Saturday, November 26, 2011

Research in Nuwara Eliya

I’m back in Kandy now, after spending 11 days in Nuwara Eliya, learning about land use in the area. The first week was great. I got out almost every day to interview fruit and vegetable farmers, researchers, or home gardeners. The second week, although still interesting, was not as enjoyable as it started raining on Sunday and still had not stopped when I left this morning, 7 days later. I used to laugh at Sri Lankans who complain about Nuwara Eliya being cold, but I understand now. The first week, when it was sunny, I got cold in the evenings and ended up sleeping in the fleece jacket I bought on my second day there. The second week, I was always cold, day and night. It makes me worry about what’s going to happen when I return to Massachusetts and then Maine in January.
One thing that I loved about this past week and a half is that I got to spend every day going outside into some beautiful place, although I did get a little bit sick of seeing leek and carrot fields. Perhaps what surprised me most during my research is that very few people seemed to think that organic is possible. Everyone wanted to reduce their use chemicals, but even people at the Agricultural Research Station said that without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the farms just won’t be productive.
The most eventful thing that happened to me was having my food stolen by monkeys at Hakgala Botanic Gardens. I was sitting in a small pavilion, eating strawberries, when all of a sudden three monkeys appeared and grabbed the (almost empty) container of berries. They were sitting in the door, seeming to be expecting me to give them more food. Wanting to get out of there before they came after more of my stuff, I climbed over the waist-high wall rather than walk through the doorway guarded by monkeys. Later, they tried to take my mango, and as I was putting a plastic bag, full of trash into my backpack, one grabbed the bag out of my hand and climbed up a tree to share it with the others. I let them keep it and continued walking around the gardens.

Vegetable farms

All of the terraces in the background are vegetables, mostly carrots, leeks, potatoes, beets, and cabbage

The view from Hakgala Botanic Gardens

Old tea plants in Hakgala Botanic Gardens

Ambewela Dairy Farm

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Finishing the Second (and Second to Last) Session

Although the past week has not been the most interesting of weeks, it sure has been busy. Classes for Session 2 ended on November 4, and then we had a week for exams, papers, and final projects, while also preparing for independent study. I spent the week reading, writing, photographing plants for a botany project, and attempting to study for my history exam. Needless to say, it’s hard to study for an exam, which requires two detailed essays, for a class that covered 450 years of history in 5 weeks and has no reading list. It was slightly reassuring, though, when the professor’s assistant told us that the professor knows how to deal with students like us (i.e. Americans). I was able to take plenty of study breaks, however, to play hide and seek, run and catch (aka tag), and Carrom with my mallis and nangiis. We also had our dancing and drumming concert on Friday. We definitely made a fair number of mistakes during the performance, but it wasn’t a disaster, which means it exceeded my expectations.

After unsuccessfully searching the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens for a breadfruit tree (needed a picture for my botany project), I discovered that there was one in my backyard.

Practicing Dance in the Hall

Nervously awaiting the start of our performance

I’m now in Nuwara Eliya, getting ready to start research for my independent study. I’m going to be studying the environmental impacts of agriculture in the Nuwara Eliya District, and starting tomorrow I’ll be going out into the fields with officers from the Agricultural Research Station here to talk to farmers about their use of fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, and erosion control. I’ll be staying here for 2-3 weeks, living with a very nice family (a grandmother, mother, and two daughters) before returning to Kandy to write my paper.
It’s hard to believe that I only 5 weeks left until the program ends (I’ll be staying in Sri Lanka for an extra 2 weeks, traveling with my family). There are definitely parts of me that are ready to go home, but I know that I’m going to miss being here—I’ve gotten close to my host family (I’m going to miss them just spending 2 weeks in Nuwara Eliya), and Sri Lanka really is a beautiful country—there just isn’t enough time to see everything here.

Some pictures from my home in Kandy:

The orphaned baby squirrels my family is keeping until they are large enough to fend for themselves

Nangii sitting on the porch at Attamma's house