just the right remedy for that. We were introduced to Green oil, used to treat migraines, sinusitis, and apparently hangovers. Other employees sprang out and treated us to more demonstrations of the powers of Ayurveda, leading to a ridiculous scalp massage as the oil was applied. I’m not sure who I’m gonna find to massage my head at home, but I’ll be damned, the stuff WORKS. We were ALL cured. Nobody needed further convincing of the wonders of this herbal center, and within the next 20 minutes we cleaned the place out of all its hair removal cream and sinus oil. The clerk failed in convincing me to purchase Kamayogi Bon-Bon, used to treat pre-ejaculation and “other sexual disabilities.” SORRY.

At this point, we were all ready to head on over to Dalhousie, the site where we’d be commencing our trek up to Adam’s Peak. It was about 3 hours away from Kandy, a ride that allowed us to take in more of the stunning scenery of the region and a chance to get to know Diisa, our driver, a bit better. He asked me roughly 5 times over those two days if I had a girlfriend, and no matter how many times I told him no he just kept on drilling me about it. I believe he asked me why, at 21, I was still single, and obviously I wasn’t about to get into this topic with him. I did, however, ask him why he was expressing surprise when he himself is a 26 year old Sri Lankan bachelor, a far more scandalous situation to be in. Yes, there was sass, but I only dish that out to people I like, and it was hard not to love this ridiculous man. At one point I told him to get himself a dog since he’s all alone, leading to a discussion of the state of Sri Lanka’s stray dog situation. He basically said “I don’t need a dog since I can see one whenever I want to on the streets”. So for the next 3 hours, he would point out virtually every rabid dog we came across (many) and say, “Look! A dog! See?”

It was around 7:00 when we finally arrived at our guesthouse, and surprise! No power! It was also raining, a clear sign that this was going to likely be an apocalyptic 12 hours. I convinced Diisa to stay at the guesthouse with us and to join us for our creepy candlelit dinner. Getting that man to do anything with us was impossible up to that point; he would just awkwardly stand alone on the side or wander looking like a sad pup. It didn’t take long for me to question this decision when he brought out his personal collection of arrack, some whisky/rum-type beverage made from coconut, basically the equivalent of Ghana’s akpeteshie (poison). By this point it was close to 8:00, and we planned to wake up at 12:30 AM to start our hike up the mountain. So really, Diisa, I don’t know why you were confused when most of us were not interested in taking shots with you all night. Yes, I and a few of the others had one, mostly because thinking about the next few hours was starting to make me feel ill with dread. And then I had 2 more. The psycho was actually disappointed in me for not agreeing to drink his second complete bottle, “just the two of us.” Sorry, buddy. I would like to actually make it up that mountain in the morning, while you get to sleep all day. See ya.

Now for a little background about Adam’s Peak. I went without looking at any pictures or reading anything about it in the guidebook because I was worried I would just run away scared, so I didn’t know much of this information until afterwards. I knew that it was one of Sri Lanka’s most significant places of pilgrimage for the past 1000 years, and that the depression at the summit is said to be the footprint of Buddha or of Adam after he was cast from heaven onto Earth.

It is recommended to climb Adam’s Peak at night, giving yourself at least 4 hours to reach the summit in time for sunrise, free from cloud obstruction. It’s also advised to go during pilgrimage season between December and May when the path is illuminated and there are teashops open whenever you need a break. Unfortunately, we were there in the middle of June, which meant we were going to be climbing in the dark and with far less people. It was time for me to break out my headtorch. The hike is 7km up a footpath of 5500 steps, which would likely, according to my guidebook, reduce us to “quivering wrecks.” But hey, I survived that 11 mile bike-ride in Ghana through sand in the middle of the afternoon, so I figured any other physical test would be comparably easy. And they were just steps! Not even real mountain climbing!

When our alarms went off at 12:30, I immediately noticed the sound of heavy rain pounding the roof. I’m pretty sure we all uttered a collective “Fuck”, and I knew right away that this was going to be one of the most unfortunate mornings of my life. We had no guide, there was nobody else climbing at that hour, it was so cold, so dark, so rainy. There was one small moment when I reconsidered the intelligence of climbing in these conditions, but nevertheless, by 1:00AM we were on our way.

To our surprise we were followed by about 3 random dogs who managed to climb the entire way with us. There were a few times when those dogs provided a much-needed morale boost, and I may or may not have shed a tear or two into some wet fur. The one benefit of the rain was that it allowed some tears to be safely released when necessary (thankfully it wasn’t really).

Saying that the climb was a struggle would be a massive understatement. In calm conditions those stairs would have been treacherous, but adding in the wind and cold and rain pelting us throughout the entire ordeal left us all complete messes. We got lost a couple times early on as the path was not well-defined, and one us basically hyperventilated and couldn’t control her breathing. We had no idea what we would’ve done if things got worse for her because there was nowhere for us to take her, and cell reception was non-existent. We slowed down the pace to avoid any health catastrophe, and were starting to worry we might be going too slow and miss the sunrise. More than anything else, I’m proud of myself for not falling (a real accomplishment).

Somewhere towards the middle of our climb, I looked down at my leg and noticed I was bleeding. That’s weird, I thought. I definitely hadn’t injured myself, and I didn’t feel any pain. The rain washed away the blood pretty quickly, and I continued my climb with a little extra caution. A few minutes later, I looked down at my leg again and saw to my/others’ horror that there was a leech attached to me. MY LIFE. I flicked that little douche off me, scolding myself for not covering my legs during this climb through a wet, leech-friendly environment. Whoops!

The climb was really becoming a problem towards the end, as some of the steps were so steep that you had to literally pull yourself up them on your hands and knees. Thankfully there were rails towards the summit, allowing me to hoist myself up. Throughout it all, the rain and wind didn’t really let up, and we began to realize that our chances of seeing the sunrise were diminishing. We really couldn’t believe it when we stumbled upon the summit just 3.5 hours after we started walking, convinced that all our breaks had jeopardized our chances of reaching the top on time.

Unsurprisingly there was nobody else around when we reached the top, and the gate you pass to be able to wander the summit was closed. And it was still raining. Just as we were ready to wallow on the ground in self-pity, we noticed someone peeking out through a tiny home at the mountain’s peek. We virtually demanded that we be allowed in, immediately feeling bad when we noticed that there were people sleeping inside that small room. We were so cold and wet and exhausted that desperation overpowered any feelings of guilt we may have had, and we proceeded to sit shoulder to shoulder on two of the beds, sharing cookies and basking in the warmth of a single candle as tea was being prepared for us. It turns out these were policemen living up there, and I don’t think I and the others had felt that thankful in a long time. Unfortunately they confirmed our fears that seeing the sunrise that day would be impossible, so by around 5:00 we sulked out of the house with our tail between our legs, beginning our climb back down. We all felt pretty sorry for ourselves at that point, but eventually we came to the conclusion that we really had achieved something special, something many would probably not be willing to do in the same conditions. I pushed myself further than I’ve been physically pushed in a long time, and none of us sustained any injury! I think that’s pretty damn commendable.

We really believed that it would take far less time to make it back to the bottom of Adam’s Peak, but my buckling knees and throbbing thighs made it clear pretty early on that this would likely not be the case. Within 20 minutes, half the group was out of sight ahead of me, leaving me and two others hobbling at a snail’s pace down those slippery steps. Thankfully it was becoming light out, allowing us our first real glimpse of where we were and what the climb really looked like.

Beautiful

Beautiful. Too bad leeches were probably inside my shoe in this picture.

We noticed things we had no idea were there as we climbed up in the dark, like all the mesmerizing waterfalls that littered the surrounding land. We decided to take advantage of our slow pace by taking in these views, stopping often and just appreciating where we were. It somehow took about 3 hours for us to make it back, more than an hour after the others who were already huddled around the breakfast room covered in blankets, looking like refugees/Titanic survivors. It truly was one of the most exhausting experiences of my life, but hey! I made it! I took off my hiking shoes, saying goodbye to shoes that had gotten me through all my travels these past 4 years. Turns out those shoes had the last laugh, as I looked down at my feet a few minutes later only to discover that they were bleeding. Guess I had leeches in there for hours! HAHAHA. Again, my life.

The aftermath

The aftermath

Early on during our drive back to the train station in Kandy, Diisa noticed my bleeding foot. He pulled over, examined my foot, and determined that there were apparently leech teeth imbedded in me. He plucked some leaves growing out of a plant by the road, pulled the teeth out of my ankle by hand, and used the leaves as a makeshift band-aid. I had already planned on throwing him so many rupees as a tip, but he earned a bonus with that move. He was easily my favorite non-child Sri Lankan I met.

The pain I felt in my legs when waking up for work the next morning was unprecedented, really. Hannah and I were basically immobilized, but we took solace in realizing that at least we had excuses to not have to play football or cricket with the kids that day. Unfortunately we couldn’t use our broken bodies as excuses with the morning class with the girls, and it became really apparent during this 4th week that we had reached the point of having zero more ideas of topics to discuss with them. I learned about some of the girls’ hobbies, learning to my dismay that my favorite in the class likes Twlight; overcoming that fault was a real struggle for me. It was this week that we stooped to our lowest points of desperation by asking what they’d save from their burning homes and what they’d want with them if they were stranded on an island. Their answers? Cell-phones. Thankfully they finally took pity on us and offered to switch things up, and from the end of the week onward the class was largely spent reading short stories and discussing words they had never heard before. Guess it takes actual teachers to know what kind of lessons should be conducted, I suppose.

We began our week with the boys pretty painfully; we were in no condition for proper lessons, so we spent a majority of the time playing Hang Man. We figured this would be a nice, simple thing to do to practice some of the animals and foods we had been going over the week before. Instead, it turned into 30 of the most painful minutes of my life. Seriously, boys, King Kong is NOT an animal. And really, Anton, if I heard you guess “Q” one more time I think I would have cried. That letter should NEVER be your first guess in Hang Man/anything in life. What really did me in/convinced me that this was the biggest mistake of my 4 weeks at Bosco was how impossible it was for the boys to guess the correct letter to complete this word: DU__K. REALLY??? I could understand if we hadn’t been going over that animal for days, but good God. So never again did we play that game.  The rest of the week we spent going over clothing again; this time I created word searches and word scrambles. Yeah, probably a bit of an easy option, but those kids needed a lot of work on concentration and I think word searches are extremely effective in that regard. And I also love them. I accidentally included diagonal words in one of the puzzles, a bit beyond their capabilities, which was disastrous. But at least it left little time available for football, and less sweat=happy Matthew.

I started spending more and more time at Bosco this week, leaving right after lunch/second shower to spend more time with the kids before our evening class. One afternoon that week I entered the grounds and immediately noticed a strong odor permeating the entranceway. I decided to investigate, and to my horror I saw a couple boys covered in (hopefully) mud climbing down into the sewage area by the bathroom and scooping out what I really hope was not poop. I got closer up and heard some singing coming from down there, peered down into the smelly hole and found Sasara drawing pictures in the mud/poo, happier than I’ve ever seen him. It was honestly one of the most disturbing/comical things I’ve ever witnessed.

SO happy down there

SO happy down there

I can’t believe these kids are forced to go down there and do the poop cleaning, but at least they didn’t seem to agree about how unfortunate that situation was. I felt really bad and decided to help Sasara carry the buckets out of the hole, resulting in me getting splattered a bit by whatever it is they were removing. This is just one of too many encounters with human waste this year; it’s the price of working with kids, I suppose.

I can't even

I can’t even

Another afternoon we were lucky enough to be able to attend Mass with the boys at the Bosco church. I like that I have only attended church outside America, and intend to keep it that way. The boys were super cute, as expected, especially Chamindu when he was dressed up in this ridiculous robe and led the procession.

Actually a little creepy

Actually a little creepy

This sunset

This sunset

We were making steady progress with the evening class; they seemed to finally understand the appropriate usage of articles and when not to use them. We decided to move on to other topics this week, quickly going over pronouns which they largely knew, thankfully, as well as question words. Which vs. What was a bit of a challenge, as was How vs. Why. Trying to teach the differences between and usages of verbs ending in “-ing” vs. “-ed” was equally difficult, but as always, we did the best we could. Hannah and I decided that we were going to give them an exam the following week, and you can imagine how excited they were by that prospect.

That Friday morning all the volunteers gathered at a tsunami camp to help paint the walls of a school, the monthly Projects Abroad “social.” I don’t know, I’ve had socials during my other trips with Projects Abroad, and those were basically excuses for everyone to go out once a week and spend a night drinking and having fun. But I suppose some community service is alright too. Unfortunately, the location was the furthest away for us, forcing the three of us to leave the house at 4:30 AM to catch a 3 hour train from Negombo to Panadura. The thought of traveling a few hours south when after we finished the social we would be traveling a few hours back north for our weekend trip left me feeling a bit displeased, but it is what it is.

The 10 or so of us gathered at the location eager to get this finished as soon as possible. The last time I painted was during a similar group community service activity in Ghana, so I felt like I was a wall-painting expert at that point. This was proven to be a little far from the truth when within about 2 minutes of painting my wall I splattered a girl in the face; I would’ve felt a little worse if this was Hannah or Bev, but…let’s just say I didn’t let myself feel too bad about that unfortunate event. Luckily I managed to further incidents and after two hours of painting, I’d say my yellow wall was about as close to a masterpiece anything can reach.

My wall!

My wall!

Not sure why I'm not looking into the camera here

Not sure why I’m not looking into the camera here

We were finally off to Anuradhapura, just a short 7 hour bus ride away!! This “magical city” makes up the most important part of Sri Lanka’s “Cultural Triangle”, littered with countless monasteries and dagobas that have remained in place for over 1000 years. We were lucky enough to be arriving on poya day, or full moon, an extremely significant day in Buddhism marked by pilgrimages and festivals.

Honestly, we visited so many temples, ruins, and dagobas that they have all since blended together. I’ll do my best to give names to some of the places I saw, with the help of my guidebook, but don’t hold it against me if I end up describing the complete wrong place. I’ll get off to a good start by saying I have no idea what this place is called, just that it had to have some kind of importance since the President’s son flew in via helicopter to visit it while we were wandering around the grounds.

No clue what this place is called.

No clue what this place is called.

Next we visited The Citadel, the royal palace area, featuring moats and walls enclosing the remains of the Royal Palace, which dates to 1070 AD. This area also features the site of the original Temple of the Tooth, the Tooth’s first home when it was brought to the island in 313 AD. Also, there are temple puppies here.

Palace ruins?

Palace ruins?

Temple Pups!

Temple Pups!

Thought this might have been a door. But nope! Ancient toilet!

Thought this might have been a door. But nope! Ancient toilet!

Lankaramaya (maybe), a dagoba built between 89-77 BC.DSCN3731

This restored dagobaDSCN3749

The child monks!

The child monks!

Jetavana dagoba: originally 120m high and the third tallest structure in the world, surpassed only by two pyramids in Egypt. Today it is still the tallest and largest structure made entirely of brick, taking 25 years to build and containing 90 million bricks.

My favorite dagoba

My favorite dagoba

Monkeys on the dagoba!

Monkeys on the dagoba!

Samadhi Buddha: carved from limestone in the 4th century AD, this sculpture shows the Buddha in his meditation pose. Hundreds of people crowded this area to pray.DSCN3783

One of Anuradhapura’s “tanks”, man-made lakes created for irrigation purposes, the first dating all the way back to 20 BC.DSCN3736

Sri Maha Bodhi: Probably the highlight of our weekend, this is the Sacred Bo Tree. This tree was apparently taken from a cutting of the original bo tree in India, under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. The cutting was taken to Sri Lanka, and cuttings from this tree now litter the island and other places of Buddhist significance.DSCN3801

Truth time, this wasn’t really my favorite weekend trip; it was just dagoba after dagoba, ruins after ruins, and clearly I couldn’t be bothered enough to mark down the names of each. Being there during poya was definitely a benefit, as was seeing the bo tree, but in the back of my mind I was already looking ahead to the following week when I’d finally be going to the beach. After 4 weeks of constant running around and work, I guess I just wanted a break. My mental/emotional state was clearly more fragile than I ever imagined, a revelation discovered while dining in Colombo on our way back home. We stopped off at this place called Dutch Hospital, filled with expensive, Western restaurants and shops, just to treat ourselves after a hectic 3 days. A couple people ordered orange juice, and when it arrived on the table I was hit by the dreaded “instant tears.” Tears over orange juice. Really, there isn’t much that’s more pathetic than that. Besides this brief attack of psychosis, that really was the best meal I had while away. Bless Bev for giving me a piece of her feta cheese.

I calmed down enough to drink this

I calmed down enough to drink this

Excerpts from Matthew’s Journal:

  • I dreamed I sat next to Ellen and Portia at a Celine Dion concert. Ellen asked me if I’m Australian because I was so excited to be next to them. I replied with, “No, I just love you” (June 10)
  • “NO. MORE. RICE.” (June 10)
  • “The cat scratched me so I’ll likely perish soon. OH WELL” (June 11)”
  • “We spent over 11 hours at Bosco today. Good Lord. That’s some Beacon House shit.” (June 13)
  • “We went to a tea factory, but I was too tired to give a shit.” (June 15)
  • “Lord have mercy. Want to die.” (June 16, after Adam’s Peak)
  • “My legs. Oh my God. My thighs. Why am I not dead?” (June 17)
  • “How is it that not everyone is taught that Australia isn’t a continent? Wikipedia will provide the truth.” (June 17)
  • “My legs are still paining. Can I just cut them off?” (June 18)
  • “NO. MORE. SPRINGROLLS. PLEASE!!!” (June 18)

    Absolute Hell

    Absolute Hell

  • “NO. MORE. RICE. HELP ME JESUS!” (June 19)
  • “Leave me alone travel, I just want sleep.” (June 20)
  • “And she came with a suitcase. That’s a travel no no, honey.” (June 21)
  • “There’s something not right with that one. Some kind of evil brews inside her.” (June 22)
  • “Bought Herma a little dress. Bitch better like it/not spill rice and curry all over it” (June 22)

“But They’re Sri Lankan Bunnies!” Weeks 1 and 2

Hello everyone! I’ve been home for about 2 weeks now, and I’m sure 2-3 some of you have wondered why there has been this delay in posting stories of my Sri Lankan travels, and…I guess I don’t really have a real excuse for it. Uploading my pictures was a long ordeal that isn’t worth explaining; there were over 800 pictures and videos to look through, and I’m really not sure how I managed to take so many. Giving my camera to the kids a couple times probably contributed to the excess, and I suppose there were some really fantastic moments worth capturing. 40% of the pictures alone may just be of the various monkey species I encountered, which…you will thank me for later.

Anyway, I think the main reason for the delay has been my reluctance to dive into recounting my time away; sifting through 6 weeks of memories is not particularly easy, and I’ve been unsure as to how to go about it. In Ghana I posted every week, when the stories and feelings were still fresh, so even with my journal and guidebook by my side, placing myself back into moments that happened in late May and early June is going to be difficult, but we’ll see what happens. To spare myself time and because I want to finally get these pictures uploaded on here, I will divide each entry into 2-week accounts, with some days featured more than others. So bear with me, and I’ll understand if I lose you before the end.

Weeks One and Two: May 26-June 9

I’ll start by first saying that Sri Lanka is a small island off the southern tip of India, and is not, in fact, a part of India at all (I’m looking at you, mother). My father, sister, and best friend had no idea I was traveling to an island, so…just in case anyone else experienced confusion over where I was, hope this helped!

"I want to get a sense of what India is like"

“I want to get a sense of what India is like”

Traveling from New York to Sri Lanka takes a long time, and often involves flying through and missing an entire day. Who knew? Thanks to that pesky 9.5 hour time difference, I left on a Sunday night and didn’t arrive until that Tuesday morning. My first flight took me to Abu Dhabi, an over 13 hour experience that was spent largely sleeping, watching Once, and enjoying my first dabble with Rice and Curry. Little did I know (I kind of did) that for the next 6 weeks, there wouldn’t be much else consumed, save for the occasional springroll (there will be much to say about that delicacy), and the constant sugar bread thrown at us for breakfast. I downed some McDonalds while waiting for my 5 hour flight to Colombo (a problem, I know), and at this point I was just proud of myself for making it so far without experiencing fear-induced nausea.  My new hypothesis is that the farther away I get from home, the more calm I naturally become, cancelling out any anxiety I may feel about what comes next.

I finally made it to Colombo by around 4:30 AM, and was greeted by a cheerful member of the Projects Abroad staff who probably despised me/his life for having to pick up silly Americans at such a ridiculous hour.  I got myself some Rupees (getting to say I possessed that currency always made me giggle), picked up a sim card for my dusted-off Ghana phone, and walked out of the airport ready to commence my Sri Lankan adventure.

SOHOTSOHUMIDOHMYGODITHINKIMDYINGHELPMEHELPMEHELPME

I thought nothing would ever be as bad as Ghana’s heat, but…my body quickly went into panic mode, and probably tried getting me to turn around and hop on a plane back to America by reducing me to a sweaty disaster at a caliber not seen probably by anyone ever in history.

The Jesus shrine across the street from my house

The Jesus shrine across the street from my house

So things were going pretty well, I’d say. The drive to my host family’s house took about 25 minutes, allowing me to catch a small glimpse of my new environment. Paved roads! No goats! Strange Jesus shrines on every block! My quick, highly credible/intelligent assessment was that Sri Lanka’s development was a bit farther along than Ghana’s just for the fact that roads were paved and people weren’t pooping in the gutters.

By around 7:00 AM I had finally arrived to my home for 6 weeks, the household of Macmilan (Mac) and Paulita Jayamannah (may or may not have spelled everything there wrong). They live literally feet from the beach in the town of Kepungoda, Pamunugama, around 20km north of Colombo on the west coast, featuring a post office, a Church, and a bus station. Anything anyone could ever need, really. I spoke with Mac for a few minutes before I settled into my room, and here’s a breakdown of what was discussed/of what occurred:

    • Mr. Herman

      Mr. Herman

      Mac’s first question to me was whether or not I have a girlfriend. After I told him no, he told me that the girl volunteer also staying there who I hadn’t met yet could become that. Oh thank God!

    • He saw my tattoo and smacked my face, not hard, just kind of like a love tap.
    • At one point he grabbed my right boob.
    • He asked me my name, then asked if I was Catholic based off it. I actually told the truth this time, learning from my Ghana mistakes. But then he laughed and said, “I could tell by your nose.” He then expressed surprise when I said I eat pork and commented on how clever Jews are. Hooray for Jewish stereotypes!
    • Mr. Herman: This was a Dutch philanthropist who lived and worked with Mac for years before he tragically passed away in 2012. It took about 5 minutes for him to show me his fully-preserved bedroom and one of the plentiful pictures of him scattered throughout the house. More on him later.

I was brought over to meet my new English girlfriend/roommate, Hannah, who actually lived in the house directly behind mine, where my host parents’ son lives with his wife and baby daughter, Herma (as in…Herman). We spoke for a few minutes before she left for her first day of work at Bosco Sevana (she had arrived a few days before me). I don’t remember what exactly was discussed in that first conversation, but I surprised myself by how much effort I put into getting to know someone. Maybe I’m not a complete impotent human being after all! Or maybe the fact that she’s from England made her appeal instantly surpass the high levels required for me to care about asking questions. The two of us bonded over our interest in crappy reality TV, Adele, food, sarcasm, and talking about people behind their back. Sure, we may have disagreed on what the correct word is for things that shouldn’t have different words (underwear vs. pants, pants vs. trousers, rubber vs. eraser, tank vs. vest, rubbish vs. trash, plaster vs. band-aid, eggplant vs. aubergine, etc.), and she may have never heard of tacos and had the audacity to claim that her bagels/pizza were better than New York’s, but we somehow managed to overcome these obstacles and become friends! A shocking development for me, really. Anyway, more will be said of this wonderful lady (and everyone else worth mentioning) throughout the course of my accounts.

The lagoon!

The lagoon!

After sleeping for the entire day, Hannah took me to see the beach, which basically doubles as a trash pit. But at least there are pigs roaming around and there are beautiful views of the sunset. Our host mother led us to a lagoon about 5 minutes from home; as we were staring into the water, we were approached first by a cow (who would eventually attack multiple people), and then by some random fisherman who had us go for a ride with him. Probably not the safest thing to do on my first day, but Paulita didn’t object and that’s enough for me.We made it back for my first attempt at eating with my hands (right hand only, of course). Eating rice with my hands sounded simple enough, but when there is literally a mountain of it, steaming hot and topped with various curries and meats, things quickly deteriorated. Rice dribbled down my face and possibly my shirt. Mac was laughing at me and telling me to “watch how Hannah does it”, as if she was some hand-eating aficionado.  I wish I could say I improved over time, but…nope. Always a mess. Always rice.

Portion sizes were always a problem

Portion sizes were always a problem

Oh! There’s also a puppy living at home, a German Shepherd I named Fido. He is absolutely insane, and will likely be a danger to Herma in the next few months

Look how cute/psycho!

Look how cute/psychotic!

The next morning a member of the Projects Abroad staff came to take me to Bosco Sevana for the first time, just to show me how to get there and to introduce me to the Fathers, Brothers, and kids. After I made myself sound cooler than I am by telling her it was my third time with PA, we set off on my first encounter with Sri Lankan public transportation. To get there, you need to take 2 buses, the first one leaving just across the street from the house. There is the 273 to Bopitiya, which takes between 12-15 minutes and costs 16 Rupees ($0.12), and the 275 Colombo-bound bus that drops you off after about 10 minutes at Bosco, costing 10 Rupees ($0.08). So…travel was always costly. Once in a while if it was too hot (always) or we couldn’t be bothered waiting the potential 30+ minutes for a bus, we would splurge on a tuk tuk (taxi) for a steep $2.25, or tortured ourselves by walking halfway.

A typical bus crowd

A typical bus crowd

So despite the roughly 25 minutes of travel time, getting to work could take up to an hour depending on how long you wait for the bus to either come or to leave the station. But at this point in my life, sitting around waiting for things to happen is something I’ve mastered. I thought Ghanaian transportation was wild, but these buses are at a hectic level I had never experienced before. If you’re lucky you get a seat, just not in the front where seats are reserved for male/female clergy (female clergy? Don’t think that existed), “Pregnant ladies”, the elderly, or “disabled persons.” Obviously that rule was ignored constantly, because standing on those buses is not ideal. You’re either standing with the buses not very crowded and you fly up and down the aisle, or you’re standing in a packed bus and worry about sweating on everyone around you.  Traffic laws aren’t really a thing that exists there, so these buses are careening down roads at unadvisable speeds and take on way more people than recommended. There was at least 2 times that I was forced to stand on the stairs with the door open, which was honestly fantastic, but probably not the safest option. Oh, and sometimes we are blessed by the presence of renowned local entertainers who come aboard to dazzle us with their impressive tambourine playing and singing and demand our money.

The beach at Bosco Sevana

The beach at Bosco Sevana

When arriving at Bosco I was first taken aback by the fact that the place is literally on the beach, one that’s completely deserted and actually clean! The rest of Bosco isn’t that exciting to detail; there are 2 large buildings filled with classrooms, dormitories, a dining hall, a Church (naturally),  and…a zoo. Besides the numerous dogs that roam the sand and halls (Simba, Nala, and their babies), there are parrots, rat-eating turtles, and a porcupine named Kitty. I don’t know how I feel about Kitty. There are times when I looked at him (her? It.) and thought it was adorable with its tiny little legs and buck teeth, but when those spikes were raised and you can see the exposed pink skin, I wanted to puke. I also wasn’t too sure how dangerous those spikes were (can they be shot from their bodies?), so feeding it biscuits was always an ordeal. I was horrified when I saw that the kids just went in the little compound Kitty lived in to clean it and even pet him/her! I guess Kitty has been properly domesticated, but…yikes. Oh, there are also pigs there which I didn’t know until my last day.

Bosco's entrance

Bosco’s entrance

Before sitting in on the first class I would be teaching with Hannah, I met some of the kids who attend school there. I first believed that Bosco Sevana was just an orphanage and care center and didn’t expect to be doing any teaching, since, you know, I have zero qualifications for that. But it’s a fully functional school, attended by kids who live there full time and who can’t attend regular schools because of learning difficulties, kids who live at home but other schools won’t take them, and by those living nearby who want to take extra classes to improve English. There are only 8-10 kids who stay behind for school at Bosco (there was some variation as random kids weren’t able to go to school certain days because they lacked the correct shoes, or something like that), so that at least made the prospect of leading the classes less overwhelming. In total there are about 40-50 boys who live at Bosco Sevana, ranging from around 10-20 years old. Anyway, before I could even tell them my name, they latched onto my tattooed arm and ogled it; seriously, everywhere I went, fascination over my strange “butterfly” (I guess I can see the resemblance) tattoo followed.

I sat in as Hannah taught the first class of the day, these three 24-25 year old women who work at Bosco either as teachers or as an accountant and who wanted to practice their spoken English. Every day we mostly came up with various topics and questions to ask them, which turned out to be a fun way for us to learn about Sri Lanka while also being somewhat useful. We would have them talk for as long as they could about things like what their daily routines are, what they love to do on the weekend, childhood memories, likes/dislikes, etc. We literally discussed every possible thing minus sex, stooping to desperately low levels towards the end by asking what they’d want to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island, or what one thing they’d save from their burning house. But on this first day, they were asked to talk about what their perfect day would be like, and I was forced to stand up and give my own example. Public speaking surprisingly isn’t something I excel at, so I ended up making up some sad scenario where I’d be lounging on a beach in Greece with my dog while beautiful people brought me food. It was rough, but I survived, and somehow managed to pull myself together for the most part and be a decent co-teacher. Maybe.

Hannah and I decided to see how much the boys knew by testing them on the alphabet. After introducing myself and struggling to remember/pronounce any of the names of the boys in attendance on my first day (Chamindu, Samo, Rauhl, Kasun, Anton, Jude), we learned that they do all know the order of the alphabet. But since only about 2 of the kids could speak any English words at all, getting them to list out words with each letter of the alphabet proved to be an obstacle. And even if they knew a word, spelling was out of the question. It didn’t help that their attention spans were about as developed as expected from young boys, and all they wanted to do was play football or cricket. On this first day I basically resigned myself to understanding that we probably wouldn’t make much progress with them, and that we’d need to celebrate any small achievement.

The original plan for that weekend was to just go to Colombo and this other town nearby called Negombo just to take things easy for our first weekend and to explore our area. But we received a text by another volunteer inviting us on their trip to Yala National Park and decided it would be better to do that, to meet everyone else and, I guess, because there are elephants and leopards supposedly all over that place. It was cute how they were concerned about me being the only boy traveling with 5 girls and how I’d have to share a room with them. Not a problem, ladies. Boys are dumb.

We left that Friday morning after our first class with the girls at 10:30, a morning that conveniently featured my first Sri Lankan monsoon. It was easily the heaviest rain I ever experienced, but I didn’t care at all because at least it was a little cooler out. I started to care a little later once our trip to Colombo started pushing 2 hours (those damned flooded roads) since we had a deadline for when we were supposed to meet up everyone. Considering the distance we had to travel (Yala is on the Southeastern coast), leaving earlier would’ve been a bit more intelligent, but…we were noobies. It didn’t help that the travel plans kept changing (a train ride was originally supposed to happen), and Hannah and I had no idea where we were going/what we were doing. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the greatest “first trip” idea, but I figured that after Ghana, any kind of travel would be relatively less unbearable.

I can’t remember how many buses we took (Bosco–>Colombo–>Panadura–>Matara–>Kataragama–>tuk tuk ride?) or what city we met up with everyone in, but I do know that this whole travel ordeal took around 12 hours. Welcome to Sri Lanka! I wish I could say that this was the worst day of traveling I’ve experienced, but nothing will likely ever rival the 21 hour Hell that was traveling to northern Ghana. Honestly I think it was a good thing being thrust right into long-distance travel; we figured that at least we wouldn’t have to deal with anything as bad as that day, which we were right about. And all those hours on the bus allowed me to start to get to know everyone I was with: Barbora from London, who I wish I got to spend more than 1 weekend traveling with; Karoline from Denmark, Hala from Lebanon/Canada, who’s super lucky and traveled to Thailand and Cambodia after Sri Lanka; Charlotte, this wonderful girl from Manchester with possibly the greatest accent I’ve encountered; and Bev from Australia, probably the coolest woman I’ve ever met. When I’m 48 and if I have kids, I hope I’m lucky enough to be able to still be going on adventures like she’s been able to. After arriving close to 11 PM, all we wanted to do was hobble to our rooms, after crowding together to use the Wi-Fi, of course.

My blonde posse wandering Kataragama

My blonde posse wandering Kataragama

The next morning before our afternoon safari, we traveled to Kataragama, described as “one of the three most venerated religious sites in Sri Lanka”, a site important to Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. The town itself, named after a deity important to both Hindus and Buddhists, is small and quiet since there wasn’t a festival going on at the time, but it was nice being there when it wasn’t flooded with a lot of tourists. As my guidebook says, “it was a welcome alternative to the dusty mayhem that usually passes for urban life in Sri Lanka.” Well said. There were stalls filled with beautifully arranged fruit scattered around, but apparently those were only allowed for Buddha. Damn him.

The fruit offerings

The fruit offerings

We entered the Sacred Precinct, filled with various shrines devoted to the mentioned religions, and made our way to Maha Devale, a complex decorated with elephant and peacock statues, containing both Hindu and Buddhist relics and shrines, one of which represents Kataragama, and another, the Buddha. Close to the complex are stones surrounded by railings, where visitors come to smash coconuts that have been set on fire as offerings to Kataragama.

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Coconut offerings

Coconut offerings

But really, the most important aspect of Kataragama is that it is inundated with langur monkeys.

Nom

Nom

I like this monkey's basketball shape

I like this monkey’s basketball shape

My favorite monkey of all

My favorite monkey of all

We returned to the guesthouse, eager to start our 6 hour safari through “Sri Lanka’s most rewarding wildlife reserve”.  But really, I was ready to see some damn elephants again after the disappointment I experienced in Mole National Park. Things were going well, hopes were high during the 40 or so minutes it took to enter the park.  Early on we saw some wild boar and some water buffalo, leaving us hopeful that it was a sign of good things to come. We even saw a peacock, so we paused to admire its beauty for a while. I mean, they’re pretty amazing birds to see up close, so we figured it would be worth the pause.

This mouth

This mouth

The first of many peacock sightings

The first of many peacock sightings

And then…what? What was that? Is that…No…Is that rain? Okay, okay, it’s Sri Lanka during the rainy season. It rains all the time, right? And usually for just a few minutes and then the sun magically reappears again as if the past 20 minutes of torrential downpours never happened! So we didn’t let ourselves become discouraged; this was a 6 hour safari after all, so the weather couldn’t possibly be awful the entire time. Sure, we were in a truck that had no windows, and tying down the attached tarps to mitigate the rain assault may completely obscure our views and eliminate any chance of seeing anything, but it was just a small passing storm, right?

WRONG. It lasted a long time. There were a few momentary breaks which tricked us into believing the worst was over, but usually that was accompanied by rainfall at even greater velocities moments later. At least we all were able to share this one small towel! We were all left with fairly wet bums by the time the rain finally subsided, but at least we managed to mix in some laughs about the situation in between our mutual weather scorning. To make matters worse, even though the weather eventually cleared up, we were told that animal sightings would be hampered. We began to question the intelligence of choosing the 6-hour option.

The day wasn’t a complete washout, however. We were fortunate enough to see some pretty damn fascinating wildlife:

Wild dog

Wild dog

These deer

These deer

This bunny

This bunny

Luckily for all of our sanities, we were blessed by the presence of a couple elephants, my first time seeing one in the wild in 2 years. It was wonderful being with everyone else as they experienced their first elephant encounter, bringing back memories of my own; the awe doesn’t really diminish over time, no matter how many times I saw them up close in the past.

Hey buddy!

Hey buddy!

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And look at these fantastic birds!!

These pelicans

These pelicans

This guy

This guy

Pretty one!

Pretty one!

A Toucan!

A Toucan!

I think some people were disappointed that after 12 hours of traveling, all we saw were a few elephants and no leopards at all. I don’t know, I think it was worth it. There were a lot of laughs, friendships were formed (a pretty commendable accomplishment for me), and at least we got to eat the first of many chicken and “chips” dinners! Honestly though, the amount Hannah and I looked forward to our weekends just so we’d be able to eat non-rice and curry meals and to be able to use cutlery was ridiculous.

Group picture! From left: Hala, me, Charlotte, Barbora, Karoline, Hannah, Bev

Group picture! From left: Hala, me, Charlotte, Barbora, Karoline, Hannah, Bev

Things began on a potential high note during my second week when my host family believed they had won the lottery. As soon as I heard the words, “We received an email…”, I began to feel a little skeptical, but they were so damn excited so I kept my mouth shut, just in case something miraculous really had happened. Anyway, basically the entire family had us go to the computer to explain what the email said and what they’d have to do to claim their winnings (millions of rupees were involved, I think). The email, sent by “The Shell Lottery Program”, wanted bank information and other personal details that were definitely a trap, and luckily Hannah was the one who was mostly dealing with all this. She called the number provided and ended up talking to some Nigerian man. Womp. Sorry, host family. Y’all have been scammed! So much disappointment.

This week Hannah and I had to travel to Colombo and visit the Project’s Abroad office to extend our visas. We were told this could take a while, which, you know, is pretty obvious at this point. But at least there was air conditioning and a book to read! Really, it was basically like sitting at the DMV, or like any of the other times I’ve sat and done nothing while waiting for something to happen throughout this past year. Only this time, after the 5 hours of waiting, I had to give up $100 (so many rupees!) by virtue of being American, compared to the Europeans who pay closer to $30-50. The Hell is that nonsense.  But it’s okay, I had some nice conversations to pass the time. I debated in depth the following questions: “Is Georgia like California?” and “Is Georgia like a small village?”

The other non work-related event of the week was the arrival to our home of Oliver, a well-traveled 38 year old computer technician from Hamburg, Germany. He and his self-described “magic fingers” was a welcome addition to our lonely house(s), even if it meant having to share a room. He’ll definitely come up again fairly soon (preview: the teaching clothing fiasco).

At work, our spoken-English class with the girls was going strong. Have I mentioned how strange it was to be teaching people older than me? I’m not exactly used to giving people direction; I’ve always shied away from leadership positions, always preferring to be delegated to, not to be the delegator.  So to be listened to, to have my ideas and lessons really absorbed, it was a completely new experience. I like to think that I rose to the occasion, that I took on my role as a “teacher” as seriously as I could. That being said, by the end of that second week, Hannah and I were struggling with coming up with new topics to discuss with the girls.  This week’s topics included: embarrassing memories (I obviously spoke for a while), what time period they’d travel back to, holidays, and religion. When I was asked at the end of the week what the differences were between Christianity and Judaism, I knew we’d be in trouble in the coming weeks.

With the boys it was more of the alphabet, struggling with coming up with ways to make it more fun. That proved to be fairly impossible, so we ended up finishing our lessons early that week and gave them more time to play. Playing soccer football on the beach sounds like an amazing time, and it was, but…these kids are so damn competitive, and kicking the ball barefoot and on sand usually resulted in me kicking the ground and bruising my toes. Oh. And it was SO HOT. So sweaty. So filthy. So disgusting.

Alright, I guess I should introduce some of the kids:

Chamindu: This (questionable) 15 year old is an adequate football player, but is the undisputed cricket “champion”.  While his vocabulary may have been limited to “yes”, “no”, and “champion”, I feel like we managed to understand each other pretty well. He has one of the best smiles, and is one of the hardest workers. There were rumors that he likes to steal, but…I really just can’t imagine. He’s just too cute for theft.

Hannah and Chamindu

Hannah and Chamindu

Rauhl: One of my early-on favorites mainly because he tried the hardest in class. He (and everyone else) is obsessed with Ben 10, which is apparently a cartoon, and often mixes up his letters, creating ways of spelling words I never would have imagined. There was this one time I may have contributed to injuring his foot while playing football, resulting in him being out from class for a week, but that can’t be confirmed.

Me and Rauhl

Me and Rauhl

Kasun: A demon. But really, there were times when he worked so hard, and other times when he just sat there and threw hissy fits. His laugh was particularly hilarious, but he also enjoyed sometimes tossing dirt at me. So…demon.

Demon

Demon

Jude: I don’t even know where to start with this kid. First, there’s his height and age; he says he’s 14, but if you look at him and saw how impossibly tiny he is, you’d think he was 8 or 9. He makes up for his small stature by having the biggest personality and by being the most competitive. When he’s not showing off on the football field (he really is the Bosco football champion), you can find him dancing around to Gangnam Style. Really, thanks for choosing the literal worst song to use for your victory dances. He needs to have his way at all times, and when that doesn’t happen he often just sulks off to the beach and refuses to play. He releases frustration by doing backflips and break-dancing. Despite the amount of times I wanted to pick him up and punt him for his lack of humility, he is one of the kids Hannah and I were closest to.  He’ll be mentioned a lot as well.

Typical pose

Typical pose

This week we also started our evening class with 7-10 boys (and 1 girl!) who either live at Bosco or live close by and want to improve their English grammar. This was probably the hardest and most rewarding class we taught. It was hard because we had to teach grammar rules to people our age (again, so strange!) when we had never really learned the rules ourselves (thanks, America!) and had no idea how to explain them. Even our first topic, articles (the, a, an, some, no article) required extensive internet research on how to explain the differences (already forgot them). We only had one class with them that week, and we just gave them a diagnostic worksheet to see how much they knew about articles on their own (spoiler alert: not much). This class required the most effort, the most planning on our own time. It was the one class that I felt like a real teacher, and the class I was proudest of being a part of.

For our second weekend, we traveled inland to visit Dambulla and Sigiriya, parts of the “Cultural Triangle” where Sinhalese civilization began, and Sri Lanka’s most important historic region. It took only 5 hours to reach Dambulla, where we were picked up in a safari car, cause that’s just how you travel with Projects Abroad. This new American girl, Rachel (another blonde!), met up with us there; I now had somebody on my side when arguing whose word for something (mine vs. the Brits vs. Australia) was less ridiculous.

typical transport

typical transport

The next morning we traveled around Dambulla, home to rock cave temples filled with Buddhist art, statues, and murals. Oh, and most importantly, the monkeys. Even more than the previous weekend! And even cuter.

LOOK AT THEM

LOOK AT THEM

THERE'S A BABY

THERE’S A BABY

LOOK

LOOK

One more

One more (try to avoid looking. You couldn’t? Me neither.)

We visited the five or so Dambulla cave temples located over 300 feet above the town, offering beautiful views of the mountainous countryside and plains. At the base of the steps leading to the temples is the Golden Temple, depicting a 30 meter Buddha statue. They claim it’s the largest Buddha statue in the world, which is apparently a blatant lie (I love that). It’s not even the largest in Sri Lanka.

The perjury

The perjury

Dambulla views

Dambulla views

Each cave was filled to the rim with often dozens of Buddha statues, many of which were meters long, either reclining or sitting. Murals covered the ceilings and walls, depicting, shockingly, more Buddhas (and gardens, elephants, etc.).DSCN3452

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ceiling mural

ceiling mural

DSCN3432DSCN3441Our next stop was Sigirya, 15km northeast of Dambulla, home to a massive citadel sprawled over a giant chunk of gneiss rock, 200m above the surrounding flat countryside. This medieval capital is now a World Heritage Site and is Sri Lanka’s most coveted attraction. Sigirya was first used as a religious retreat for Buddhist monks during the 3rd century BC, and rose to prominence during the 5th century AD as the site of King Kassapa’s residence (until he killed himself).

Our excitement to climb Sigiriya Rock plummeted once we learned how much it would cost to visit it as a tourist: Rs 3750, compared to Rs 60 for locals, equivalent to $28.50 for us, and $0.46 for Sri Lankans. I agreed with everyone else that it was a ridiculous, outrageous price difference. I understand charging foreigners more than locals, but that’s completely unreasonable. We tried arguing that since we were volunteers, that we were working there and donating our time for free, we should be charged the local price or at least be given a discount. But nope! In the end we ended up splitting up, with 4 of us (myself included) choosing to visit the rock despite the wallet pillaging involved.

Our mutual reaction to the money scandal

Leading up to the Rock are the Water and Boulder Gardens dating from before and during King Kassapa’s era. The Boulder Gardens were fairly interesting, with some centuries-old paintings still visible and caves shaped liked cobra heads.DSCN3466

Cobra?

Cobra?

It was finally time to climb up the Rock, a feat that seemed pretty impossible at first glance as we approached it.  It really was enormous, and there didn’t seem to be any visible method of getting up there.  Obviously I was starting to be concerned, but luckily it looked like it wouldn’t be anything more difficult than climbing precarious-looking stairs all the way to the top. So things could have been much worse. The only issue was the wind, blasting 60-70mph+ at our faces and making my already-wobbly legs more unwilling to be mobile.

Sigiriya Rock

Sigiriya Rock

Before reaching the top we climbed up this 19th century spiral staircase attached to the rock (absolute terror) to visit the Sigiriya Damsels, Sri Lanka’s most famous wall-paintings of “busty beauties”, painted during the 5th century. Nobody’s really sure what their significance is outside of being just some nude nymphs who happen to like flowers and fruits.

the staircase

the staircase

These pesky damsels

These pesky damsels

DSCN3484Towards the end of our steep ascent we reached the Lion Platform, where two massive paws are all that remain of a giant lion statue, the main symbol of Sinhalese royalty. There were also puppies here. We finally made it to the summit after only about an hour of climbing, and unfortunately not much of Kassap’s Royal Palace remains to be seen. The views of the surrounding countryside made everything worth it, and was easily the most beautiful site I had during my trip.

Lion's foot

Lion’s foot

Sigiriya Rock view

Sigiriya Rock view

The troopers: Hala, Bev, Me, Rachel

The troopers: Hala, Bev, Me, Rachel

We made our way back to Colombo the next morning, leaving our hotel in a fury after there was literally nobody there to serve us breakfast because they were at church. Typical Sri Lanka right there.  Once we made it to Colombo we traveled to Majestic City, which is a mall and not an actual city as I assumed. A few of us ended up going to Pizza Hut, a good indication that I was approaching the “halfway struggle.” But it was glorious, despite the self-hatred that followed.

Alright, that’s about it for now. I’ll have Part 2 completed hopefully very soon! I thought I’d end things with some journal quotes, which you’ll clearly notice is filled with the same level of eloquence seen here.

Excerpts from Matthew’s Journal:

  • “Welp…here we go again.” (May 27)
  • “IT’S SO HOT. IT’S SO HUMID. SWEAT. SWEAT EVERYWHERE. HELP ME!!” (May 28, after landing)
  • “Can’t remember the wife’s name. Juanita? That can’t be right…” (May 28)
  • “This. Weather. Will. Kill. Me.” (May 29)
  • And there’s a porcupine! What the Hell! Such a Botswana move” (May 29—there was a porcupine who came every night to eat our left overs when I was in Botswana)
  • We had a “Western” breakfast and it was definitely not at an IHOP level” (June 1)
  • “So wet everywhere, especially the butt” (June 1)
  • “Thanks, Ghana! No travel will ever be as miserable as your travel!” (June 2)
  • “Paulita handed me my underwear in front of Hannah” (June 4)
  • “So tired/hot always. Help me. 5 more weeks of this. HAHAHAHA” (June 4)
  • “Don’t flop, even it means Serena drags your wig across the clay that you’ll likely diarrhea on first “ (June 5, about wanting Maria Sharapova to reach the French Open final)
  • “If Oliver broke the fan in the bedroom I will poison his fucking curry” (June 5)
  • “Pretty sure my neck is diseased” (June 6)
  • This hotel is pure bliss. Wi-fi, beautiful chicken, AC, hot shower. There were even puppies who charged at us!” (June 7)
  • Got home just in time for second dinner! Really ready to puke, especially since ants were crawling all over it” (June 9)

Where’s Matthew? The Sri Lanka Edition

I’ve been home for about two weeks now, days largely spent experiencing the wonders of TLC: Long Island Medium, America’s Worst Tattoos, Breaking Amish, etc. There is so much beauty and so much brain rot involved, all of which has been the perfect remedy to recover from probably the worst semester I’ve had at college so far. Maybe transitioning back to school in Washington, D.C. after my semester in Ghana was harder than I anticipated, or maybe I took on more than I was able to maintain. And for whatever reason, I struggled a lot with motivation, with generating the desire I’ve had for most of my life to succeed academically. I can’t blame this all on Ghana; yes, those were 4 of the best months I’ve had in my life, and the rigor of the University of Ghana’s workload is miniscule compared to GW’s, but…I don’t know. That can’t be an excuse for how apathetic and distracted I was these past months. Maybe I burnt myself out? Or maybe economics is just evil personified. Needless to say, despite my efforts in the end, which even involved my first all-nighter (hell), I effectively obliterated any progress I made with my GPA since my first semester at school. I believe I’ve hit that proverbial rock-bottom, and definitely won’t let this happen to me again. Hopefully.

So…I’m leaving for Sri Lanka tomorrow night. I don’t know how else to describe what I’m feeling without stating how completely nervous, and borderline terrified I am. You would think that after all these trips I’ve taken, this would be easier for me. I suppose everything seems easier when it’s months away, when it’s just an idea or some faraway date. And then all of a sudden it’s the day before you’re leaving and you realize how completely unprepared you are. I have a feeling I didn’t think this through, that I rushed into this trip; maybe my mother’s psychic was right (long sad story) and I am more careless or impulsive than I thought I was.

But what I’ve learned over the years and with all my trips is that anxiety is normal, probably healthy, when going off on your own to another country. And I know all this has to do with all the uncertainties and the fact that so much of what I’ll be doing is vague or completely unknown. But this is also where the excitement comes; so much of my life is structured and deliberate and planned ahead of time, and these trips provide a complete break from this lifestyle. Essentially, I’m just not an exciting person in any way, and these adventures push me to be more than just some no-fun blob.

There really is nothing I love more than visiting somewhere new and completely foreign to me. I’ve been really lucky to have been able to see so much of the world already at such a young age, to have parents (shout out to Irwin!) who allow me to do these crazy things on my own, even when I was just 17 years old. That’s when this all began, my first trip with Projects Abroad to Peru for 2 weeks, two weeks which felt like such a long time at that point. I’ve come a long way from that terrifying plane ride which featured the closest I came to a panic attack that I can remember. I mean, nobody in my family or really anybody I knew had done something like that, so it felt like a big deal. In a part of Long Island where going out of state to college constitutes a major journey, I’d say my experiences have been pretty…unique? My second trip with Projects Abroad at 19 is probably an experience that will remain unparalleled in terms of the “once in a lifetime” aura that surrounded it. To have lived in a wildlife reserve in Botswana where seeing elephants multiple times a day was the norm is something I wish I had appreciated more at the time. Every day was unique and every day felt like a priceless safari. Yes, I fell in a river this one time and may have ripped open my wrist falling down a tree, but…that’s to be expected at this point.

I wish I had detailed information about where I’ll be staying and what I’ll be doing these next 6 weeks. I’ll be living a few kilometers north of the capital, Colombo, with a host family, this married couple associated with some massive Sri Lankan charity. Obviously I’m a bit nervous about living in somebody’s home, but I think it’ll be good for me. There isn’t a better way to learn about a country than by living with people who’ve spent their entire lives there, something I was too apprehensive to do in Ghana. I may have one other volunteer there as well, but won’t know for sure until I show up at around 4:00 in the morning local time (sorry, host family/Projects Abroad transport team). In terms of what I’ll be doing, all I know is I’ll be working at this care center/orphanage for boys located right on the beach called Bosco Sevana (you can read a brief description of the place here.) I hope they don’t expect me to have all these lesson plans and ideas compiled, and really hope I’m not just thrust into some role I’m not prepared for.

But hey, I’ve mentioned before how life doesn’t really wait to see whether or not you’re ready for what it throws at you, and this will be no different. All I can do is hope I manage to adapt in ways that have been successful in the past. Patience is most important, and understanding that it won’t be easy in the beginning, or even at all. No amount of preparations can truly get you ready for experiences like this; you learn as you go, you figure out a routine that keeps your feet on the ground and your heart beating at normal rates.

I wish I could say I’ll be able to maintain this blog the way I was able to when I was in Ghana, but I don’t think that will be the case. I will likely not be bringing my laptop, so I’ll have to think of something once I’m there. I’m sure there will be internet cafes readily accessible, and maybe I can at least give short updates. Otherwise, once I’m home I’ll detail the trip in a few installments, maybe one per week that I was there. We’ll see.

Alright, well, I guess this is goodbye until July 9th!  Thank you again to everybody who has complimented my writing, and I hope you enjoy the likely ridiculous and/or amazing stories I’ll have to share either soon or when I return.

Turning 21: A Reflection

Always struggling with how to start these things, I suppose I’ll just start from where I left off. If you don’t remember, it the first weekend of Spring Break, the night before I left for California with my father. I was still experiencing a rare high of intense joy and astonishment that I was noticed by Natalie Maines which, in retrospect, probably isn’t that spectacular. But for those few moments I was filled with a glee that was numbing and foreign. Being noticed, man. It’s a beautiful thing.

(If you don’t care at all about my experiences watching tennis, skip about halfway down)

So off we went to Palm Springs, known to some of you cool kids for hosting Coachella, but is relevant to me for being the location of my favorite non-Grand Slam tennis tournament, Indian Wells. It would be my first time attending this tournament and provided a guaranteed opportunity for me to watch virtually every top tennis player in existence. But all that really mattered for me, the crazed borderline stalker that I am, was the chance to watch Maria Sharapova play in person, something I hadn’t done since 2010.

I plan on writing a more detailed post of the trip and providing a lot more pictures than will be posted here, so stay tuned, whoever’s interested in mediocre pictures of people you’ve probably never heard of!

Some might say that watching three scalding days of tennis all day and night and not doing much of anything else on a trip to California would be miserable, but those people are fools. It was seriously 3 of the best days I’ve had in a long time, a rare few days that I got to spend with my father whom I had only seen a handful of times since before leaving for Ghana. Being a smaller, more intimate tournament than the U.S. Open allowed me to be just feet away from people I had only been able to previously ogle from afar. Of course Maria Sharapova’s practices were held as far away from public access as possible (she is the Queen, after all), but I still managed to take plenty of creepy, zoomed-in pictures of her and other ladies practicing. Take, for example, Victoria Azarenka, a “lady” who had been the #1 player in the world for almost all of last year, before thankfully being dethroned by Serena Williams in February. This “woman” is an absolute disgrace to humanity for reasons I won’t get into here, but all you really need to know is that she cheats against teenagers, has convenient medical “ailments”, and is currently dating THIS GUY. No. Really. I’m not joking. See for yourself. DSCN2705

Anyway, the cretin unsurprisingly withdrew from the tournament and I was spared an opportunity of having to watch her play.

To get that rotten image out of your memory, here’s a picture of Maria I took practicing before her Round of 16 match.
RSCN2859

One day in particular had to be one of the greatest (and longest) tennis watching days I had ever experienced, featuring up and coming players choking away leads, top players flopping (I’m looking at you, Petra), and a probable once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to watch Maria Sharapova play just feet away from me. It all started earlier in the day session (early would turn into a relative word for that day) when some lady stood up and announced that she was selling a front-row Stadium 1 ticket for the night session. Knowing Maria was scheduled to play the first night match at 7:00PM, I basically begged my father to get that ticket for me, which he did. Just when I thought I was beginning to break from my past as a crazed, spoiled rotten douche, this happens. But at that moment I had no thoughts other than “HAHAHAHA MARIA HAHAH ❤ ❤ <3”. Yup. Definitely the sign of a healthy person. If you can’t tell, I was excited.DSCN2748

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As the day dragged on with one 2.5+ hour match after the other, I was beginning to have paranoid thoughts that her match would be moved to another court because it was getting so late. Finally, at around 10:00PM, she took to the court against Sara Errani, the girl she defeated to complete her Career Grand Slam at the French Open last year. Now, you don’t have to like vagina to recognize just how stunning this woman is. It’s completely different seeing her at times just 8 feet away. The intensity you see on TV is amplified at this proximity, and each calculated step she takes and each clenched fist and bitch-stare across the net was breathtaking. In essence, girl looked HAWT.  Oh. And she’s loud. Did you know that? I did. But holy God. It’s actually scary.

DSCN3023Anyway, I was settled in, excited to enjoy a fairly straightforward match against a woman who hadn’t given her much trouble in the past. WRONG. SO WRONG. It quickly turned into one of the most stressful experiences of my life when it became clear that things weren’t going to go as smoothly as I expected. Before I knew it, girl was just points away from losing the first set and I was quickly deteriorating into a state of mild psychosis. Really. It was bad. There were times during that 82 minute set (for non-tennis fans, sets generally don’t last longer than 45-50 minutes) when I was laughing maniacally at moments that were anything but comical, I sunk lower and lower into my seat (there was a lot of head shaking), and basically wondered why I ever thought it would have been a good idea to be this close during one of her matches. DSCN3033It’s like (kinda, sorta, not really) watching somebody you obsess care about suffer through a painful ordeal that you can’t do anything about, and all you want to do is escape and pretend that everything’s alright. You could feel the desperation emanating from this lady, and it was utterly exhausting. Somehow, after 2 hours, Maria pulled through that match just at the strike of midnight, ending things in a much less stressful manner.

So there I was, the moment I never dreamed would happen to me, the moment I would finally get Maria Sharapova’s autograph. By that time the stadium was virtually empty, and I managed to get a spot above the doors leading to the locker room without having to toss any child aside (I would have). I couldn’t believe how serendipitous it was that I was in possession of a U.S. Open 2006 hat, representing the year she won that tournament in a brilliant display at just 19. And wearing this perfect dress. As she approached, I had one of those cheesy/I didn’t believe actually happen moments when everything slowed down, sounds became muffled, and all that mattered was that one of my idols was just inches away from me and my waving hand. She was right beneath me, signing balls and hats directly next to me, and then….

And then the bitch was gone. Snubbed. Ignored completely. Absolute devastation. I’m pretty sure I had never felt more humiliated in my life, and that’s saying something. For the first time I think I understood what it felt like to be rejected, which says things about me that probably aren’t too pleasant. It was basically the first time I really put myself out there, made my feelings and intentions clear (can’t be more clear than shouting her name in crazed desperation while waving a hat in her face), and…just mortifying. We sat through Novak Djokovic’s match that didn’t finish until after 2:00AM, and by that time you could basically count how many people were left in the stands. I figured that he would surely sign an autograph for everyone left, and waited patiently as he signed something for everyone around me. And what do ya know? More rejection! Because the night just wasn’t jocular enough for me. So after a 15 hour day of watching tennis, we sulked back to the hotel empty-handed and cranky.

I should have known that my life wouldn’t take a break from being absolutely ridiculous. The next night, after a disappointing match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal ended with Roger and his injured back promptly being shown the door, I settled in for my final match at Indian Wells that featured the Bryan Brothers, the greatest doubles team to ever play the game. I don’t care much for doubles, but they were entertaining, and I always have a soft-spot for veteran players who have earned respect. They won after saving a match point, and began the tradition of signing tennis balls and launching them into the stands for a few lucky fans to claw each other’s faces off over. One of the twins was facing our direction (we were sitting almost as high up as you can get), and something shocking happened. Astonishingly channeling my 7-10 year old self who had despised played baseball, I calmly stuck out my left hand, and before I knew it, I was looking down at an autographed tennis ball from these legendary men.

photoSo ridiculous. Apparently being 2 feet away from the player isn’t enough to get an autograph, but being dozens of feet away gets a ball launched right into my outstretched hand. I was stunned into a bewildered stupor; Me? I caught a ball? With one hand? I possess that kind of capability?! My father probably hadn’t felt that much pride in me since I had made the game-winning hit in a baseball game when I was approximately 9 years old.  Sorry, dad. But at least I make good decisions 95% of the time! It’s a trade-off. So, the trip ended on a lovely high-note (even higher after Maria won the tournament a few days later), and I look forward to (hopefully) returning next year.

Phew. Wrote more than I planned to about this trip, so for those of you still with me, you will be rewarded with tales of a visit by my mother and sister, followed by some contemplations concerning my upcoming 21st birthday/my future in general.

My mother and sister arrived to partake in their Spring tradition of using visiting me as an excuse to enter into every store in Georgetown and renew their quest of viewing the ever elusive Cherry Blossom. In all seriousness, it was an enjoyable weekend, filled with a trip to the zoo (No otters. But beavers!!), the cherry blossom festival fireworks show, and occasional time to sit and enjoy some beautiful weather when my mother actually allowed us to take a break.photo photo photo

photo

At this point, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these two whenever they see me after being gone for a minimum 2 weeks at a time. The amount of fussing and confusing excitement (being in my presence shouldn’t be looked forward to that much) is always overwhelming, but, it’s just something I have to accept. And because things can never be completely normal when my family is involved, I had the foresight to mark down moments that were particularly outrageous. This should paint a pretty accurate picture of what my family interactions are like:

  • Upon greeting me at the hotel, my mother smacked my face repeatedly, saying “Matty!!! You look good!!!!!!!” Oh thank heavens. I was really becoming paranoid that my body had deteriorated in the 3 weeks since she last saw me.
    • Despite my apparent wonderful appearance, my mother still took the time to trace out how she would like to have my beard carved into (basically into the same shape as her boyfriend’s). Yup. She took her finger and drew an invisible beard on me. In the hotel lobby.
  • At one point in Georgetown, I was sitting outside while my mother and sister looked around a store I obviously would have no interest in. They eventually felt bad about me waiting and told the store employee about it. The employee apparently uttered something along the lines of, “Oh. You should have said something! I would have given him “Porsches and Ladies” to read!” Yeah. That’s definitely at the top of my reading list right now. Just beneath the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, actually.
  • WARNING: Graphic. “I must be really comfortable here because I’ve never been able to make a doody the first day of a trip”—anonymous
  • “I remember walking through this broken boulder”—my mother, regarding the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial
  • “I think I’m dying!”…pause…burp.—my sister
  • “Ya can’t be walking around DC at night. There’s homeless people!”—my mother
  • “Who’s coming with me for my colonoscopy?!”—my mother
  • “What’s a Macklemore?”—my mother
  • “I want some pasta” (my mother). “You’re having ravioli!” (my sister). “That’s not pasta to me!!” (my mother).
  • “What’s different about a sloth bear from a regular sloth?”—my mother
  •  “You have fleshy ankles”—shoe store employee to my sister
  • “I don’t know what’s happening”—waitress at dinner to us. Because we can’t just order a meal without chaos. Ever.

DSCN3140The morning they left was the day I registered for classes, an experience that was maybe more problematic than I anticipated. For basically my entire college career I had molded schedules in a way that would allow for the possibility of having an internship. I’ve had a lot of great experiences over the years, been able to spend time at places I never imagined I’d be, and my resume is basically bulging at the seams with entries that make me look more impressive than I’ll ever be. This culminated in me being offered an interview with the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, basically the pinnacle of any DC International Affairs student’s dreams. Long story short, things didn’t go too well (my phone interview skills are unparalleled). I think if I’m being honest with myself, there’s a part of me that sabotaged that interview. Yeah, my lack of confidence or belief that I really deserved the opportunity probably played a role, but I think there’s a larger part of me that really just didn’t want the position anyway. Maybe I’m tired of putting myself through all this stress, of balancing a full class schedule with working 20 hours a week for no pay, doing things that aren’t all that interesting. Let alone finding any time to have some kind of life. So I was left in the aftermath of registration, a schedule that leaves Monday, Wednesday, and Friday virtually free, with the decision of leaving things as they are and trying to fill those days with more work, or of changing things around, maybe taking classes I’d be more interested in that would leave little room for more. I could feel this dread building that I was wasting my time, not taking advantage of college the way I should be. Maybe I can find something smaller to do, like return to the animal shelter I volunteered at freshman year. Or maybe work with DC Reads. So for now, I left things as they are, and even did something wild and added a 1-credit tennis class. Yeah, I’ll probably still apply for internships, but there won’t be this sense of urgency like there usually is. I want next year to be the year I really take steps towards bettering myself, physically and mentally, and damn it, I think I’ve earned a break. What I really wanted was for someone to tell me, to reassure me, that it was okay to take that break, that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I took one semester to just, I don’t know…live? But, it is what it is. We’ll see what happens, I suppose. Things have a way of always working out in the end, one way or another.

So. 21. It’s really hard for me to wrap my mind around turning that age tomorrow, and I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case. It’s an age that people generally look forward to more than most, the age when you really can do whatever you want, whenever you want, without fear of repercussion. No more fake IDs, or having your older siblings or whoever go out and get you all the alcohol you want. Obviously this hasn’t been much of a concern for me; I haven’t been counting down the days like some do for when they can do this. For whatever reason, as this day has come closer, there’s been this growing sense of discomfort, or nausea, or…something. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can say with certitude that excitement is far from what I’m feeling.

I have some theories. As the years have gone by, especially the last few, there has been this growing belief, a belief that seems to be growing at an increasingly rapid pace, that I have wasted valuable years. With every fantastic, unbelievable memory I’ve made, with every place I’ve visited, and with every opportunity I’ve been given, I can’t shake this belief that I’ve focused zero time on the things that really matter, the things that are vital, essential. I’ve focused all of my energy on achieving superficial things, academic and professional success which, while important, isn’t most important. The problem is that I haven’t allowed myself to even think about anything else; I’ve convinced myself that this is what I need to do, what’s best for me, that I can think about these things later. You tell yourself something enough times and you do start to believe it; it becomes second-nature, something you just believe to be inherent to who you are, instead of being something you manufactured as a way to avoid what you’re afraid of. This has worked for me for many years (I made it into this God forsaken school, after all), but lately I’ve been noticing these cracks. I’m beginning to realize what I’ve been doing and why, and it all comes down to that one word I wrote about a little over a year ago: Insecurity. One little word that’s been responsible for all my avoidance, all my doubts. I know I’m eventually going to need to deal with and figure out why it is I lack so much confidence in myself as a person worth getting to know. I don’t know what I’m afraid of. So there it is. I’m turning one year older, but it’s just another year that has passed with little progress made where it counts.

Another theory, maybe connected to my first one, but pretty basic and unoriginal. Turning 21 means I’m just that much closer to being thrust into a world that I don’t feel like I’m prepared for. I feel trapped in a current that’s pushing me in this unknown direction, and I feel completely powerless against it. All the flailing, struggling and fighting won’t save me from the fact that, one year from now, I’ll be graduating college, and I’ll be expected to have everything that comes next figured out. All I want is for things to slow down, for things to be less urgent, but that’s not going to happen. I hate that everything’s supposed to be decided at this one age, at this one moment, and if you don’t, you’re often deemed to be this visionless, lost person. I think what I’m most afraid of is having to leave my remaining safety net, school. If there’s one thing I’m reminded of over and over again, it’s that the world has the capacity for so much ugliness; the evil, the hatred, the murder, the infidelity, the cruelty. There are so many things out there that make the world a place I often feel disappointed to have to be a part of.

But then…then you see this adorable puppy video on YouTube and you’re brought to instant tears, or see this baby who was born deaf hear his first sounds, or you see this person whose smile or glance alone can make you feel instantly energized. You hear your name being chanted by children when you arrive for “work,” you see the amount of joy just jumping on a trampoline can bring. You receive countless hugs in a given day just for being present, you see the relief and sense of accomplishment when 4+8 is finally figured out. You’re being begged to stay until bedtime to watch a movie, you’re fought over just for the opportunity to be picked up and held, or pushed on the swing. You hear the words, “Mattee, don’t go.” You feel this overpowering love being thrown at you, more than you’ve ever opened yourself up to, and find yourself deflecting some of that love back, even when you realize the pain that will likely come when you leave. In so many ways, Ghana has helped me understand the importance of love, the beauty that it holds. No matter how much I may miss Prince and the others, the most important thing is that for those 4 months, I allowed myself to feel, to connect, to love.

That’s really all that matters, isn’t it? At the end of your life, if you can say that you loved, that you really, completely, unabashedly gave yourself to another person, everything else is just extra, an accessory. The love I gave and received in Ghana I think has been the most important thing to happen to me in years; It has opened me up to new possibilities, it’s made me realize that I do want more than what I have right now. It’s these moments of clarity, these reminders that life is so much more than the ugliness you see on the news on a daily basis, that need to be clung to. It’s the smiles, the laughter, the hope, the awe and the wonder, the leap of faith taken when you board a plane and visit one more new country (Sri Lanka is just 40 days away now)…that’s what needs to be focused on. I hope more than anything else that I manage to channel the person I was in Ghana with these kids in Sri Lanka, but one of these days, I hope I can be that person all the time. Who knows, maybe this will be the year.

Maybe turning 21 won’t be so bad after all.

Shocking Developments

Somehow it’s been about 8 weeks since I last posted on here, 60 days which have whirled by, leaving behind a blur of events that have culminated in this first weekend of Spring Break. I know, I know. My college life never consists of anything worth mentioning, resulting in this time gap. While yes, this is largely true, the main reason behind the delay has been time. These past few weeks have been a frenzy of constant work. When I’m not at class or my internship, I’m usually attempting to catch up on all the reading and assignments I’m perpetually behind on, and by the time I look up from the computer screen or a book another week has past without me noticing. I really just don’t have the 3ish hours required to sit down and carve these out, but a stroke of luck, most likely divine intervention, has spared me from a heavy workload this week.

Classes have been going well for the most part; French hasn’t been too disastrous and International Economics not too debilitating. Psychological Anthropology is starting to become really interesting (finally), now that we’re learning about specific disorders like PTSD and Manic-Depressive Disorder. I can’t really talk about what I’m learning in Cultures of Latin America because…I haven’t paid attention to what my professor has said since about Week 2. I tried, I really did but not really. He’s just so…uninspiring? But at least he looks a bit like Albert Einstein and has a Goldendoodle, so he’s got that going for him. What I really want to do is express a probable creepy amount of love towards Professor Victor Barbiero, who not only has the appearance of a giant, beautiful bowtie-wearing Santa Claus, but whose infectious and bubbly enthusiasm for Global Health and Development has inspired me to seriously consider pursuing public health academically and beyond. I mean, just take a look at how amazing his life has been. Alright. Gotta compose myself.

Work at the Wilson Center has also been going well! I’m really mastering the art of working for free. My internships these past few years have taught me that the most important thing is obedience, a complete willingness to do whatever is asked of me. And for the most part, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m learning a lot, being forced a lot bit out of my comfort zone by having to call many ridiculously wealthy patrons, and I feel like I’m appreciated and that my time isn’t being wasted. It’s nice being kept busy every time I come in, which hasn’t always been the case elsewhere.

All this class and work has somehow, miraculously really, kept me at my Ghana-induced “emaciated” weight. There was one time that I caved and indulged on Dominos, but otherwise I’ve honestly felt guilty about any time I’ve been tempted to eat something…gross. So thank you, Ghana, for showing me the saturated fatty error of my ways. But you shall never take pizza and bagels away from me.

Hmm..what else have I been up to? Obviously not that much if I have to think about it. I went to the GW Inaugural Ball, which was a lot more exciting and worthwhile than it would have been had Obama not won. If that had been the case and everyone had been forced to attend (seriously, those ticket prices were unnecessary), it probably would have been a lot sloppier (if that’s possible) with sad/angry drunkenness instead of happy/excited drunkenness. Anyway, I wore a tuxedo and a bow-tie for the first time, and all eyes were most certainly on me. Cause, ya know, I’m a put-on-a-show kind of girl boy. I also had the most eventful Valentines Day since, well, ever, when I went to the Mumford & Sons concert with HBIC Hayley. I’ll skip the trauma that was the roughly 2 hour drive to Fairfax, Virginia (ZipCar’s existence is much appreciated) and just say that the 2 hours that those British men blessed us with their beautiful harmonizing presence (+ the dreamy banjo player) trumped any other music experience of my life (sorry, Celine. You’ve been dethroned). This picture perfectly captures the state we were rendered while listening:

Faces didn't change much from this expression.

Faces didn’t change much from this expression.

Oh, there was also this one weekend when I had 2 mini Ghana reunions. It was wonderful and strange, being with them in less sweaty circumstances. Oh, and I got to see this guy again:

the greatest reunion, probably in history I'd imagine.

the greatest reunion, probably in history I’d imagine.

I know, I know. We’re adorable. Try to contain yourselves.

You know those times I’ve mentioned how I never do anything that’s even remotely shocking, cause for alarm, impulsive…what’s that? I’ve only mentioned this 500 times? Well, hold onto your weaves everybody because I, Matthew Spencer Reiter, now have a tattoo. No, really. It happened. If I had known a year ago that I would come back from Ghana with the desire to immortalize the experience on my body, I would have laughed (or cried) in horror.

The Incident.

The Incident.

It’s just not something I ever saw myself doing. I tend to shy away from the thought of permanence, so my relationship with my tattoo is probably going to be a bit tumultuous. I have a feeling there will be days when I look down at my arm, see it, gasp in horror (I’ve forgotten it’s there a few times already), and call myself insane. But hopefully the initial shock will pass and it’ll be replaced with a contentedness. I really am happy with it, especially now that it isn’t looking so scabby and my arm doesn’t feel like it’s about to burn off. And everyone who’s seen it seems to think it’s awesome, probably because nobody saw this coming from me. I certainly shocked the Facebook world, if I say so myself.

And then there’s my family. My sister was all for it and encouraged me throughout these past few months, the wild rebel she is with her tattoo trio. My father protested at first, but finally conceded and probably secretly appreciates me doing something out of character for a change. And my mother? Welp…she was kept in the dark. I inherited my crazed conservatism from her, and when I came home and she saw my tattoo, and more “horrifyingly” its location, well…she was a tad displeased. You see, during the Holocaust, those in the concentration camps were tattooed with numbers on their arms as identification. Having a father who survived the Holocaust has left her understandably sensitive to the whole “Jews can’t get tattoos” “law”, and getting one on my arm was especially disrespectful. But later research revealed that the Holocaust tattoos were on the left arm and mine’s on the right, so…I’m not a complete and utter disgrace to my family’s name. I’m sure when my religious, ultra conservative aunt and uncle discover all this I’ll have enough material for its own blog post, but I’m hoping to avoid that discomfort for as long as I can. It’s gonna be bad.

You know what’s another sure way to avoid awkwardness and discomfort? Not showing your mother’s boyfriend your tattoo within the first 5 minutes of meeting him, when you have no idea what his history is or his level of Jewish…ness. But when silence lasts for more than 6 seconds in a conversation, I apparently panic (and display symptoms of Tourette’s, according to my sister). We all know how I am with verbal communication.

Switching gears, these past few days have been a bit odd for me. I’m not sure what the reasons are, but I’ve been having some pretty disconcerting emotional blips with Prince entering my mind more frequently than before. Maybe it’s because I haven’t allowed myself to think about him too much, and now that my workload has lowered for now he’s had more chances to slip into my thoughts. Regardless, there have been moments when I see a picture or a memory flashes and I’m filled with an overwhelming sadness that has (more than once) left me fighting back tears. Good thing this seems to happen only when I’m in class.

Recently discovered this picture on my phone. Too cute to handle.

Recently discovered this picture on my phone. Too cute to handle.

I had held back on asking for an update about Prince and the other kids because I was afraid of what I’d hear. I finally decided to check in the other day and learned that there have been times when Prince isn’t eating well and somebody says to him, “If you don’t eat your food Matty won’t come back.” And it works. So now I know that he still misses me, that he probably has no idea that I won’t be coming back, and…it sucks. I can’t think of a more eloquent way of putting it, but all I want is for that kid to forget I exist. This is probably not rational, but all I feel now is guilt that I potentially hurt him by allowing him to attach himself to me. This is a toddler who arrived at the orphanage just after losing his mother to AIDS, is HIV+ himself, and for whatever reason ended up bonding with me instantly. So things are great for 4 months and then all of a sudden I’m gone, just another person in his life who left. I want to think about it differently, that I helped him and left a positive impact, but right now all I think is that I made things worse. Lacking a sense of time is probably the major reason why he still thinks I’m coming back, but the thought of him still waiting around for me to show up 3 months later is honestly unbearable. This is the first time I feel like I’ve hurt another human being, and I know I’m probably overthinking it, but this is how I feel now. Maybe I’ll have a different perspective later. God. Somebody really needs to adopt this kid.

To lighten things up, I’ll end with some travel news. First off, I’m leaving for California tomorrow with my father to watch a ridiculous amount of tennis at Indian Wells in Palm Springs. I’ve never attended this tournament and I haven’t watched tennis in person since the U.S. Open in 2011, so I’m really looking forward to it. Mostly, I’m excited about the crazed stalking I will likely be doing of Maria Sharapova, probably #2 on my list of favorite powerful ladies. I haven’t seen her play since 2010, so there will likely be tears, which is totally healthy I’m sure. Anyway, I’ll let you all know next week if I succeeded in encountering her in person, if I don’t drop dead in her presence first. Or if I don’t drop dead from the 95 degree weather supposedly happening there this week. We’ll see if Ghana prepared my body enough for this. I’ll need to invest in a new sweat rag.

Speaking of heat, I will officially be heading to Sri Lanka for 6 weeks towards the end of May, volunteering for the third time with Projects Abroad. I don’t have a lot of details yet, just that I’ll most likely be working at an orphanage again and possibly at a tsunami relief camp. When I know more I’ll definitely give a greater explanation, and I feel like I haven’t had any time yet to think about it. But visiting a new place, a new region of the world is always exciting for me, and I can’t wait to share my experiences again!

In the mean time, have a great week off for those enjoying their Spring Break, and start thinking of some witty blog title to incorporate Sri Lanka into. “Study Abroad is Ghana Be Great” was pretty lame.

BREAKING NEWS! My #1 favorite powerful lady, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks replied to me on Twitter regarding the 10 year anniversary of her “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas” statement. Did I hyperventilate and my body convulse? Obviously. So yeah. Nothing will ever be greater than this, unless Maria acknowledges my existence. That would just be too much to handle.

Her response after I told her she lost a lot of douchebag "fans" so it all worked out for her in the end

Her response after I told her she lost a lot of douchebag “fans” so it all worked out for her in the end