Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Islander and India

Last time I wrote, I was preparing to visit the Islander Center, which turned out to be an excellent trip. I went there expecting to focus on environmental conservation projects and the impact of the center on the landscape, but the highlight of my time there was learning about the center's residential leadership program for rural Sri Lankan youth. Youth from all parts of the country come together for three months to learn organic farming, business management, nonviolent communication, and other leadership skills while designing projects to address livelihood issues in their home communities. Every morning and evening, I worked in the garden with the students, and I participated in their nightly program of sharing songs, stories, dances, and games with each other. Occasionally, I would join them during their free time to play volleyball or cricket, two sports that they all have considerably more experience with than I do. Although conversations were hard, especially with those who come from Tamil-speaking parts of the country, I loved spending time with and getting to know these people, and I, as a foreigner, was incredibly popular among them.

Watering the garden
Carrying tools back after gardening
More recently, I just returned from a short trip to South India. Last week, was the Fulbright mid-year review conference for South and Central Asia in Chennai. It was really fun to meet Fulbrighters from other countries and hear about what they’ve been working on. I even enjoyed giving a short presentation on what I’ve done so far. After the conference, a few of us headed down the coast to spend several days in Pondicherry, an old French colonial town, where we explored the city, saw some South Indian beaches, and celebrated Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, during which people throw and smear paint on each other. We also visited the ancient city of Mahabalipuram with its rock carvings and temples.

Holi in Pondicherry
Sarah and me at Mahabalipuram

I’m back in Kandy now, and it feels good to be home. I’m spending the next few weeks writing up what I’ve done so far and making plans for the next stages of my research.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Farm Visits

Monsoon season is over, which means I was able to return to the Sinharaja Rainforest to try to do some more research. Of course, even when it’s not monsoon season, the Sinharaja is still a rainforest and precipitation is not uncommon, but the afternoon showers (downpours) were refreshing and cooled everything down quite nicely. (You may notice that I seem to mention the weather fairly often in this blog, which I think is because I’m starting to miss winter. I realize that it’s been unusually cold at home and that many of you who are reading this probably wish you were living on a tropical island, but as someone who has always lived in New England, I appreciate winter and to not have any snow or ice this year is weird and a little bit sad. It’s a struggle to even keep ice in our freezer because we lose power every so often and end up with puddles in the refrigerator.)

During my nine days in the Sinharaja region, I split my time between Nilmini Estates in Morawaka and small tea and mixed crop gardens in Deniyaya, a town close to one of the official entrances to the protected rainforest. I visited many farms, spoke to farmers and villagers, and spent a day hiking in the jungle. I learned about organic tea production, about the work being done to convert smallholder tea fields to organic, and about the flora and fauna of Sinharaja. I also learned that traveling by myself can be very lonely but also rewarding. I enjoyed spending time and staying with people in these rural villages, even if I sometimes felt isolated and a bit out of place. I was also very glad that I had spent some of my time over these past few months improving my Sinhala.

Madushani and Nadeeka, two of the office workers at Nilmini
who spent a lot of time showing me around the estate
Heading back to work in the Nilmini
factory after taking a tea break

A waterfall in the Sinharaja

These fish, endemic to Sinharaja, are known for "massaging" (i.e. nibbling on) people's feet. It's a very strange sensation to have 10-15 fish tickling each foot as you stand in the stream.

My forest department guide, who led me around the
rainforest, showing me a snake (apparently not poisonous).
I’ve also been getting involved with a new organic certification program organized by the Good Market, the large farmers’ market in Colombo. It’s called a participatory guarantee system (PGS), and the idea is that volunteers visit farms around the country and evaluate their practices to determine if they are actually growing food organically. It does not give farmers international certification, but it provides consumers with some reassurance that their produce is organic and eliminates many of the costs farmers have to pay to get export level certification. So far, I’ve been on two trips, one to organic tea farms near Deniyaya and one to small home gardens in the Anuradhapura District in the dry zone. Although I don’t have a lot of experience with this type of work and wasn’t able to contribute very much, I’ve loved seeing the farms and learning from the more experienced evaluators.

Kelsi, another Fulbrighter who's been helping out with the PGS visits, talks to a farmer in his tea field in Deniyaya

Evaluating home gardens in Anuradhapura

Next week, I’m heading back up to Anuradhapura to spend some time at the Sevalanka Islander Center, an organic farm, sustainable development training facility, and retreat center run by the national NGO, Sevalanka. Hopefully, this will be another enjoyable and productive journey!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Small Adventures

It’s been a long time since I last posted anything here. I wish I could say that that’s because I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to write anything. Sadly, it’s the exact opposite. There really isn’t that much to report on. My day to day life isn’t all that thrilling, and although I’ve had a few small adventures, as far the research goes, things are moving pretty slowly. I plan on returning to Nilmini Estates soon. Other than that, I have a lot of contacts who have agreed to help me, but nothing has materialized yet.

Here are some pictures of everything I’ve been doing when I’m not trying to figure out what I am doing and how I am going to do it:

I went to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens with my pen pal, who I first met on the train when I was here in 2011, and her mother:

I’ve been to the Udawatte Kele Sanctuary a couple of times. This is an area of preserved rainforest right on the edge of Kandy and is a great refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city:

Looking out over Kandy Town

Don't worry--the snake was dead when I found it
The first time I went, it had
just rained,which means
theseguys were active

In December, I climbed Sri Pada (Adam’s Peaks) with last semester’s ISLE students. There’s a saying that anyone who doesn’t climb Sri Pada is a fool, but anyone who climbs it more than once is a bigger fool. I guess that makes me a pretty big fool, but at least this time, it wasn’t raining, so we could see the sunrise:

Anna, Alex, and I added some holiday decorations to our apartment:

And made use of them when we looked after the puppy that one of our friends adopted:

 I went whitewater kayaking and rafting with Anna, who is a raft guide:

Shuttling a raft on a three-wheeler

And today, I bought a working blender (in contrast to the broken blender we bought before) and can now make smoothies instead of buying fresh juice every day, which will both save a lot of money and allow for some creative combinations of fruits.

I want to try blending one of these:

It’s a lavalu/egg fruit. It has the consistency of a hard boiled egg yolk and tastes like a very sweet pumpkin or yam. You never know what new fruits you’ll find at the market…