Saturday, July 29, 2006

Slaughter the fatted calf, prepaire my second best bed, because I'm coming home, finally! I had a good run but all this work really beat be down. Everything, well almost everything, is packed and ready to go.

On Friday we had our end of the term meeting with the Old Boys. Lasantha, Felix, Neil, Casey, Ravi, and Dudley were all there. We met in Brother Grandville's office. Some lemonade was brought out to us as we sat in a circle, I sat between Blair and Melissa, and Bro. Augustine sat next to Blair. Bro. Grandville sat behind his desk, quietly and overshadowed by the Old Boys. It was run like a buisness meeting. I was an Ed major to avoid such meetings, but it had to be done. Felix, Neil, and Casey all had notepads and took copious notes. "Would you come back?" "How did you benefit?" "What should we change?" We ourselves had a lot we wanted to say, maybe even to get off of our chests, but we were afraid of seeming too demanding. Yet the Old Boys were so receptive and understanding of what we had to say that we were able to say everything. We told them that teaching 5 classes and having 180 students a day, then after-school classes for 2 hours as well as Saturday classes was too much and anyone who would come for longer would have a hard time. Then one of the Old Boys asked the million dollar question.
"What I want to know is, what were the other teachers doing while you were teaching? They just had the time off?" They looked at each other saying things like "Thats what I want to know" and "good question." Bro. Grandville squirmed in his chair. I looked over at Bro. Augustine who whispered, "Nabbed!" at us. The Old Boys were upset that we were replacement teacehrs and not supplement teachers, as were we. We gave our suggestion for a smaller classroom size consisting of the most struggling students for next time. They all agreed. Titus -- the 10th grade teacher-- was in the room and tried to defend himself, making it seem that, although he wasnt teaching it gave him the opportunity to do other important things. Only Bro. Grandville agreed.

The next day Bro. Augustine Silva came over to go fishing down on the shore. Rasika bought me some prawns for bait. We went to one beach and caught nothing. We stook on a rock and fished off of that. As the tide came up we decided it would be best to get to a better fishing point. So we got down, and I must say for a 53 year old man Bro. Augustine is nimble, jumping from rock to slippery rock without ever even coming close to falling. We passed two boys with 3 fishing poles and one boy offered a pole to Bro. Augustine since we had to share mine. He said no thanks though. Then we went on some rocks that jutted out far into the sea. I heard someone yelling and it was Rasika, who stook on top of the hill by the provincial. I told her to come down. She raced down the hill with Judith and her little sister Loretta, and some boy holding a little baby. Bro. Augustine Nicoletti came only for a few minutes then went back up. The pole rotated between us and the sun was near its end. It splashed the most beautiful colors across the sky and the air was now cooler. I thought that some other fisherman, maybe in the Maldives or Africa must be waking up and seeing the other side of this beautiful illumination. The kids went back up. It was just me and Bro Augustine.
"Want to try again?" I asked.
"No no, you go." I casted out and pulled back nothing, not even my bait. I asked him again if he wanted to try.
"No no Michael, you go, I like just sitting here, watching you fish and the sky." He was sitting on a rock and his feet were on another, getting wet with each wave. He put more bait on my hook, I cast out and pulled in nothing.
"Let me know if you want to go." I now had an understanding that fishing for him at this moment was not about catching a fish, but about experiencing the calm ocean. I was glad to have a friend who could appreciate the beautiful sky and the soothing sound of the ocean slapping the rocks.
"Do you think we should go in before it gets dark?"
"Yes, but I think you must try once more." He said. He put the bait on my pole and I cast out again. I brought back nothing.
"Shall we go."
"Try once more." I did. "Once more."
"Sure." He didn't care if I caught anything, and neither did I. I saw that I had no bait but I left my hook in the water, pretending that I did have bait. I didn't want to make him get up to put some bait on. Neither of us said anything or removed our heads from the dipping sun.
"Okay Michael" he said. We packed up and climbed on the rocks to get back. It was almost dark and only a small flame peeked over the horizon. The little man in front of me hopped from rock to rock. "You know Michael, I think that we shall keep this friendship until the day we die." The sun was down completly and a four foot bat cruised above us. He jumped onto another rock.
"Yep, until we die."

Friday, July 21, 2006

It was a nice breezy afternoon. I looked out over the Indian Ocean. "Do you think you are ever going to go fishing?" Asked Blair. She had read my mind. I had been thinking about the fishing pole that my dad bought me which became a burden to bring on the plane. I had to use it.
"I'm thinking of going now."
"Oh yeah? I'll come with you." So I ran upstairs and set up my pole. Everything was ready.
"Gunna catch anything big do you think?" Asked Melissa.
"Pssht, I'll be lucky if I come back with my tackle." We ran outside and found a good spot to fish from. I stood on some rocks and began to cast. Nothing. I cast again. Nothing. I cast again. I got stuck on something. I freed myself. I went again and again. Next to me were two guys my age, both fishing with wooden poles and no reels. A Hindu family which had been enjoying the ocean came over to talk to Blair. The sun was setting.
Stuck! I tried to free myself but it wasn't working. So I moved over, but that didn't work. I jerked and twisted the rod. It was stuck. Everyone was looking at me, this foolish kid with a fancy pole who had yet to catch anything. The two boys came over giving me advice in Sinhila. I did what they said. Nothing. I fought with the pole as the Hindu family talked to Blair and giggled at me. Wave after wave of water would come up and smash into me, but I fought on. One of the two boys walked over to me. In good faith he handed me a fish. I held the six inch fish which was gasping for water in my hands. A pity fish. I felt pathetic.
"Oh, haha, thanks, but it's okay, I don't want to take your fish." I said. They didn't understand what I was saying, but they understood what I meant. They pointed at the sea. They wanted me to throw it back? I figured that they would keep anything they caught here. "Throw it back?" I point at the sea. They nodded yes. The fish was still gasping. Each wave hit me and gave a little more life to the fish and only poured salt on my wounds. The sea had caught my hook, and with each wave it reminded me of its victory. I tossed him back. I fought with my pole some more. The other boy offered to help. I passed him my rod. He pulled. The line snapped. I knew I was beat and they did all that they could to help me. He made a hook shape with his finger and then stuck it on a rock.
"Yeah, I know." I said.
Blair said goodbye to the family. "Stutti" I said to the boys. They started walking to a new fishing location. Blair was making arrangements to meet the family the next day.
"I think I'm teaching that woman English tomorrow." I laughed. I went up to my room and changed out of my soaked clothes. I went across the hall to Bro. Naked's room.
"Hey, Bro. Benjamin?"
"Ah yes! Okay. Ahehehahaha." A pretty standard response from him.
"You don't know anything about fishing do you? Like, what bait I should use and stuff?"
"No, I don't know. Bro. Rajan will know." I then told him my story. He just laughed and laughed at me. Bro. Ignatius then walked up the stairs and asked what was so funny. I told him my story and then he laughed at me. Great, I was the laughing stock of the fishing community in America and now in Sri Lanka. Bro. Ignatius said that he would ask the girls he tutors to help me. So the next day two sixteen year old girls in dresses with flowers on them, whose favorite subject is religion and are from the fishing community, would take me fishing. My only hope to catch a fish was in these two, soft spoken young ladies.

The next day after school they came up to me. "Malu?" Rasika asked. "You want to go fishing?"
I tried to play it off real cool, as if I didn't need these girls. "Oh, well I mean, if you aren't buisy, sure."
"Okay, well at six o'clock I must come back to study." Great, she had a curfew. "Okay, I go and get some things." They ran down to her house and I went to my room to change. I saw Bro. Naked in his room.
"I'm going fishing, and I won't come back without a fish!" I yelled. He burst out in laughter. Rasika met me and had brought some tiny hooks without holes for the fishing line. I had no idea how to tie these kinds of fishing hooks. The other girl grabbed my fishing pole and ran down the hill and we followed. She sprinted in front of us and went deep into the sketchy fishing community. I hadn't been in there since the first day when I vowed to never come back. The girl was getting a weight and some bait from a family friend, who also attatched the hook. A man came out of the bar (which is owned by my student's mother) to talk to us. His daughter lived in Sacramento.
"Teachers, we are teachers at St. Bens."
"Teachers!? Oh! then you are always most welcome!"
We were ready. We walked out onto the rocks which jutted out far into the bay. "Where you go fishing tomorrow?" She meant yesterday. I pointed to the spot where I had lost my hook. "Oh! There are no fish there." You mean to tell me that the fish aren't fourty feet over there, but are really over here? Okay whatever.
I cast and brought my line back in. Nothing. I did that a few times.
"If any of you want to try let me know." I said. A few minutes later Rasika's friend wanted to try. She asked me to cast for her. So I did. I turned around to say something to Blair when I heard the girl yell in joy. I had just finished saying, "I bet she catches a fish" when she caught a fish. Now I had to catch a fish. I unhooked the fish, and in doing so hooked Rasika's hand. I unhooked Rasika. I tried once, then twice. Everyone was giving me advice. The man whose daughter was in Cali came over to see how we were doing. Now he was giving me advice. Fishing, for me, is a nice, solitary, relaxing sport. I don't care if I don't catch anything as long as I am having a good time. But now there were just too many chiefs and not enough indians. The girl who caught the fish wanted to try again. This time she succeeded only in tangling my line. I fixed it. I casted out again. I got stuck. This is when everyone had advice, none of which worked. The old man, whose name I later found out was Clifford, would not stop telling me what to do. Rasika told me to cut the line and that she would get me more stuff. She left and came back in ten minutes with new hooks and a new weight. Clifford had been lecturing me on something, what it was I don't know. He was able to tie the hook on however. A nearby fisherman helped by giving me some more appropriate weights.
"Come fish over here" he said. So now the fish were ten feet over. Okay fine. I cast out, nothing. Again, too many chefs sturring the pot. The other man caught a nice big fish. Damn him! I could do that! I tried again. Rasika's friend wanted to try again and she tangled my line, again. The sun was going down and they had to go. In trying to detangle my line the hook got stuck on a rock. I was going bazerk! Everyone had advice. I decided to not listen to them anymore. I jumped down onto the lowest rock after handing Blair my wallet, my camera, and my room key; I handed Rasika'a friend the pole. I got on my knees. I could see a huge wave coming at me. It got me drenched from head to toe. I didn't care. I would be damned if I lost this hook. I stuck my arm into the water following the line to the hook. It was far. My chest was in the water. Another wave hit me. The water was dirty and salty. Everyone, except Blair, was telling me that all I needed to do was just tug on the line; that I was doing too much work. I ignored them. Finally, I got the hook out, cut the tangled line and started to head back. I was expecting Clifford to ask for money.
"Mike," he said "come back sunday, have a drink at the bar. We will catch fish!" Then he walked back home. All of his annoying advice really was from a good meaning heart. I went up to my room to shower. I came out and sat at the table downstairs. Bro. Naked was closing all of the windows for the night. He walked up to me. "How was your fishing campain?" I looked at him with angry and upset eyes.
"Only the girl caught a fish. I only got wet."
"AAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHEHEHEHEHHOHOHOHOHOHEHEHAHAHOHOHEHAHO!" He ate it up. He laughed all the way to the stairs, up the stairs, and into his room, and I'm pretty sure that I heard him laughing from my room at midnight.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The bus station was pretty crazy and I was glad that we hadn't gone alone. The St. Bens driver took us and said that he knew which bus we had to get on. When we got to the station, however, it was evident that he had no idea which bus it was. He asked around and someone pointed in the direction of a tiny, rectangular, white bus. We walked through the sea of people coming in and out of colombo. He asked them if this was the bus that would take us to where we needed to go, Udawalawe Junction. It was. He nodded his head at us and said, "Ok, good."
"How much?" I asked.
"Yes, Udawalawe Junction."
"No, how much will it cost?"
"Yes." Okay, that would be fruitless, so we just got on. It was a tiny air conditioned bus, nicer than most of the other busses. Fake flowers decorated the ceiling and crazy Hindi or Sinhila music blaired througout. We waited for a half hour and then were on our way. When we got there we were supposed to call a guy named Nishantha. His number was given to us by the man who took us to Hikkadua the weekend before. I called Nishantha from St. Bens on Friday.
"Hello? Nishantha?"
"Oh, is this Nishantha?"
"Okay, well your name was given to me about going to Udawalawe park?"
"Yes, ok."
"So... what... He said that you could pick us up from the bus station and bring us to a hotel, and then to the park the next day?"
"Ummm... at which hotel will we be staying?"
"No, which?"
I figured I would just ask a question that would be met by his answer. "So you have a hotel ready?"
"Okay great. Where should we meet you then?"
"Yes.... Get down at Udawalawe Johnson. Call me. I'll pick up." It was understood that if I called him he would pick up his phone, so I think he meant to say that he would pick us up.
"Udawalawe Johnson?"
"Yes okay, bye!"
"No! Wait! 'Johnson?' Really?"
"Yes, goodbye." And with that, he hung up. So if Nashantha was really going to pick us up or not I was uncertain, but I kept on. I asked Bro. Augustine about the Johnson part, it turned out he meant Junction.
The bus went on for about three hours. Just as I was about to loose all hope of ever getting there the bus assistant sprang up and poked me. He pointed to the street and then told the bus driver to stop at the corner. We leapt of the bus and it sped away. Then there we were, at a tiny town known as Udawalawe Junction. And that's all it really is, a T where two streets meet. Its about 50 yards big. In the center of the famous junction after which the town is named is a Bow tree with a statue of Buddha under it. It served as a traffic circle. Buddha, sitting under that tree reminded everyone that "All Life is Suffering," and to slow down.
"Okay so let's call."
I took out the cell phone and the crumpled up piece of paper on which the number was written, along with all of the candy wrappers which were in my pocket. We had no service.
"I'm sure we can find a place to call around here somewhere" Blair said. We looked around, it was right behind us. We went in and asked for a phone. Then I gave the lady the phone number and she called for us. I was expecting her to hand us the phone once someone picked up, but she had a nice conversation with Nishantha. She hung up.
"He'll be here." She said. The town was so small she probably knew him. We waited outside for about eight minutes. A guy of about 24 walked up to us and said somethings which I did not understand.
"So... you're Nishantha?" I asked. I thought I heard that name in there somewhere.
"No, he went to town, but I can take you." To town? We were in town, I could have yelled his name and he would have heard us.
"Okay then!" I said. And we followed him.
100 meters from the junction was the hotel. It had two rooms, the right one and the left one. Each had only two beds seperated by a plastic night table. We took the right one. We had sat down for five minutes when the power went out. The only light in the hotel came from the incense that was burning next to the statue of Buddha. So this Buddha said, "Become one with everything, except, don't hit your head on the low clearence door." Nishantha eventually showed up and droopped us off at a restaurant and it was arranged that a "took took" would bring us back.
"Six thirty, your jeep will be here." He said. We went to bed, Blair and Melissa slept in the bigger bed, I slept in the small one.

We woke up at six and were out by six thirty. The three, always shirtless, guys who lived at the hotel together, woke us up with some tea. We got to the park. Everything was mysterious and elusive as no one really spoke. We paid and then pulled into the park. We could see elephants at a distance. The guide that came with us told the driver to go offroad. We got close to a family of elephants. Then we got closer. We were so close that I could hear the elephant growling at us. IT came up to the jeep. No danger came upon us. We went on, spotting crocadiles, (the last thing I watched before I came to Sri Lanka was Lake Placid) Jackle, myriad birds, deer, and more elephants. I was never afraid of the wild elephant to which we came uncomfortably close. I wasn't afraid, that is, until one tried to attack us.

It seemed as if our safari was coming to an end when we spotted a lone male by the side of the road. We stopped. The elephant kicked some grass at us. Nothing yet. I took some good pictures. "Okay, we can go." I said. The driver turned off the car, assumingly to not disturb the already disturbed elephant which was ten feet away. It yelled its loud trumpet roar at us and then threw some dirt. It leapt at us but the guide yelled and hissed at it and it backed down. Trumpet call again. More dirt, another jump. We pulled away. Our hearts started again. It's a known fact that most deaths caused by animals in jungles are caused by elephants. More than snakes or lions or any animal like that.

The last elephant we saw was an old male who stood in the road. He walked off slowly as he was hurt. His hips were damaged by another elephant, or so I gathered from what the guide tried to say.

We were dropped off on the other side of the junction. We paid the driver (or rahter, Melissa and Blair did, as I was out of money for the day and the bank was closed). We waited for the bus. We took a public, non-air conditioned bus. Seven Hindu gods with flashing red, yellow, and green lights around them decorated the windshield. Hindi music blaired. It was a fun novelty, the bus, or at least it was at first. However, after standing for three hours on a crouded, dirty, hot bus, I was ready to get off. I got a seat for the last hour.

We got to the station and found a "took took" driver.
"De La Salle, in Mutwal?"
"Oh! I went to school there when I was kid!" He said.

Friday, July 14, 2006

We were almost done with our 4th week when we heard the words that we had feared and expected but hoped to never encounter. Bro. Rajan approached us, "I have some terrible news..." Well, this was it. We had made it 4 weeks and now we would have to evacuate the country because of the war. How sad I would have been to have to leave this country in such a hurry. There were so many people that I would want to say goodbye to, so many last minute pictures I would want to pose for with people. And better yet, there were myriad skeptics who I wanted to show that Sri Lanka is really a peace filled country, yet now I realized that I was destined to fail in that endevour. What would my students think? How would they react when Bro. Vernon walks into the classroom and says that I had to leave? Really Sri Lanka had been great to us, we spent a marvelous weekend and Hikkaduwa and we were planning to go see elephants and leopards on a Safari at Udawalawe this weekend. But now the only elephants we would see would be on the souvineer t-shirts being sold at the airport. What a shame it would be to leave such a beautiful, hopsitable place. Then there are all the people who tell us that we are doing a great job, or a great deed, like Bro Rob who, in his twisted way, tells us that we are doing a good thing in e-mails to Melissa:

"You, Mike and Blair work with the poor and I'm off to the beach for the weekend starting today Thursday. Thank God we trained young people to do what we should be doing. Where will Blair go after Sri Lanka? Has anyone proposed to her? Better yet, has Mike proposed to anyone? It might be his last and only chance.

Be well!

Brother Robert
--Brother Robert C. Berger, F.S.C.
Vice President for Student Life
Manhattan College"

I'm not sure if I should be offended or scared by that comment. Anyway, what would those people say? Would they be dissapointed?

Then there are our adventures, well, they aren't so much adventures as much as they are our ignorant urban fears about the jungle. For instance last night Bro Naked found us trying to kill something in Blair's room. "A serpent!?" he assumed.
"No! It's a huge spider." He sprang into action hunting it down, but it was Blair that found it and killed it after it had ran away from us. Bro. Naked approaced the corpse. He burst out into laughter, "It's only very tiny! Harmless. I thought it must have been a serpent!" He laughed and giggled as he walked away.
"Serpent!?" We all asked in fright.
"Only a tiny spider" he forced out through his laughter as he closed his bedroom door behind him.

A pregnant pause between Bro Rajans sentences. We knew what was coming though. We were practically on our way to pack our bags. We could be outside in five minutes.

We stared at him awaiting the signal.

His mouth opened to finish his sentence. "We went to two grocery stores today and both were closed, so we couldn't buy any soda or anything like that." That was it? That was the terrible news? We didn't have to leave, but rather, we have to do without soda for a few days? We don't even drink soda! We all laughed and he just looked at us, partially insulted as he thought that we were laughing at his failed hospitality.
"That's fine Bro. Rajan. We will be okay, thank you very much."

Today Bro Naked spots me from across the quad, he hails me over. He bursts into laughter. "Only a tiny spider. Harmless! I thought it was a serpent. I'll call her Spider-Girl from now on!" He laughed his way into his office and I stood there, alone on the quad, watching my self pride melt on the hot black basketball court.

Oh yeah, today is July 14th! VIVE LA REPUBLIQUE!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Compared to Blair and Melissa, this tutle looks pretty good... hey-ooooo!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Hello everyone! I'm sorry that I haven't been able to respond to some of your comments, I will try soon, I just want you all to know that I have a new E mail address, it's . So please, e-mail me at that address if you want to talk to me. Also, I will be trying to put up some pictures on Monday. See you in 3 weeks! ALLEZ LA FRANCE!!!!!!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

So it was the 4th of July and I really didn't feel like teaching, I needed an easy lesson plan, and quick. Blair and I came up with it together, "Let's have them say what they would do if they ruled their own country."

"Yeah, they can make up their own flag, Constitution, sounds great." It was, I mean, I had to do very little and it was a change of pace for them, all would be great. And then I realized what might be a hunderance on this phenominal lesson, my Tamil class. Would this lesson lead to cries of violence. After all, other Tamils are, in fact, trying to do exactly that, make their own nation with their own laws.

I walked into the class. I am about to say something that no teacher should never admit, but always thinks. My Tamil class is my favorite class. They speak English really well, but have a personality and make me laugh. I have to tell them to keep quiet, but they aren't being disrespectful, they are just having fun with what I am teaching them. For instance, today I said, "Guys, quiet down" and they just repeated the word "guys." "Do you know what that means?" I asked. And they all said yes. So I couldnt figure out the problem. "Should I call you gentlemen? You certainly aren't." Then I went through a list of options. Sri Lankans, men, boys, kids, idiots, and lastly, "I know, I'll call you 'ladies.'" They laughed. "Okay get to work ladies!"
"Yes Madam!" yelled one kid. I had a good laugh.

Anyway, to avoid hearing cries of blowing up buses I made a speech about Gandhi, Thoreau, and King, with hopes that I would send them a message. In reality, it was unnecessary. They wrote eloquent stories about their all equal, democratic, peaceful nations. I was a pleased taecher. They had fun, I did little work, and they weren't so bored.

When I got back I changed my clothes in my room and came downstairs to get a drink, I was facing the doorway when a girl almost ran into me, "Give me a knife please!" It was Resuka, and before I go on I must tell you how I first met her: Melissa, Blair, and myself were all going to the computer room. Right outside of the room there is a rather large hallway, where several young girls who are daughters of the fishing folk from the nearby fishing village (many with paretns who were killed in the tsunami) are tutored by Bro. Ignatius. The girls range in age from 11 to 16. They study hard for many long hours everyday. They hang on to everything Bro. Ignatius says. He teaches them every subject and I have no doubt that St. John Baptiste De La Salle himself would be proud of him. So anyway, while going to the computer room, at about 9 pm we hear someone yell "Hey!" in a rather agressive tone. Now, if you have ever known a Sri Lankan, you would know that the agresson level in their voice and their volume never exceeds about 1 decible, so this yell caught our attention. It happened to come from a girl, which seemed even more strange. "Today is my birthday," she said as she cut three pieces of her cake and handed it to us. She was sixteen. "My name is Resuka."
"What a pretty name" I said, "I wont possibly forget it." About 10 minutes later I found myself asking Melissa and Blair, "What the hell was her name?"

Anyway, she wanted a knife. "What!?" I said.
"A knife please!"
"Oh... Okay. You're not gunna kill anyone with it are you?" I asked?
"I said, you're not going to kill anyone are you?" I repeated as I got the knife.
"I can't hear you?" I felt like I was talking to my dad. I spoke a little louder.
"You- arent- going- to - kill -anyone are you? I mean... I would hate to give a knife to someone... if... they were going to..." I just trailed off becasue by now the joke was long since stabbed by the very knife I was delivering. I turned the corner and found Bro. Ignatius staring at me with that same look my parents give me. The one that reads "You're an idiot" on it. Oh well.

And then today I saw a teacher smack a student for the fisrt time in my life. It made me uncomfortable, not because he hit the student, but becasue he couldnt control his own anger or the student. It was a Singhilese teacher hitting a Tamil boy. Sort of ironic. It was then that I realized that some teacehrs could control their class peacefully, like myself, Bro Ignatius, Titus, Melissa, and Blair, while others can't get what they demand in any peaceful way, so they do the only thing they know how to do, they explode.

My students told me to watch the soccer game tonight.
"Is it the 5th?" I asked.
"It is!" they said. The 5th, the 5th, hmmm, it rang another bell in my head. Oh, that's right. July 5th, Black Tiger Day, the Tamil celebration of the first Tamil Tiger suicide bombing.