Archive for March, 2009

Welcome Grade 11s

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

We’ve been running some after-school conversation sessions with some of the Grade 11s at the school. Now, I’m hoping they’ve had fun. I’ve certainly really enjoyed them. Last time I gave them my email address. Some of them will probably figure out this web address from that. Which means they might be reading this very post. In which case: Welcome!!!

It’s great to have you here. Please email me. Practice your writing (don’t forget to spell check it) and let me know what’s going on!

Cycling Update

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

My cough has mostly gone away. So yesterday I went for a cycle ride after teaching at the Primary school Saturday programme in the morning.

I left at about 2:30. I intended to do about 15 miles (about 25 kms). I guessed it would take me about an hour and a half. I used to be able to average 15 mph but that was when I was fit and was on Cambridge roads (which are flat). I figured that I might get home at about 4 but it was more likely to be 5 and if things went wrong I have till just after 6 before the light fails.

I cycled to Wattegama and was planning on turning left from there towards Akurana to then come down the A9 to Katagastota and back home. Somehow, I missed the turning. I realised I’d done this when I crossed a railway line (which really shouldn’t have happened). I stopped and checked my map. I was in Ukewela which was several miles further north than I had wanted to be and meant a much longer ride down the A9. About 17kms in fact.

I say down the A9, I actually mean up. Just after getting onto the A9 the road started going up. One of those hills that keeps going. Not too steep at first, just neverending. Soul-destroying, energy sapping continuous up. I like up. Up usually means down. Down is good. There was no down. This was just up. And up. Then hairpinny up as it got steeper. I think it was about 5kms of up. I ended up pushing the bike for a bit on a couple of occassions because I was so exhausted. Some very nice Sri Lankan boys in a van did ask if I needed help. I said no, I’m just exhausted. 🙂 Though after all the up, there was eventually a down. Pretty much all the rest of the way to Katogastota!! Yay!!! Kath screaming down hills at about 20mph loving it!

Anyway. The ride was magnificient. It turned out to be about 30miles (50kms) and took me 2hrs 45mins. I got home at 6:15 (after stopping at the shop for some snacks: sugar, salt, liquid). Some of the countryside was amazing. The B roads were beautiful (though pot-holed). The A road turned out to be better than I was expecting. Not as much traffic as I feared and the verge was paved and had far fewer pot-holes. Though I did still have to dodge buses, vans, lorries, cars, three-wheelers, bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, etc.

My family were astonished at the ride I’d done – so was I. I really didn’t mean to go that far as a starting ride. Fred (my bike) held up quite well, but his saddle needs to go up about an inch – I know I’m only 5 feet nothing – but it does need to be higher so I can stretch my legs properly and not knacker my knees.

But on the whole a nice pleasant Saturday afternoon ride!! Can’t wait to do lots more!! 🙂

Walking and Cycling

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Note: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago.

Now many of you know that I’m a little bit strange. Let’s not put too fine a point on it: I’m absolutely bonkers, mad as a bicycle (or a bucket of frogs)! And I’m quite pleased about this.

And not that I keep it a secret but it is now the case that everyone here knows for certain, without a shadow of a doubt that it is true.

Walking and cycling. These are the two main reasons.

Walking. I like walking. A lot. It is my favourite method of commuting. I’m not really a big fan of motor vehicles. Public transport I can almost cope with but cars/vans/taxis/tuk-tuks etc are all most certainly not up my street. I like walking because that way I don’t get car sick. I like walking because cars are smelly and environmentally unfriendly. I like walking because it is good exercise. I like walking because it gives me a chance to think about everything or nothing or something in between. I like walking because I get to enjoy some fresh air, sunshine and scenery.

While I’m here, VESL is advising me not to use public transport (buses and trains) for security reasons. Kandy city centre is 6kms away. Tuk-tuks cost money (a lot more if you are foreign) and are almost more fair-ground ride than safe transportation method (mind you, given I walk or cycle safe transportation isn’t exactly my thing). I don’t want to rely on my family for lifts. I want to go to Kandy. So I walk. It seems like the best solution and is one I’m very happy with. I like walking. 🙂

When I told people here that I walked to Kandy they looked at me as if I’d just said that I walked to the moon. One of the kids I spoke to said he’d like to walk but he gets an aching leg and even the clocktower (less than 10 mins down the hill) is too far. Bah, says Kath and walks to Kandy.

To a large extent I have my parents to thank for this. They understood that having two perfectly functioning legs means that self-locomotion is possible. They also understood it was healthy and cheap and fun.

Now, people think that me walking to Kandy on a Sunday to use the internet is strange. But it gets stranger. I walked home from the senior school. It only took me half an hour. But I did take a change of clothes since I didn’t particularly want to walk any distance in a sari and sari-slippers. The students thought this whole thing was hilarious. One that I was wearing trousers and two that I was walking. The teachers thought I’d lost my mind!

So now I frequently walk to and/or from the senior school with sari stowed nicely in my rucksack. I did walk home in the sari once – never again: the sari was a pain, the sari-slippers a complete nightmare.

I have bought a bicycle so I can cycle round here and when I finish teaching I can cycle around Sri Lanka. First stop Nurawa Eliya, next stop Galle.

This seems to be beyond crazy! Bicycle shopping was fun. I want a ladies bike with gears. No, you can have a ladies bike or a bike with gears. Ok, then I want a bike with gears with a low crossbar so I can comfortably stand over the thing. Not this nice ladies bike then. No, a bike with gears. Oh. And a helmet. A what? A helmet. A motorbike helmet? No a bicycle helmet. A what? Oh nevermind, I’ll just try not to fall off. (The fourth shop did actually have a bike helmet – yay!)

Since I bought my bike I’ve been somewhat ill so I haven’t had a chance to do much on it yet. But before I got it I’d been scoping out local roads from a cycling point of view. So I’ve been walking. Yes walking. For no reason other than to go for a walk. Not a walk to anywhere, just a walk.

Friday was 8 miles. The last half hour of which was more swimming than walking. People yelled at me from stalls at the side of the road: you are getting wet, yes I said, but it is only water, I will dry (and eventually I did). Sunday was 12 miles along the most gorgeous C road ever. Can’t wait to get on it on a bike!!

Now there are some fairly fit, healthy, strapping young lads in the vicinity of where I live. Their responses have been either “that’s a trip I couldn’t even do on a bike nevermind walking” or “that’s a trip to do on a bike, not on foot”. I said something along the lines of “wait till you see what I do on a bike”. As far as I’m concerned it’s not a proper cycle ride until you’ve hit the 40 mile mark. And it’s not a serious one till you get to at least 60. And I know of proper, serious cyclists who would say if you haven’t hit 100 you’re not really trying.

So splashing in puddles and going for walks and wanting to get a bicycle is all behaviour befitting a mad foriegner. And not one to want to disappoint, I seem to be doing a magnificient job of being totally mad!! I feel it is my duty as a foreigner and just one of the things that Kaths do best. 🙂

The Rain

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Note: I did write this post a couple of weeks ago.

Well, the rain has started. And is making up for its recent absence.

From what I can gather the rain had been eagerly sought. And the reason why it has now arrived is because the tooth relic is being shown at the Temple of the Tooth. Usually you just see it in a casket (or several caskets – I’m not too sure of all the details). But now, for one week only, the actual tooth itself is being shown and people from all over the country (and from all the major religions and ethnic groups) are coming to Kandy to worship. Now, the reason why I’ve mentioned this here is because it seems that showing the tooth brings the rain. And the tooth is being shown. And there is rain.

It started on Sunday afternoon. It has rained every day since then in the afternoon. It starts somewhere between 1 and 4 o’clock. It starts with about four drops the size of tablespoons and about 10 mins later visibility reduces and half the road is covered in puddles several centimeters deep. This continues for about half an hour or so, then it lightens up or stops completely. Sometimes it comes back or just showers a bit and sometimes it continues overnight (or for a part of the night, difficult for me to tell since I’m asleep).

On Sunday afternoon I got soaked coming home from Kandy. On Monday I got quite wet walking the 50m from the mainish road up my street after getting back from Colombo. On Tuesday I was home before it started, on Wednesday I was home before it started, on Thursday I made it home between deluges. On Friday I was home from school at 12:30ish and it was beautifully hot and sunny so I went for a walk. I swam home. My bag, which had only just dried out from Sunday is now soaked again. Today (Saturday) I got my clothes washed and dried before it started and then sat inside and watched with delight.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this pattern will continue for the next several months. Not sure exactly though. And I’m not sure how much it varies across the country either. But at the moment, I’m happy enough having glorious sunshine to walk in and pouring rain to splash in!!

Update: since I wrote this the rain has continued. Not with quite the ferocity of the initial few days and there has been the odd afternoon that has remained sunny, but it’s still a good bet that it will rain in the afternoon. 🙂

Junior School Sports Meet

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

The Senior School had theirs and I went and took photos and blogged about it. Then it was time for the Junior School. Like at the senior school a number of the activities (sports, games etc) had been done in advance so it was only a handful of events that happened on the day.

Also like the senior school the three houses had to build huts and decorate them as part of the competition. Unlike the senior school, this was not done by students but by the parents. This is quite understandable since the kids here are quite little and constructing a giant chicken as decoration – yes, you read correctly, a giant chicken – might be a bit beyond (or rather, above) them.

There were invited guests. This time, Alex and I were two of them so we sat in the fancy guest enclosure on real sofas. We were brought fruit juice (which confused me because it’s the first juice I’ve had here that did not contain salt), and we got to chat to the head of the local government who was there as chief dignitary. He’d brought a fairly hefty armed guard with him. Well, he did have a poster out the front of the school with his name and photo on it, so it wasn’t as if it was a secret where he was. I guess this is why the guard was required.

Security seemed to be paramount. At the end, the other dignitaries walked diagonally across the field to a side gate where they got into a car and were driven round to the front of the school. Alex and I walked straight down the field and around the school building and beat them back by quite a way. I think I hope the reason for the utterly pointless car trip was security.

The Sports Meet itself was quite short and quite interesting. There were a few relays. There was a wheelbarrow race, a piggy back relay race and another relay that involved carrying a ball and running round a chair and then coming back. There was also a race where one of the pair had to put a shirt on his partner (back to front – I think so the dressee couldn’t help with buttons), and button it all the way up. The dressee then had to put socks and shoes on and do up the laces. They then both had to run to the finish line. Now, if they wanted to make it a real challenge they could have gone for a sari wearing competion. I could have taken part!

There was a drill display which was really cool considering quite how little some of these kids were. Alex kept finding ones that he wanted to pick up and put in his pocket to keep for later. Some of them are just tiny and just adorable!

The drill display culminated in the kids spelling out 10th and some students holding up the letters in ANNIVERSARY, since (as you probably guessed) this year is the 10th anniversary of the school.

After proceedings had finished it was time for tea. So Alex and I (after our long walk back to the school) joined the armed guard and the other guests plus some staff for tea and snacks. All very tasty though I did find it very difficult sitting in a room with about 10 armed men. It’s the pacifist in me – it balks at an armed guard at a primary school sports meet. Actually it balks at armed people of any description anywhere. Ok, I’m assuming it isn’t the 6 year olds they are worried about. But I’m a bit freaked out by that much (or in fact, any) firepower, especially at a Primary School Sport Meet. If it had been up to me (and fortunately for the rest of the world, these things are not usually up to me), I would have point blank (pun intended) refused to let any armed people whatsoever into my school. If that means no local government dignitary then bad luck for them. It seems to me that if said dignitary is as much of a target as their guard would seem to imply then I would certainly not want to move them into a wide open space filled with my students, their parents and teachers. And if the dignitary isn’t really that much of a target then he can just leave his play things at home and come to the party (like everyone else does) sans hardware.

But Kath’s pacifistic gripes aside, it was a nice day and great to see all the kids having fun!!

Cooking

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I’ve done some cooking. I actually made dahl curry a couple of weeks ago. I had a bit of help from Pushpa’s sister (who had been staying with us on and off for a couple of weeks), and from Promodhi (she would have liked to have helped more but her arm was sore), and from Seethanjali (who was visiting and helped get me started).

They all seemed quite surprised that I knew one end of a knife from the other. Though I suspect this is because they think that everyone in the UK uses ready meals and so no one can cook.

I was a bit apprehensive because I don’t think I got the spice mix (curry powder, red chilli powder, turmeric) quite right but after adding a bit more salt and letting it cook a bit more it all mellowed quite nicely.

In the end I was quite happy with it as a first go. Promodhi said she liked it and that it was almost as good as her mother’s which I think is very high praise indeed. She was stunned at the fact that I chopped the garlic rather than just halving the clove so that it could be eaten (they usually don’t eat the half a clove). She commented on this a couple of times. The rest of the family didn’t eat at the same time as Promodi and me but she did say the next day that they liked it.

I really quite like dahl curry and despite having it almost every day (twice or three times a day sometimes) I don’t seem to be showing any signs of getting sick of it. I hope this continues (the not getting sick of it) since it’s on my list of things to cook when I get back to the UK. 🙂

I’m also getting reasonably competent at scraping coconut now. And can wash and chop vegetables too. I’ve figured out how to do green beans, pol sambol and lunu miris (not that I’ve actually done them yet). One of my favourite breakfast foods turns out to be chick peas with a side dish of grated coconut and if you’re feeling the need for spice either lunu miris or pol sambol. Simple, but tasty!

I’ve also now made pol sambol. I was left last night with a kitchen, a coconut, a knife and a fridge. So I managed to break the coconut open, scrape it and use some of the grated coconut for pol sambol.

It wasn’t the tastiest pol sambol I’ve ever had (too much red chilli power I think, plus I used lemon rather than lime (I think), plus I put in a bit too much salt). But it wasn’t too bad. 🙂 Needs further trials I think. Can’t wait to get back to Cambridge to get in a kitchen with Mark and get a recipe sorted out. 🙂

My Slump and How I Got Over It

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

As was to be expected. I had a slump. I had a difficult week or two where I felt down and annoyed and generally negative.

It wasn’t particularly bad: I didn’t feel that I wanted to go home, I didn’t ask myself why I was here doing this. But I did spend a week or two feeling far more negative than previously and complaining a lot more. Things that hadn’t affected me before were starting to really get to me.

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I got over it. And I now feel fantastic and wonderfully happy and very positive. I’m back to being in the situation where it is difficult to wipe the grin off my face. I burst into unprovoked laughter while walking along the street. I feel really positive about everything. Anything difficult is funny or is just the way things are. I feel like the luckiest girl alive!

So here’s what happened.

First the slump. There were quite a few things that I was starting to get annoyed by and was finding it difficult to cope with. One was that there is a lot of materialism here and since I don’t cope too well with materialism generally (and my failure to cope is one of the reasons why I came here to volunteer in the first place) being faced with it here was quite a shock. A second was the beauty thing (which I have ranted about at length in a seperate post so shall say nothing more about it here). A third was the general levels of disorganisation and lack of planning that pertain here – when I’m not feeling good, I find this incredibly frustrating, when I am feeling good, it is either funny or just the way it is. A fourth was food. I’ve had no problems with the types of food (I love it) or the quantities of rice and chilli. These are all fine. But having no control over when I eat or what I eat (quantity of fresh fruit and quanitity of salt being two big things), had become difficult for me. A fifth was that the kids in my family tend to bicker, yell at each other and fight (I think all kids that age do, my sister and I certainly used to). But I was finding it slightly uncomfortable to hear the shouting and arguing upstairs (especially if the parents were involved).

Now, the end of the slump. There were a few things that helped me get over the slump. One was the fact that I’m a very happy person by nature and really can’t be miserable for very long. A second was me talking to/texting/emailing some of my friends to talk through some of these issues with them. It was amazing to hear them give me sane and sound advice. Even just their sympathy was very helpful.

But I think that the most important thing was me realising that the only person who can control how happy I am is me. If I’m not feeling positive I need to actively do things that will make me feel positive. So I did. I talked to my friends. I read more of my interesting books. I did some maths puzzles that a friend from Cambridge had given me before I left. I did some logic exercises from the logic book I brought with me. I decided that I want to buy a bicycle and started talking to people here about getting one (have been to look at some, should buy one next week).

I realised that I can only control the things I can control. There’s no point stressing about the rest. But in the areas where I can control things, I need to actually exercise control. If I don’t feel I’m getting as much fresh fruit as I would like but I’m buying biscuits for snacking then I need to not buy biscuits and buy bananas instead. Which I did. And it made a world of difference. I felt better for eating the bananas but more importantly felt empowered for having bought them. Some friends and I have decided that the solution to a lot of life’s problems probably lies in buying more bananas. I might have to mention this to the UN, it could be an invaluable technique for the future of diplomacy!

So, I had a slump. But we all do from time to time. Mine wasn’t terminal. It wasn’t even very unpleasant. But it’s over now. Partly due to time passing, partly due to me facing it head on and working out what I could do to help, partly due to the support of my friends.

In any case, it’s over. The sun is shining, I am smiling and all is right with my world. 🙂

Beauty

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

As many of you know I have a thing about beauty. I’m not very good at it. I don’t understand it and I don’t really get why some other people seem so taken by it.

Now, part of this is because I’m just not a very visual person. Regardless of how much I love a good mountain view – it is the view from the mountain rather than a picture of it that I get excited about. In general, images just don’t do it for me.

Which also means I don’t particularly care about making myself look beautiful. One, I don’t think it is important. Two, since I have such a lack of appreciation for beauty I don’t think I would know how to make myself look beautiful. Three, life’s just too short!

I want clothing to be practical. I want pockets. I want trousers I can walk in. I want shoes I can walk in (that are flat – high heels in my opinion are the foot-binding of the modern age – that women inflict upon themselves willingly). I don’t want jewelery etc that just seems to me to be useless ornamentation and frequently gets in the way. I’ve gone through phases of trying the jewelery thing but am now going through a very minimalist phase – I don’t even like wearing a watch. I don’t do make-up – at all. God gives you one face and you paint yourselves another (gotta love Hamlet). Since part of the point seems to be to put it on so that it doesn’t look like you’re wearing it, I figure I can just not wear any and claim to be a master at applying it (plus it saves me money). I’m finding it very tedious to have to put on suncream every day (twice on some days) and mosquito repellant most days too. But at least I see a real benefit in that. If my skin looks like it’s 33 years old, that’ll be because it is and I don’t particularly see the point in trying to look either older or younger. I’m perfectly happy being however old I am at any given time. I’ve worked damn hard to get there and see no shame in having achieved it.

Anyway, all of this is scene-setting for those few of you who haven’t been subjected to a long and passionate Kath-rant about this stuff. Apologies to most of you who have experienced the Kath beauty-angst in the past. You can probably skip this whole post since you’ve heard most of it before and the new stuff will probably come as no surprise to you.

Beauty here is important. Very important. Very, very important.
Needless to say, I find this difficult.

Fortunately, I am a foreigner and being a freaky foreigner offers almost unlimited forgiveness for any number of sins (like the fact that I have short hair). Though not for others (like having a slightly untidy sari – parents, teachers, other random women will come and straighten me up).

Once I figured out how to wear a sari my family would let me dress myself and let me out in public with minimal (or no) intervention. This was a very positive step for me. However, the Sport Meet at the senior school last week was a different story. It is essential that one looks very beautiful at a sport meet. Very important. Very beautiful. One needs a new and very beautiful sari for a sport meet. One might indeed need a new sari – I tried to say that I didn’t. But that didn’t seem to translate (or compute) so I tried on some of Pushpa’s saris. But they were either too big (and then the frill is too long and I looked ugly) or they didn’t match the colour of any of my sari blouses (and matching is very important). Fortunately, I was given a sari by Seethanjali that matched my black sari blouse so I was able to wear a new and beautiful sari for the sport meet. But, I wasn’t allowed to put it on myself, Pushpa had to do it for me to make sure it was neat and beautiful.

She did. And it was neat and beautiful. While standing still in front of a mirror not moving it looked lovely (if you like that sort of thing – which I don’t). By the time I got to school, the over-the-shoulder-dangly-bit had come loose and was falling off and I was standing on the bottom of the sari (my frill was short and beautiful because I was standing on the other end of the material). So once I got to school I had to do some tidying. But this seemed not to increase my ugliness noticably since the only comments I got were positive.

I must say that after being dressed that morning I very nearly took to the bloody thing with a pair of scissors and changed into shirt and trousers. Why the hell can’t people just let me be ugly? Why am I responsible for improving the aesthetic surroundings of other people? If they don’t like looking at me, they can buy an oil painting to carry around with them or look over my shoulder at the amazing countryside here – which, in my humble opinion, far surpasses the beauty of even the most beautiful/handsome Sri Lankan.

I seem to have managed to get out of wearing necklaces. I snuck out one day without one without having one thrust upon me (on another day, I was nearly late because a necklace had to be found for me) so I have been continuing to try my luck since. I did buy a chain to wear but it was a crappy silver thing that turned my neck green – not ideal!

I don’t care about being beautiful. I don’t feel it is my duty to look beautiful and since it’s something I don’t particularly want to be, I don’t want to waste my time, money or energy on it, and I certainly don’t want to sacrifice my pragmatism for someone else’s idea of what looks nice. Pragmatism may not be all I have to offer, but it is a damn good starting point (gotta love Stoppard).

Now this is a problem that is mine, not Sri Lanka’s. And is something that I suffered from in Australia and in England. It is not unique to Sri Lanka, but does seem to be more pronounced here. And my sari is my uniform so I don’t have a lot of control over what I wear each day for school. And the lack of control is something that I’m finding difficult. But, like everything else in life (not just being here), I need to accept the things I can’t control and ensure I do exercise control over the areas of my world where I can exercise control. I may have to wear sari slippers, but at least I could go out and buy ones that didn’t have a heel on them.

I only have to wear a sari for another few weeks then I’m back to trousers.

The Senior School Sports Meet

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

February 26th was the much anticipated Sports Meet at the Senior School. They’d been practicing and trialling and running events for several weeks beforehand. Alex and I were excited. I had a special new sari (see the post on beauty for some of the background behind the sari).

The Sport Meet itself was due to start at 1pm (so parents could come and so that the students from the Junior school could come over once their classes finished). It actually started at about 2 (I think) so that was quite good!

There were distinguished guests (fortunately Alex and I weren’t among them – it was nice to just be normal members of staff). There was a flag raising ceremony (the school flag, the national flag, the flag of a regional education organisation and the Olympic rings (or the sports flag as I was told)). There was the national anthem. There was a torch (I kid you not – a torch – an actual flame – and torch bearers – and they ran round the ground and lit the central flame thing – a torch). There was an oath thing (well, we think it was, it sonded like one anyway). There was a podium and medals and medal ceremonies for some of the events that had been staged previoiusly. There were some relay races. There was a teachers’ relay too.

There are three sport houses in the school (Acme, Canon and Luminary). There are also three classes in each grade (Acme, Canon and Luminary) but these aren’t the same thing. There might be a student who is in Grade 7 Acme and in the Luminary sport house. Except for grade 6 where they are the same thing. Thought I should make that clear, I don’t want you getting confused.

Each sport house had a hut thing at the back of the ground that they had to decorate. This had been done that morning. Luminary’s looked like a police road block (their colour is green). Canon (blue) had two giant spider’s webs out the front of theirs. Acme (pink) had flowers. The decoration was part of a competition for the day. Canon won, though I thought Luminary had done a better job (despite the overly militaristic theme).

There was a western marching band (all girls) who did some formation stuff and were purple.

There was a drill display. I think this was Grade 6-8. And was a sort of opening ceremony type thing. Lots of small children doing (or trying to do) the same thing at the same time. A bit of aerobicsy stuff, some formationy things and a lot of just generally being out in the sun and looking beautiful.

There was the march past, which involved the eastern marching band (all boys – Kandyan drummers – no purple – they all wore their white uniforms). There was an incident with a cymbal that is probably best forgotten (especially by the musician in question) – the marchers did very well to not step on it. There were the older students marching round the track and past the dignitories.

Then there was a lot of standing in the sun. All the students were standing in columns on the field while there were some speeches. I say all, the ones that weren’t fainting (I lost count at 15) were standing. I ended up getting so freaked out by students falling over (or nearly falling over but being helped off the field by their friends) that I had a word with the principal. I asked if they could be brought in out of the sun. He said that they’d asked them to sit down (a teacher had been out earlier to ask them to sit) but that the students wouldn’t listen. Nothing more that he could do, but they might listen to me. So I hitched up my sari enough to be able to get down the stairs onto the field and stomped over to the students to do my bit to prevent the active loss of brain cells due to dehydration and unconciousness. I completely ignored whichever invited guest was giving his speech at the time and I went and asked them all to sit down. Actually I begged. Some did (till I walked away) but most just stayed standing (one said they had to). I don’t think any more fainted after that – the sun was going in a bit so that may have helped. I must say, watching students falling over really isn’t my idea of fun.

When it came to the final result, Canon had won. Which needless to say made them very happy and made everyone else feel rotten. The sports flag (i.e. the Olympic Rings) was ceremonially lowered, folded and jogged off the field. Everyone started making their way towards the people selling ice cream and the traffic jam to get home.

Just a typical sports day really. 🙂

Alms Giving

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

We have been very lucky in that we have been able to go to two alms giving ceremonies whilst we have been here. The first was for the school’s 10th anniversary, the second was for one of the English teacher’s father’s birthdays.

This was on Monday the 23rd of February which was a holiday (a Tamil festival). Sucintha (the English teacher) collected Alex and me and took us to her parents’ house. We got to meet the family, watch the food being prepared – fantastic!! And then see the alms giving itself. Then it was our turn to eat. Then tea, then home. A really lovely and fascinating day.

For those of you who don’t know: Buddhists believe in accruing merit throughout their life that will help them in their next life. One of the ways they accrue merit is to give. And one of the best ways of giving is to give to the local monks.

So 9 monks from some of the local temples came round. The seats were covered in white cloth as a mark of respect. There were also other decorations that were symbolically important. The family (plus the two of us) sat on the floor. There was some praying by the lead monks.

Then it was time for food. The monks are only allowed to eat between sunrise and midday. So lunch is quite important! The members of the family took a bowl each and walked round offering the food to the monks. So as not to leave us out Alex and I were given a bowl each to offer round too. Fortunately language isn’t required to find out if someone doesn’t want to eat something and I don’t think Alex or I gave anything unwanted to any of the monks.

After they’d eaten there were more prayers.

Then various members of the family gave each monk in turn a package. I beleive that these contain the items that the monks require, like orange cloth for their robes, a knife, a bowl for food, a fan, an umbrella. I’m not sure of exactly what they all are or if each monk got one of each (I don’t think they did given the size and shape of the packages).

The monks then left and it was then time for all the rest of us to eat. The food was magnificient. All sorts of really lovely curries, lots of rice (fried and boiled). Sambols, chillis, chillis and some more chillis. 🙂 There was fruit and ice cream for pudding (as well as curd, though Alex and I were somewhat taken with the ice cream).

I want to thank Sucintha and her family for welcoming us on this special day. It was fascinating talking to her father about Buddhism. It was amazing watching the caterers cooking for 50 people (the rice pot was big enough to fit me inside). It was really nice to talk to the other members of Sucintha’s family too. We were very well looked after and this was yet another example of the wondrous Sri Lankan hospitality. 🙂