Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seeing the University

Starting on the day we got here, we’ve been getting oriented to the University of Peradeniya. I fell asleep for a couple hours on Monday afternoon and woke up, still tired, when it was time to go on our afternoon walk. We saw a Hindu temple, a mosque, and a Buddhist temple, all of which are used by people at the university. It was very cool to see these three extremely different sites so close to each other.
The Hindu Temple

Outside the Mosque

The Buddhist temple surrounded by plants

We got an official tour of the university yesterday. We saw the library, swimming pool, and gym, which we’re allowed to use whenever they’re open. We also have been getting an unofficial tour from David of the plants in this area. Wherever we go, he finds all sorts of plants and tells us many unusual facts about them. We’ve seen fig trees that start growing only after they kill another fig tree, leaves that curl up when you touch them, huge bamboo plants, bright orange African tulips, plants that bleed poisonous latexes when you break off a leaf, and plenty of others.
David showing us an African tulip tree

We started our Sinhala classes yesterday morning, and had tea with some university students in the afternoon so we could practice what he had learned and start making Sri Lankan friends. So far, we’ve only learned a few basic greetings and how to introduce ourselves, and the university students only speak a little bit of English, so conversation was challenging and hard to understand. The whole experience was a little bit overwhelming. A few of the girls asked us for our email addresses, so hopefully we can see them again once we know more Sinhala.
All of us in front of the welcome sign the university students made for us. The Sinhala script says "Ayoobowan," a formal greeting literally translated as "May you live long."
Fire dancer who performed for us before we had tea with the university students.

We’ve been eating all of our meals at the hotel so far. Today, for our first traditional Sri Lankan breakfast, we had string hoppers, which are basically rice noodles formed into a pancake and served with curry. For lunch and dinner, it’s always been rice and curry, except one night when it was noodles and curry. I’ve been trying to learn how to eat with my fingers, which is pretty challenging and usually ends with me making a mess. We have tea every morning and every afternoon, always prepared with milk and sugar. This afternoon, we’re having tea with our host families before we move in with them tonight.
Monkeys on the side of the road.

Monday, August 29, 2011


I still can’t believe that I’m in Sri Lanka. We just finished our lunch of rice and curry (made less spicy than usual with the plan of making it spicier every day as we build up a tolerance) at the hotel we’re staying at for the first couple nights, and now I’m sitting on the balcony off my room. The past few days have been pretty exhausting, and it’s nice to have some time to sit and maybe even take a nap later this afternoon.
Except for a bit of confusion checking in for my flight in Boston, the journey to Sri Lanka was pretty easy. The ISLE Program had arranged for nine of the ten students on the program as well as Emily, the program assistant and recent ISLE alum, to meet in Chicago and travel together to Colombo (the tenth student was traveling from India and met us in Sri Lanka). Fortunately, everyone was able to get out before Hurricane Irene arrived. There were four of us traveling from Boston, but they refused to check us in all the way to Colombo because our visas are only good for one month and can only be extended for up to three months, but we are planning on staying for four months. We tried to explain that we would be applying for residency and that our visas guaranteed we would get it, but they said that to go to Sri Lanka we needed a return ticket for sometime in the next three months. As a result, we were only able to check our luggage as far as London where we would need to pick up our bags, go through customs, and re-check in for our flight to Colombo. With a three-hour layover in London, we were a little bit concerned that we wouldn’t have enough time.
We met the rest of the group in Chicago, where we learned that everyone else had successfully checked their bags all the way through, so when we got to London, those of us who had to go through customs got off the plane as quickly as possible and hurried through the airport. We made it through customs, got our bags re-checked, and got to our gate with plenty of time to spare. In fact, we got there before the rest of the group, which had to explain to the people at the transfer desk why their visas were too short.
The eleven-hour flight from London to Colombo was actually not so bad. It was long, but the plane was only half full, so I got two seats to myself and was able to get some sleep. David, the program director, met us when our plane landed at 1:30 am. After filling out our applications for residency, we got into a couple of vans to drive to Kandy. The first thing I noticed when I stepped outside was the humidity. It was 3:00 am, but still over 80 degrees. There weren’t too many cars on the road at that time, but there were enough for us to learn that the lanes in Sri Lanka are fluid—a two lane road easily becomes a three or four lane road when one person wants to pass another.
We got to our hotel at around 6:00. After eating mangosteen and rambutan (two delicious fruits), we got settled, ate breakfast, and went out for a walk around Kandy. It’s beautiful city, but I was a little bit too tired to really take it all in. In a few hours, we’re going to see some religious sites near the University. Then we have the evening off before Sinhala class tomorrow morning.

Waiting for our plane in Chicago

The sunset as seen from the balcony off my hotel room

Rambutan (on the left) and mangosteen