Prelude to a Return

“I haven’t had the time to plan returning to the scene because I haven’t left it.”-Mick Jagger

Time is a funny thing; it never really seems to work in your favor—you can feel one day that you have all the time in the world, and the next feel like you have an impossibly small amount of it left. Granted, some things, some deadlines or future plans often compete with each other for that “Top Priority” spot in your mind, and in this whole sorting out process you just can’t find any residual space for other important things coming your way, say…returning to Ghana.

I feel like there’s a part of me that’s in denial about this whole thing. It’s likely I won’t really believe I’m going back until I land in Accra, until I pass through that “Akwaaba” (“Welcome”) sign on my way to customs, until I step through the exit doors and am likely bombarded by a sea of taxi drivers attempting to overcharge me, just another wide-eyed overwhelmed Obruni, on my way to the hotel. Considering I’ve forgotten more or less all the Twi I learned last year, I may have to accept being bamboozled this one time until I’m settled in and know how much things are supposed to cost around East Legon.

And yet I haven’t really been plagued by the pre-travel fear-induced-nausea that I’m used to feeling in the days leading up to a trip like this. Part of that really is because I haven’t had much time at all to think about or plan for these 3 weeks; I’ve worked really hard this semester to not sink to the depths of extreme mediocrity that I found myself in last semester in terms of effort and GPA. This time around, I put in that extra work effort to hopefully bring myself back up my standard of just moderate mediocrity that I have settled for. Coupled with my “What am I doing here?!” internship at the State Department, Ghana has only managed to occupy just a small compartment of my too-cluttered brain up to this point.

I still don’t have much in terms of a plan for these three weeks; I’m predicting some memory whiplash as I wander the roads I can still see so clearly in my head, the paths I took, almost every detail still engrained in my mind. I may burst into tears at the sight of a baby goat, and I pity whoever is the first person to sell me some kelewele. These first few days will probably just be a nostalgia-driven rampage through the University of Ghana’s Night Market, eating every egg sandwich and kabob in sight, with some jollof in-between. I know it will all feel surreal, but I also believe I will be able to easily slip back into the way of life I became accustomed to there. As soon as I exit the airport Tuesday afternoon and I’m hit by the unbearable heat, and I look around and see the bustling activity that encompasses this country, I can almost guarantee a smile will be on my face. A smile of recognition,  a smile that accompanies an unexpected reunion.

Returning to Beacon House is really the only nervousness I’m feeling. It’ll be so strange being back there without so many familiar faces that I came to know over those 4 months, kids who have since been adopted and are living in the States. There are many that are still there, though, and I have no idea if they know I’m coming. I’m sure I will be received the way I was always welcomed each morning there—crazed hugs which always confused me, excitement over seeing me that never made much sense in my head. We all know who I’m hoping I’ll get to see again, but will I really be that self-involved to be upset that he’s home with his family in Washington? I would like to think that I won’t be, but I guess we will soon see.

People keep asking me, “Why Ghana?!” when they find out I’m spending my winter break there. I don’t really have a good answer to give, at least not one that I can articulate effectively, one that truly expresses what my time there meant to me. Of course, for those who have kept up with my blog, I think you know that those were some of the most important 20 weeks of my life. There was a tranquility resonating within me that had been foreign to me up to that point, and hasn’t really been felt much since. And this is truly why I wanted to go back. The possibility of recapturing even a piece of that feeling for 3 more weeks is an opportunity I didn’t want to ignore. I don’t want to look back, years down the road, and think about what could have been had I just made that decision to return.

I look forward to taking this stroll down memory lane with all of you, especially my CIEE crew, many of whom are probably secretly hexing me for getting to go back instead of them.  I can only imagine the blunders I will likely make in the days to come, hopefully none involving a trip into an Obruni Trap. But as always, no detail will be left out.

If I’m unable to update before Christmas due to internet misfortunes, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

Wish me luck!

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“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.

DSCN3254

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!

DSCN3361

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

DSCN3424

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)

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