Monday, March 8, 2010

177 days

I was checking my email tonight before crawling into bed for what will be my last night in Sri Lanka; suddenly a little Mac dialogue box popped up from the corner of my screen informing me that I have not backed up my computer in 177 days.

I left my backup hard drive in Toronto after backing up my computer just before hopping aboard the plane that would wisk me away to first international adventure.  Apparently, that was 177 days ago. 

When I was about 100 days (4ish months) in, I was convinced I wouldn't last a week longer.  Somewhere around that time I remember actually taking out a calendar and counting down how many days I had until I flew out.  I laugh now, to think about how quickly those days have vanished.  It is funny to think about: one day time seems to drag on, threatening to slip into reverse for its seeming lack of momentum.  And then: BOOM! Its over.  I am at the finish.  The adventure has concluded.  

The dichotomy of those feelings quite accurately expresses a lot about my time here.  Time has been a drag, time has been a blur.  One moment loving it, another moment hating it.  One event teaches me some of the most profound things I have ever been taught, another event has torn it all apart in little pieces and left my utterly confused.  But in all these things, time has moved on.  In all things, I have progressed.  My emotions have swung to the limits of the pendulum's swing and everywhere in between, but I can still say that it has been good - not always easy, but always good.  177 days on the complete opposite side of the world, 35 000 km from home has ROCKED my world.  I have often thought about the ridiculous nature of this self-imposed adventure: to discover the intricacies of my own culture by experiencing a culture miles away (figuratively and literally) from my own.  That was the entire goal!  And I was going to achieve it by simply living with a family - that was my entire plan!  In hindsight, I was completely unprepared and incredibly naive.  But, I have seen God's goodness and grace in the amazing ways he has protected me and taught me while I embarked on this ridiculous quest.  I guess its a minor miracle (if miracles can be classified as minor) that I did make it through these 177 days! 

Praise the Lord for his goodness!  Day 178: Back to Canada....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

T minus

India has come and gone and now the countdown has begun. 

5 full days left in Sri Lanka. 

India was truly amazing.  Challenging, stinky, and overall - completely enthralling.  The poverty of India hit me like a slow motion left hook: you know it's coming but you have no idea how much it will actually hurt until WHAM you're sitting flat on your butt wondering what to do about it. It is difficult to put words to the poverty that exists there.  It is absolutely everywhere.  It is even more difficult to know what to do about it: the locals tell you not to give money, the tourists tell you that you're just training them not to work, and, even if you do give - their is an endless stream of beggars, how do you give to them all?  I don't know the answer.  It seemed like my thoughts on the situation changed every time I met a beggar, which was about every two minutes. I've worked with the poor at home in Lethbridge, but that seemed more useful because it was long term and involved building relationships, and I definitely saw the benefit of that approach.  I know that just dropping a few coins into a beggar's lap will not do much for long term change, and maybe I am just contributing to the problem by doing so.  Maybe the itinerant traveler should just walk away if he is not going to take the time to make lasting change...but my heart still ached every time I walked away from a man with no legs, or a naked child sitting in his own filth (literally) by the side of the road.

I am still processing all these thoughts in the midst of processing the reality of my Asian journey coming to a close.  I am busy saying goodbye to people.  It is the first time I have been busy since being here, and it is probably for the best - it allows me to ignore the fact that I may never see these people again.  I would like to think I will, but I am also keenly aware of the fact that this is not an opportunity I am given every day. 

But, for now, I will fill my days with goodbye suppers and farewell parties.  The suppression of the reality of the situation will have to wait until I get back to Canada before I release it.  And I am sure that release will be forceful and palpable, prompting an entirely new raft of emotions and feelings as I re-adjust to the culture I grew up in. 

See you in Canada!

Monday, February 1, 2010

off to India

Much to the dissapointment of the people in Sri Lanka who have now become my family away from home, I am heading to India for three weeks.  After giving me a perplexing look which translates to something like, "Why would you ever want to leave Sri Lanka?" they are usually somewhat appeased when I tell them I will be back.  This trip marks what has started to become a mental "beginning of the end" of my asian adventure.  Once I get back from India, I will have a week and a half in Sri Lanka before I fly back to Canada on the 9th of March. 

As for India, it is kind of an extension of what I have been doing here.  Another chance to see a different culture and observe the role that religion has in the lives of its people.  India is a much more religiously diverse country and the Hindu dominated majority will definitely give me a different experience than Buddhist dominated Sri Lanka.  I will be using the trains extensively to get a pretty diverse cross-section of Indian culture in the Northern part of the country.  I am trying to hit up some of the major religious cities to see what makes its inhabitants tick.  Lots of train time, but hopefully I meet some interesting characters on the long rides!

Hopefully I will find some time at an internet shop somewhere in India to give you a little update of how India is shaping me, but if not, I will hit you with a post in three weeks! 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Please clearly mark "X" beside the candidate of your choice

The thought of elections usually brings feelings of boredom and drudgery to my mind.  The only interest which they garner in me is the chance of polishing arguments with my sister of why I didn't bother to vote.

But that was before I came to live in a nation where national elections create an atmosphere so thick with politics that at times it is hard to tell whether you're breathing in air or propaganda.  You may not know it, but today is the day of Sri Lanka's 6th Presidntial election.  As I write this, the votes are being furiously counted, with millions of Sri Lankans waiting with fingers crossed, incense burning and breath held to hear the final verdict.  By the time you read this, you can probably head over to Google and find out the results for yourself.

With Sri Lanka's recent history of violence and newly achieved peace, the results of this election are monumental and of great historical significance for this tiny island.  I am guessing that the importance of this election will earn it enough clout to make International news: probably a ten second, maybe fifteen second slot at the beginning of the newscast to fill time while they tantalize you with snipits of the more exciting news that will keep you watching till the end of the broadcast.  I was thinking today about the countless news items I have watched that parallel this exact event:  "Unimportant, tiny third world country elects new President!"  I barely took notice.  But now, living here during one of these elections has opened my eyes to the incredible struggle it is to achieve democratic, peaceful, fair elections.

Ever since President Mahinda Rajapaksa (famous as the President who ended the 25 year war with the LTTE Tiger terrorist army) declared in late November that he was holding an election to seek another term in office, the country has been ablaze with outrageous propaganda and zealous campaigning.  Everyone is entranced by the election: the unemployed school dropouts who follow the armored, police guarded vehicles of high rank politicians, showing their support by lighting firecrackers that explode at gunshot decibel; the poor farmers who ditch out on their daily duties to consume the free liquor provided by the political party which is holding a public address rally in their town; the dedicated shopkeepers who religiously paste posters of their preferred candidate all over the city on their way home from work, defacing the posters of rival candidates as they go; even children benefit - the president has declared (only last week) three days of national holidays surrounding the election day, which means shops and schools have been deserted while people flock to the nearest television set to take in the latest political mudslinging (the mudslinging is actually quite comical: some politicians rewrite lyrics of pop songs to malign their opponents, others prefer kindergarten-name-calling tactics - the most popular of these being "dog" and "monkey") that has run incessantly on every news channel since November.  In fact, I don't think I have heard one news story since the election campaigns started that doesn't relate to the election in some way - not even one!

Everyone seems to hold intense loyalty towards one of the twenty presidential candidates (though it is really a two-horse race between Rajapaksa and retired General Sarath Fonseka - a national hero for his command of the army to end the war against the terrorist Tigers).  Party loyalty is stubbornly clung to and, if needed, defended.  Countless clashes have broke out when civillian groups of zealous supporters march through the streets of their towns, employing loud speakers and noise makers to rile up their political opponents.  These actions are invariably countered by another party, often resulting in violent altercations.  Unofficially, there have been four deaths, twelve shootings and hundreds of injuries due to political violence since November.

It is truly a miracle that there was no violence today on voting day (at least none that was reported: all media is government censored to some degree).  Tomorrow might be a different story.

 It is indeed bizarre to be living in one of those little ten second news clips that no one pays attention to.  There is a lot more that goes on than "the winner is...."  Elections will surely take on a new meaning for me the next time that I am fortunate enough to participate in one.

Maybe, to the delight of my sister, I might even vote next time.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Service Aversion

I am entirely aware that my blogging consistency has been lacking as of late.  My family has begun to leave gentle hints on my blog, disguised as comments, goading me to get my butt back in blogging mode.  I suppose their desire to hear something from me is completely warranted since it is my first Christmas away from home.  Please accept my deepest apologies in regards to my absence from blog land.
Christmas away from home has given me much food for thought.  The differences in celebrations have definitely caused me to think.  But it wasn't the thought of missing the typical Christmas feast that set my mind a'wandering. Nor was it the lack of snow or sub-zero temperatures that caused me to ponder so deeply.  And though being away from my family has caused me to realize my love for them on a heightened level, my absence from them is not what has challenged me most during the Christmas season in Sri Lanka.

The catalyst has been...tea.

After a Christmas morning church service I travelled with my Sri Lankan family to the island's hill country, where tea bushes cling to every butte, bank and bluff as far as the eye can see.  We were headed to the Senior Manager's Bungalow of Bogawana Tea Estate.  One of the members of our church is the Manager of this estate (they call them "planters."  I thought it was interesting to note the extreme dichotomy between the lifestyles of this planter and myself, a Canadian "planter") and had invited us and another family to share Christmas at the estate with them from the 25th to the 27th.

The gradually decreasing temperature made it easy to gauge how high we were climbing into the hills, but I failed to comprehend the just how far we were travelling back in time as we rounded each bend towards the plantation.  The Colonial British era is not very difficult to imagine while in the plantations of Sri Lanka.  Mostly, because much of that era is still alive.  The most vivid reminder is in the centuries old estate bungalow in which we stayed.  But not the bungalow's physical features, rather, in the traditions that have been upheld there since it held the first British planters.   Particularly, servants.  The bungalow has three full time servants who come sprinting (literally) when any one of the several bells that hang from the roof are rung.  One of them would wake me up every morning by lightly knocking on my door to herald the arrival of my morning cup of scalding-hot fresh tea.  He would then open my blinds, and at some point throughout the day would slip back into my room to draw the blinds again before I bed down for the night.  The magnificent garden is maintained by six full time gardeners who politely remove their caps every time the estate owner passes by.

Servants are a regular part of life in Sri Lanka.  It seems that most middle class houses have someone to help out, whether that be a gardner or a cook or maid of some sort.  So it is not that I haven't experienced the whole "servant" thing before, I just hadn't experienced it to this degree.  The experience of having someone wait on me hand and foot made me realize with dazzling clarity that I despise being served:

I am uncomfortable when the servant comes scampering from the next room to dish my food when it is only an arms length from me.  I cringe when the gardener who works at our house, a man who I am guessing is in his sixties, calls me "sir."  I feel thankless and rude when I leave my dishes on the table for someone else to clean up.  Every part of me feels as though being served like this is wrong.  But, it's not necessarily wrong (I have no reason to believe that servants are treated poorly or paid unfairly), it's just different.  It's difference grates me so much though.  It perturbs me because service absolutely flies in the face of the independence that I have been exercising since I took the training wheels off my bicycle.

That may not seem like a very profound statement to you, but (since most of you who read this are North Americans) it has vast implications for those who live in culture where we avoid help like the plague: We don't ask for directions though we are hopelessly lost; we politely tell the shoe salesman "I'm just looking," so that he will leave us alone as we stare at the wall of shoes in front of us, desperately in need of assistance but too autonomous to ask for it; we always choose the "Self-serve" gas stations so that we know we will be getting exactly what we paid for.  Self-serve doesn't even exist here.  I am starting to believe that we smother a significant part of our lives and souls by stubbornly clinging to our independence.  The choke hold is applied at a young age, teaching children to provide for themselves and their futures, to chase the "[north] American dream" of success, and, held consistently through teenage years and into adult life, that hold (arguably) kills our souls entirely.

Perhaps this is why the greater majority of North Americans don't believe in any god.  Why serve a god, or submit to the servitude of a god (especially the gracious servitude of a God who longs to bless us), when we ourselves have rejected service since our youth?  The very concept of religion is that there is someone/something else that is bigger than ourselves, something greater than ourselves, to whom submission (lordship, reverence, allegiance, etc.) is due.  To allow such a thought to take root in our lives we would first need to be convinced that we are people who are "wired" for submission to the service of others.  I believe there is a direct correlation between the profusion of "servant" jobs in Sri Lanka and the fact that everyone believes in some sort of deity.

By fiercely clinging to our independence, and passing that ferocity on to the next generation we are essentially teaching them not to believe in God.  If from childhood they are taught to believe in themselves as opposed to depend on the help, kindness and tutelage of others, every fiber in their bodies becomes attuned to autonomy and subsequently opposed to dependency - the essential ingredient in realizing our need for a Saviour and the imperative role of God.

Independence is indeed a great tool that can be used for good, to accomplish extraordinary things in the world.  But I am realizing, in my own life anyway, the great hindrance that independence can be to trust and understand a God who thrives on dependency.

Dependency.  Like a child, helpless in this world but for the care of its mother.  A child, living in a state of constant service, a full recipient of all the benefits of being served.  

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I was watching TV with some of the boys that I teach drum lessons to and this map of the world came on the screen and they shouted, "Look there's Sri Lanka!" demonstrating the innate pride in their country that bursts forth out of every pore of each Sri Lankan that occupies this little island. I pointed Canada out to them, and realized, "Dang, I'm a long ways from home!"
So I was interested today to see how far I am from home, so I headed over to google and was gloriously sidetreacked by a website that informed me that during my journey from Lethbridge to Kandy, I created approximately 1.43 tonnes (3, 152 lbs) of carbon dioxide equivalents. Wowzas! This should probably alarm me, but it doesn't. Does it make me a bad person if I say that I'm not too worried about it?
It would be very easy for me to become all super concerned about the environment as I am over here: every day my nostrils are overwhelmed with pungent odor of the small fires in front of people's homes in which they burn plastics and household garbage. The shores of picturesque rivers are littered with myriad plastic bags and other refuse. Garbage cans are scarce, just throw it on the street instead.
Yet, I don't seem to care. I didn't care in Canada either. I think I would be foolish to think that the pollution ocurring here is on a greater scale than that of North America, it is likely just more visible.
Maybe my apathy towards this stems from the seemingly unassailable level of pollution and creation-rape. We pollute at an alarming rate. In light of how much garbage our world produces, does it even matter if I recycle my Fanta Soda bottle rather than burn it on the side of the road?

Maybe my apathy is appeased by my false perception that I "save the earth" by planting trees every summer.
Or maybe my lack of concern is indicative of a lack of understanding of God's love. Do I see this earth as a gift from God? A gift born not of compulsion or of obligation but of love. He gave us a sweet world just because He loves us and wanted us to have a good gift. Hmm.

But I don't care.

I can't seem to wrap my head around my apathy. Maybe apathy is the wrong word. I am concerned; but my concern lacks the potency to compel me to do anything about it. Concern and conviction isn't something you can just muster up, or fake, it has to grip you/take hold of you with such force that you can't NOT be concerned. I don't seem to possess this conviction...which frustrates me.

Frustration quite often motivates me to try and accomplish things/conquer things/change. I would love it if the frustration over my evident lack of concern for the environment would affect some sort of change.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Picture this...

From what I understand from reading the blogs of other people, there comes a point in every blogger's "career" where passion either wanes or material runs dry and so ensues the obligatory "picture blog." Don't worry, my passion and inspiration for writing haven't shriveled up and died in the Sri Lankan sun; I guess the time is just right to let the pictures do the talking. Enjoy!

Some of the scenery in and around Kandy/tea plantation/one of the many huge buddhas that sit high up on the hills

My surfing trip to the beautiful, sleepy town of Arugam Bay

Some of the neighborhood kids/my Sri Lankan family/ my first coconut

Boys dorm at Home of Hope/Home of Hope Kids

Lion guarding ancient ruins at Pollonaruwa/motorbikes: room for the whole family/somehow I managed to sneak into a Buddhist wedding...

I guess to see the rest of my pics you will just have to come visit me when I come back to Canada in March! Yes...March...I got my visa extended last week, so it is official: no snow for Christmas :(