Ayubowan is hello in Sinhala, so “Hello” to all of you from Badulla, Sri Lanka.
I’ve been in Sri Lanka now for two months and I think it’s time for an update. Badulla is a gorgeous little town in the South of Sri Lanka with an incredible charm that is continuously growing on me. I walk twenty minutes to the WUSC office through the vegetable market taking in all the unique sights, sounds and smells of Sri Lanka, and purchasing fresh veggies on the way home. It’s definitely different to the big city life I’ve grown accustomed to in Toronto but definitely something which I now cherish.
Badulla is, by Sri Lankan standards, a cool climate and before living in Canada I may have agreed but I have now come to the conclusion that anything above 20 degrees is just too hot. Thus I find Badulla to be pretty warm and smile every time someone asks me if I’m cold when the rain falls and the temperature drops a little.
My first morning in Badulla I awoke a t 6am to the sound of hammering and sawing coming from next door as well as the garbage truck announcing its passing with music. I thought at that moment that there would be no late mornings on the weekend if each day were to begin as this one had. However, I have now come to expect that soundtrack as the background music to my mornings and miss it if for any reason my morning rituals are not accompanied by these sounds.
Working in the WUSC regional office, my work includes working not in only in Badulla but the three surrounding districts for which the office is responsible. I have thus far travelled to Hambantota and Matara for work. A small island girl at heart, these long drives can be quite tiring but the lush green scenery comprising tea plantations as far as the eye can see does help to break the monotony of the drive. It baffles me the speeds which Sri Lankan drivers will achieve on the dizzying mountainside roads but focusing on the landscape in the distance helps to distract me.
Of course, one of the biggest things once I arrived in country was the language barrier. My second day in the office I got to attend a presentation for graduates of a vocational training program and while I imagine the entire thing must have been interesting I understood none of it. So I spent three hours trying to look as though as I was paying rapt attention though I was completely lost – well maybe not completely. There is a tendency to insert English words into daily use, I’ve been told that this s because in some cases the Sinhal word is too difficult to pronounce (even for native speakers) or everyone just knows what the English word means, so I was able to pick out some English words. Sinhalese is by no means an easy language to master, but I am making progress. Slowly but surely and hopefully by July, I’ll be more than able to hold my own.
The language barrier has coloured all my interactions especially with partner organisations as I attempt to get to accomplish the task at hand which in the first instance involves monitoring and evaluation. Still, it has thus far generally been a great learning experience – coming from a Political Science background and diving head first into micro-credit work there has been a steep learning curve but a welcomed challenge.
Other challenges here include getting accustomed to eating with your hands. While it creates a deliciously homey feeling, the first few times you feel slightly awkward and a little self conscious as though you expect to be scolded for playing with your food. Also if you’ve never done it before, when you are served with hot food (which actually isn’t that often) your fingers are unprepared to deal with the heat. But once you get the hang of it it changes the way in which you experience food for the better.
Another big one is not eating. Let me explain – in Sri Lanka they eat rice and curry three times a day. Rice and curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they expect you to do likewise. I however, have never really had a big appetite and have never eaten breakfast on a regular breakfast much to my father’s chagrin. Most people in the office and that I come into contact with fail to understand how I could not eat rice for breakfast or how I could skip breakfast altogether – thus the first and I would argue ultimately the most important phrase in Sinhala that I learnt was “Badagini, neh” (I’m not hungry) – though they may not find this a satisfying answer and may try to offer you food, it often works. This applies not only to breakfast but to all meals, Sri Lankans will try to feed you any chance they get – they’re a hospitable people like that.