Saturday, July 24, 2010

I'll Just Go and Come, Shall I?

In Sri Lanka, for some reason, people never say that they are just leaving, not if there is the chance they will come back. It's always "I'll just go and come, shall I?" I've been thinking about this since I left Sri Lanka, yesterday at 1:15 Colombo time (exactly eighty six day and fifteen minutes from when I arrived). When I was leaving and saying good bye I told every one I would go and come - because how could I not return to this wonderful, magical, frustrating dripping land? Somewhere along the line, despite (or because of) the terrifyingly hot food, the constant sweating, the insane traffic, I really began to love Sri Lanka. I was sorry to leave.

Sorry to leave, but not sorry to get to London! Yes, I'm finished my internship, and am celebrating with a few days in London. My flight was coming through here anyway, and I have lots of time, so I thought I'd stop and see the Tower of London. I've been to London a couple times, but never seen the Tower (the first time I came we were so broke we could only see what was free, which included the outside of the tower; the second time I was only in London for an afternoon, and obviously Westminster Abbey takes precidence).

The flight from Colombo was long, but not full. I had an empty seat next to me, which I consider to be the most rare and wonderful of all airline pleasures. However, to counterbalance this, the lady in front of me kept her seat reclined an unreasonable amount. Still, with seat back TVs and some decent movies, it was an ok flight.

I'm staying at a YMCA in London, and it proved to be easy to get to - took the tube straight from Heathrow, with only one change. The room is nice- a private room, and it has carpet! and hot water! These are things that I got used to not seeing in Sri Lanka, where neither is very practiable. This morning I had my first hot shower since I was in Bandarawella with Fr. Dilho, and it was glorious.

I'm here for a few days, then back to Canada. I'm finished my time in Sri Lanka, but I still have lots of stories to tell - internet was often difficult to come by, and by the time I had a chance to update this blog, there would be too much to post. So continue to read for the next few months, as I reflect on my trip, tell the stories I wasn't able to tell before, and of course post more pictures.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Culture Shock

It's always the small things that get me in Sri Lanka. I expected the food to be different, and it is. I expected the people to have (to my ears) accents, and they do. So those things don't really surprise me. But the other day, I was sitting in church, wearing my black cassock and white surplice, right in the midst of a traditional BCP evensong service. Aside from the fact that I was slowly roasting to death in my heavy black cassock, everything was familiar. Then I looked across the chancel (where we were sitting) through the vestry, and out an open door on to the street. From where I was sitting I could see a dirty cement wall covered in election posters (from the elections in January). So far, so normal. Then a little man with a mustache wearing a sarong and no shirt wandered by, and I was suddenly reminded that I was not, in fact, in Canada, or even England, but was indisputably in Sri Lanka.

It's the same with the language. They have what they call "Sri Lankan English" (SLE) here. The idea is that every country has its own way of speaking English, and that none is exactly wrong, just different. If two Sri Lankans can speak SLE to each other, and understand each other, what does it matter if the Canadian is lost? There is an accent, of course, and as I said, I expected this. What I didn't expect, the part of SLE that really gets me, even now, is the phrases they use. Sri Lanka was an English colony until 1948, and so the English they speak here uses English slang and phrasing. This gets confusing for a North American who uses the phrasing from the USA more often than England. I cannot express my confusion and amusement the first time I heard a driver, who had been cut off in traffic as "that fellow! That cheeky fellow!"

When I ask people if I can take a picture of them, I get a blank look. When I ask if I can take a photo, it's all smiles. I even catch myself beginning to use it with people, which has prompted a question for me. Is it better, would it make me easier to understand, if I use SLE (at least to a degree), for me to speak Canadian English? Sometimes I think that to use SLE would be better, as it is what they are used to hearing. But then I use it, and it sound so fake, sound to my ear as if I am condescending to speak SLE, that I revert back to Canadian English. At least until I get another blank look.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Well, I'm sorry about the lack of updates here. If I don't update, dear reader, don't be alarmed- it's that I'm too busy meeting people and doing things! Internet access here is a bit difficult sometimes. At the Theological College there was only one internet computer for the students - and it didn't always work. Here in Colombo I use St. Michael and All Angels Polwatte church office internet - which means fitting my time and use in around the needs of the office. To make up the lack, I'll put up some more pictures today.

I'm not in Sri Lanka on holiday. I didn't come here to relax, or see the sights the way most tourists visit. I came to learn, to learn about the church and the people, the rewards and challenges of being an Anglican and a Christian in this country. Of course, every now and then even the most dedicated of cross cultural learners manages a day off to visit an elephant orphanage.

In my case, it worked out very well. I had not been able to go when I was at the college, though it is near by. However, last Friday was the College Day, and the induction of Fr. Jerome as the new principal of TCL. There was a van going from Colombo, so I was able to go along. Fr. Dushantha, who is the parish priest at St. Michael's and one of my supervisors, had the idea to drop me at the orphanage on the way, to the college. I would then take the train to the college, after a few hours with the pachyderms, arriving in plenty of time for the induction.

I didn't go alone. There is a graduated TCL student, Nireshe, who is working at St. Michaels, and he had never seen the orphanage either.

The van dropped us off about six kilometers from the orphanage, and we caught a bus the rest of the way. In Sri Lanka even this can be an adventure - the drivers seem to resent stopping to pick up passengers, and much prefer to just slow down. The accepted technique is to run along, and hop into the open door. This can be difficult, especially if you are the second person, and the first doesn't move up quickly enough. However, we both made it on, and to the orphanage.

The first thing we saw were enormous crowds. Despite its somewhat out of the way location, this is a very popular stop. The second thing I noticed was all the white people. I've gotten used to being surrounded by Sri Lankans, used the way the dress, and move and (more or less) used to the way they speak. To suddenly be surrounded by a bunch of light skinned people was... odd. And I didn't expect that. There were also a lot of school groups, great herds of little children all dressed in white (shorts for the boys, skirts for the girls) with the school tie.

Anyway, despite the crowds, there were not that many actually in line to buy a ticket. So we maneuvered our way through the crowds, and got two tickets. Tickets were rs. 100 for Nireshe (about 90 cents) and rs. 2000 (about 18 dollars) for me. At first I was taken aback by the enormous differential, but then I really thought about it. These elephants are Sri Lankan elephants, and to price a ticket for a local at the rate they charge foreigners would mean that most people would be unable to see the elephants. However, the elephants are expensive to look after, and to price a ticket for a foreigner the same as what a local can afford would mean that it would be even more difficult to maintain the operation. So, I guess it's fair. I can afford eighteen bucks, after all, and it is a good cause.

The first thing we did when we walk in was go to the feeding area. This is where they had a couple babies, who they were feeding milk. Tourists could feed the babies as well, but it cost extra. Since we were there just at the end of feeding time, we passed on the extra. Although we didn't feed the babies, we were able to pet them. Yes, I petted a baby elephant. Easily the highlight of the day. Pictures were a bit difficult, as Nireshe was still getting used to my camera, and the baby, in the manner of babies everywhere, refused to stand still and pose. This is the best we could do:

Here's a better picture so you can see the whole of the baby:

The babies are pretty big- almost as tall as I am. They are still tiny compared to the adults. I just couldn't get over the sheer size of these creatures. I've seen all the movies, and all the books, and everything, but they were still just so big...

At the other end of the feeding area was an adult, clearly very old, and clearly not very healthy. They had him (her?) in a sling so that she could stand up. She was enjoying a meal of branches.

After watching the babies for a while, we wandered over to see what the adults looked like. They were feeding in a big field, just over a hill from the babies. There was a big herd of them, there must have been seventy or more (this is not just an estimate- they have about 73 elephants at the orphanage). It was a blazing hot day (always is here), and the elephants looked amazing, especially against the background of the Sri Lankan hills. One of the handlers called me over, and had me pose for a picture with him. They use these enormous poles to herd the elephants.

After watching the adults for a while, our attention was drawn by an elephant who was standing by himself under a cover, off to the side. This (we found out later) was Raja, an elephant that was found in the jungle, having been shot at many times by poachers. Despite this, he was never killed, and he manged to keep his beautiful tusks. This is a picture of Raja, and a picture of Nireshe with Raja. We took one with me and Raja, but it didn't turn out - the sun made it hard to see the camera screen, leading to a picture of me, with no elephant in sight.

Having seen the elephants, we were wondering what to do next. There didn't seem to be any more stations. Over at the feeding place, the babies were gone, and there were some adults hard at work dragging logs around.

We watched this for a while, and then we turned around and saw a magnificent sight - a whole herd of elephants walking through the compound. They were followed by an equally magnificent herd of tourists. We had no idea where they were going, so Nireshe asked- turns out they were heading to the river for a bath. I was shocked at my luck - to see the elephant both fed and in the river! We hurried along at the tail end of the crowd (pun very much intended).

The elephants (and tourists) were led out of the compound, across the road, through the village and down to the water. In the river, the elephants gamboled and the tourists gawked. Some of the elephants laid down in the river, fully submersing themselves. Some would suck up water with their trunks, spraying it over their back (I had no idea they actually did that. I thought it was just a thing in the movies). Some moved straight across the river to the sandy banks on the far shore, and covered themselves with sand. It was pretty amazing - we stayed for an hour just watching them.

After an hour, we had to get going, in order to make it to the college in time for the induction. I was sorry to leave of course- who knows when I will see elephants again?

We caught a bus to the train station, and waited for the train. We were quietly waiting, writing postcards (well, I was anyway), when all of a sudden the platform was invaded by several dozen white clad school children and their various parents and teachers. Nireshe struck up a conversation with a parent, and found out, to our dismay, that they would be on our train.

We had decided to take the train because the views were said to be spectacular. In my mind, I had pictured a slow journey on a nice cool, empty train though the majesty of Sri Lanka. I must have forgotten where I was. Nothing here is ever empty! When the train came, Nireshe and I pushed our way through the waist high crowd, and managed to secure a couple seats facing forward. The rest of the mass of children and parents crammed on as well. The carriage was full - every seat was taken, often by a parent with a child on their lap, and there were many standing as well. The views were magnificent, but pictures were difficult, as you can see:

the two heads in the pictures are the two little boys who stood at the window the whole time. I didn't really mind though - how can you get mad at kids wanting to see their own country? What did bother me was the screaming. Through every tunnel, every kid screamed. For the whole tunnel. It was kind of neat at first - the screams echoed off the tunnel walls and back into the car, making it seem like we were traveling through a Tunnel of the Damned. It was only cool for the first tunnel - after that it was just headache inducing.

Still, this is what travel in Sri Lanka is like: hot, crowded, and by Canadian standards, very slow. There is not really any point in getting mad about it - it is just the way things are.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Theological College of Lanka

It's been a quiet two weeks for you, the anxious reader, and I apologize for that. I've been (and am till Saturday) at the Theological College of Lanka, an ecumenical training ground for ministers and teachers of religion. Internet access here is limited at the best of times, and has been more so due to some technical issues at the college. To make it up to you, I'll not write too much, but post some pictures.

The college is on a hillside in the jungle. It's near the town of Kandy, which is the site of the last independant Sri Lankan kingdom, and a heartland of Sinhalese culture. It's hard to get good pictures of the college as a whole, because there is so much jungle in the way! The main classrooms, mess hall and men's dorm is at the top of the hill, and the library half way down, so you look out at the roof of the library from the classrooms. The quarters for the married students and the lecturers are nearer the bottom of the hill, and run up the side of the next hill.

This is a view looking down at the library. You have to walk down about a million steep slippery concrete steps to get there.

The college is an ecumenical one, with four main denominations: Anglican (Church of Ceylon), Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian. Baptists and Presbyterians are not common in Sri Lanka, and there are none of those students at the moment. There are a couple from the Church of South India, which has a diocse in Jaffna.

This is looking up to the main class room building. There are four classrooms, a larger seminar hall, and a beautiful chapel.

The dorms are pretty basic (well, the men's dorm is. I assume the women's is as well). Basic, but not horrible. There is the standard cement floor (this is common in Sri Lanka), and the whole place is open (also common). There are only cold water showers (common) but the climate here is much cooler than the rest of the country. This is especially noticable at 5:30 in the morning!

This is my room in the hostel - the bed is not as comfortable as it looks.

But I didn't come here for a soft bed or hot water. I came to meet the students, and they are what has made my time here special. They are mostly (but not all) in their twenties. Some are married, and live in housing provided by the college, but most are single. When a person becomes a candidate for ministry here, they are not allowed to marry until they are ordained.

This is me with Pradeep, the secretary of the Student Body.

This is a picture of some of the students having afternoon tea on the verandah of the mess hall.

This is (from left) Sashi, Fr. Stephen (the lecturer in Church History), Newton and Anil. Newton and Anil are both candidates from the diocese of Colombo, and brought me up to the college with them when they returned to school from the long vacation (April-May and half of June)

Friday, June 18, 2010


This post is dedicated to Dad, who is always interested in how much things cost

Living in Canada, I'm always sort of peripherally aware that it is a rich country, and that I am, in comparison to the rest of the world, very wealthy indeed. However, this is usually buried underneath the worries on how I'm going to pay my rent or tuition. I never really thought about how much my dollar can buy in the world. Most of (ok, all of) the traveling I've done has been in the USA, UK or Europe, where the dollar does not match up very well. I guess if I thought about it, I would have said that compared to the world, I was even poorer than I thought!

Then I came to Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the Canadian dollar buys 110 Sri Lankan Rupees. I was reading the classified ads and want ads in the English language paper the other day (this is Dad's influence) and I took some pictures to give you a sense of how the economy works here. First up: a want ad. This is an ad for a housemaid working overseas. Many Sri Lankans take jobs like these, going out of the country for a few years so that the family at home can survive. As with all migrant workers, they are often abused. But look for the moment at the wage -that's monthly. To save you the math, that works out at the current exchange to about $190.07. Monthly.

"OK" you say "so they don't make very much- but the cost of living is pretty low as well, right?"

Well, that's partly true. You can live on that salary - It's about what most of the clergy here make. It's a wage that you could afford to live on, but just barely. What you couldn't afford are the things that Canadians take for granted. Take a look at this car ad:

Yep, ten million rupees. That works out to 90,484.34. I mean, sure it's a nice car, but not for that price!

This is how Sri Lanka works. The basic wage for the working person is low. Very very low. However, those that have money, tend to have a lot. The split between the rich and the poor is enormous here, and can be easily seen just by watching the road - who is driving a twenty year old motorcycle, and who is driving that Toyota?

And just in case you thought the Toyota was a lone example, here's another car ad:

Monday, June 14, 2010

This is Jaffna

Along the main street in the northern seaside town of Jaffa is small shrine set up beside an old stone church. These shrines are not uncommon, whether along the roadside or beside a church, they are regular sights in any area of Sri Lanka where there is a strong Catholic presence. Usually consisting of a lighted glass case with a statue of the saint inside, they offer a place for the devout to stop and pray as they go about their day. What makes this shrine unusual is that is has been erected beside an Anglican church. And the Anglicans had nothing to do with it.

For thirty years Sri Lanka was wracked by civil war. The war has had many definitions from many people: a struggle for freedom, for a homeland, against racist oppressors, a terrorist action, unjust, barbaric, unjustified. The war took place mostly in the north and east of the country, along the Jaffna Peninsula and the region just to the south of the peninsula, knowns as the Vanni. As with most wars, territorial gains swung back and forth between the government forces and the LTTE (the Tamil Tigers). The civilians were always the losers in this back and forth of territory.

The town of Jaffna is the most significant center in the north. A center of learning before the war, the standards of education in Jaffna were recognized throughout the country, with Jaffna school papers and exams being used for student preparation nation wide.

Jaffna was also subject to the conquest and re-conquest that were a part of the war. The town was captured by the LTTE in 1990, and re-taken by the government forces in 1995. The town was never captured without a long fight, which involved a significant amount of collateral damage. There were many houses and businesses inadvertently destroyed by the repeated shelling.

One of the buildings that was severely damaged in the battles was an Anglican church - Christ Church, Jaffna. Formerly the High Church of Jaffna, during the fighting the building reverted to one of the most ancient functions of a church building- being a place of sanctuary. citizens from the surrounding community would gather in the church during the worst times, in the faithful belief that such a holy place would be safe from the shells.

One night, as the masses were huddled in the church, desperately praying for their safety, two shells fell on the church. Two shells fell, and neither exploded, nothing short of a miracle. The surrounding community banded together and built the shrine that can still be seen outside the church. People who were there on that fateful night still come regularly and pray at the shrine.

Although no one was killed, the damage to the interior of the church from later fighting was severe. Several windows were blown out, the walls became pockmarked with bullet holes and shell fragments. Much of the roof was destroyed, as were the parish hall,and the mission house adjacent to the church.

The war has been over for a little more than a year now. The LTTE were defeated in a decisive military action, and peace has come to Sri Lanka. The people of Jaffna are beginning to put together the pieces of lives shattered by war, or perhaps more accurately, are learning to live in a time of peace. Thirty years is a long time, a whole generation. A state of peace is something new here.

One of the people most dedicated to this new peaceful way of life if Fr. Nesakumar, the Anglican Archdeacon of Jaffna and rector of St. John the Baptist. Fr. Nesakumar has big plans for Christ Church, Jaffna. The Diocese has already repaired the outside of the church, but the inside remains scarred by war. Shell marks and bullet holes still pock the walls. In one niche the head of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary still keeps watch over the church.

The plan for the inside is to repair the small side chapel, with wooden carving behind the altar depicting Jaffna as it was before the shelling. The nave of the church will remain unrepaired, and will become a center for peace. The plan, which is already beginning, is to hold conferences and workshops about peace in the middle of this battle scarred building.

Recently some school children from the south of Sri Lanka were visiting Christ Church. "This is Jaffna" they said. "It's painted and repaired on the outside, but the inside is broken and scarred".

As Christians we know that the church is the people, not the building. However, it is true that our building are reflections of who we are as a community. Christ Church, Jaffna, reflects the scars and wounds of the people of Jaffna, it reflects their work at rebuilding their town and their lives, and it reflects their deep desire for a lasting peace, and an end to war. Truly, this is Jaffna.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday School

As soon as I used the word "context" I knew I was in trouble. I was speaking to a group of Sunday School children (4-18 years old), for most of whom English was a second language. Here I was telling them that I was happy to see Anglicanism and Christianity in a new context...

I was at St. Luke Borella on Sunday. This was a bit of a last minute trip, as I had hoped to head down south to Galle, but a number of factors made that not work out. So, late on Saturday night, I was told to go to St. Luke's. The trouble with last minute visits is that no one is really prepared- not me, not the priest. After the first service (7:15, Sinhala), I was asked to go see the Sunday School. Even after being here for a month, I really thought that I would just be watching, seeing what they do.

I headed over to the parish hall with one of the Wardens, Asoka (who is also my friendly 3-wheeler driver). We entered the dimly lit hall, and I could see a cluster of fifty or sixty children on folding chairs, an overhead projector, with chorus projected on screen. Quite like my own Sunday School, really. Quite like what I remember, except the five piece band to accompany the chorus. A five piece band (including a violin) and three singers to boot. This was Sunday School done seriously!

A woman came rushing up to us as we came in. Asoka introduced her to me as the leader of the Sunday School. I smiled, and was polite. She asked me to say a few words. And that is how I ended up telling this group of children that I was enjoying seeing things in a new context.

Who really likes the word "context" anyway? Aside from theological students, of course. For us, its essential. For the rest of the world? Less so. For kids? Not at all.

I awkwardly made my exit, and joined in singing the choruses. The band was really quite good.

Sunday School here is a serious thing. They have a curriculum (produced by the National Council of Churches), which includes exams. Actual exams. Attendance in Sunday School is considered imperative for Christian kids who want to get into the best schools, and so attendance to the Sunday Schools are limited to the children of people who actually worship at the church. You're not allowed to just send your kids. Since Sunday School is usually after church (or before, but never during a service), many churches also have classes for the parents waiting for the kids. And the parents go.