Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I had a hard time sleeping last night. I spent half the night sitting on the toilet. Really, what would a trip to Sri Lanka be without one of those? The other half of the night I stayed up listening to the war that was going on in the attic. I could hear tiny claws running across the ceiling, then some squealing, then some more running and then a thud. It went on all night and I was determined to figure out what it was. But I didn't want to leave a 5 ft radius of the bathroom, so I decided that it could wait.

When I got to school the next day I knew something was wrong. A police officer was talking to Bro. Granville. I heard that one of St. Bens' Tamil students has been arrested for suspicion of terrorism two days earlier. He had been taking pictures with his camera phone and the authorities took him in. The kid was no where to be found, however. I knew it had to be something else. Bro. made an announcement but I couldn't hear what he was saying, I figured that it wasn't too important because none of the boys were listening too attentivly. Then he came out and turned to me.
"There is a little havok today."
"Oh yeah, why?"
"There was a Tamil threat today on the schools and many boys did not come."
The LTTE had aparently threatened the schools of Sri Lanka. We had to search every students' bag and check all of the classrooms for, a bomb I guess. Melissa, Blair and I debated what we should do. We didn't want to go home, but we didn't want to be in too much danger.
"It's Bro. Granville's duty to keep his boys safe, he wouldn't keep the school going if it was dangerous" I said. So we went to our classes.
I have to say, I was a little afraid of my "11A" class. They are my Tamil class. I didn't know that they were all Tamil until last Saturday when Titus told me. I hated looking at them a little differently, not as if they were inferiour, but I looked on them with a bit more caution. That is, however, until and I walked into the classroom. I could feel in the air two seperate and simultaneous emotions. I could tell that the kids felt different. They seemed to be suprised that I had come at all. At the same time some of the students walked with an air of superiority, as if I should be afraid of them. My fear dissapated then and there, and I went back to being my usual self. I could tell that in the end, they were happy that I was not, in fact, afraid of them. They were glad that I had come.

I went to have tea at Interval with the brothers, Melissa, and Blair.
"So my students told me what Bro. Rajan said the noises upstairs probably were."
"Oh yeah?" said Melissa and Blair.
"I said that he said they were like rats, but bigger than rats. They said it's a 'Polecat.'"
"So, is it a cat, or a rat?" Asked Blair.
"That's exactly what I asked."
"Ah yes! A Polecat. We kill them and eat them. Good eating!" Said Bro. Vernon at one end of the table. I shuddered to think of eating a huge rat.
I turned to Melissa and Blair and said, "Have you ever heard of a Polecat?"
"Polecat! Yes!" Bro Naked (Bro. Ben's new nickname) said from the other end of the table. "You can hear them..." he pointed his finger at the ceiling.
"Yeah I know! They kept me up last night."
"If you catch them I will kill it and cook it for you! Very good meat on them animals. You can hear them in the church too. We try to pray and then move about like so" Bro. Naked said.

I went back to teach. I couldn't teach too much because most of my student's didn't come to school. I told stories, did some work, and had conversations with my students. I was told by Bro. Granville that the afterschool classes were cancelled.

I got to talking with my students and I asked them how they felt about the situation.
"Do you think anything will happen?" I asked. Their answer was pretty much mutual.
"It has to happen sometime."
"How do you guys feel? Nervous?"
There was a pause for a second, then slowly everyone began to say, "sad."
School ended in the middle of the last period and all the guys that came to school, about half, went home. On the quad I met one of my students. "Keep safe" I said.
"I dont understand." Oh boy, what a reflection on how I was doing.
"Be safe..." the expression on his face said that he had no idea what I was saying. " caution... just, uh, be... Have a nice day" and I gave him a pat on the back.
"Oh okay! Very well. Thank you, you too sir. God Bless." It was useless advice anyway. You can't spot a Tiger.

I got back to the provincial and tried to take a nap, but I knew that as soon as I fell asleep, the Polecats above would awaken me.

Monday, June 26, 2006

I first gained interest in Sri Lanka in the 9th grade. Bro. Lawrence, in an effort to help us remember all the nations of Asia, said, "Think of India as an elephant" and we all saw the resemblence. "Now think of Sri Lanka as the snot flying out of that elephant's nose."
"Wow" I thought, "A nation of snot!"
So needless to say (but I'll say it anyway) when I was asked if I wanted to go teach in Sri Lanka all I could think was, "How could I pass up the opportunity to teach in the snot of India?" Well, there isn't really too much snot here, although today my students laughed at me when I said "God bless you." "What's funny?" Then I realized that to them, those words are a way of greeting each other. It's a Catholic school and I still haven't gotten over hearing that all the time.
Then we couldn't help but to fell snotting when we said "Where is our driver?" twice in one day. We have a driver that comes to drive us to and from school, and today he was late, and then he never showed up. We found our way, however.
Bro. Lawrence had another analogy, "...or it can be the tear coming from the elephant." Well, I haven't really seen too many Sri Lankan's cry, but I have seen a lot of smiles.
So really, I just felt like writing about snot and tears.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The streets were empty. Where avid cricket fans usually gather was now dead quiet and we three stood on the dark corner of two side streets making eating motions to a cop. "You know, food? Food! To eat? Where is the cricket club at which I can eat?" The cop understood little and just pointed at the cricket stadium where the trishaw driver had dropped us off a few minutes earlier, after a misunderstanding. "No this is a cricket stadium, I need the Cricket Club, on Queens Rd." He just pointed and smiled. "Okay, thanks anyway." I couldn't blame him, he only understood one word and from what he summised, he was giving us the correct instructions.
"That looks like a major road, lets go there" Blair said. So we started walking. I glanced up and became mezmorized by the airial assault of vampire bats. The near 4 ft bats came gliding across the sky in search for food. They would swoop down and eat tiny bugs, bugs that I had to assume were there becasue they were so tiny. These large bats were able to find tiny bugs and eat them till satisfaction, and we three, semi-intelligent human beings, couldn't find an entire restaurant.
We eventually hopped into another trishaw and he took us to the Cricket Club. Melissa and I had both eaten there in January and we thought that Blair might like it. There was a vegitarian menu so she loved it. We had a great time, with great food. Blair regailed us with a tale of her getting naked and then kicking some Buddhist monks off of the radio, and then went on to embarass Melissa. We were filled with a delicious two course meal (the ice cream was amazing) and cooled off with the air conditioning. We fell about the place in laughter.
We left to get a trishaw (or "took took" as I have come to learn they call them here) and found a group of them standing at the crossroads. They all came out and asked where we wanted to go. "Mutwal. De La Salle st? St. Joseph's school?"
They talked to each other trying to figure out where it was. Then one of them turned to me.
"By the big church?"
"Uhhhh..." I couldn't remember.
"Yeah. Yes." Blair interjected.
"Oh yeah, and the police station too. Between the church and the police station" I said. "How much?"
"300 is good."
It was okay, so we took it. It's rather futile to bargan with a group of them. Then they chose one guy, a kid practically, to drive us. I could tell that they were giving him directions and then they said something else and I couldn't understand them.
We hopped in. "Colombo 7?" I had no idea.
"I think so," said Melissa.
So we squeezed in the back of the took took and took off. The man drove like an animal, he stopped for nothing. We prayed for dear life. As he kept going he would turn to us and ask if he was going in the right direction. At the time he was in the wrong lane and to be honest, I would have liked to start working on that.
We found our way and got out. We took out 300 rupies, and since it was late I was going to give him 400, I was still in a good mood. "Okay, 500" he said.
"Uhh no we said 3, and im giving you 4" I said.
"Oh no. I did not know how to get here and it is late."
"Well I'm not the cab driver, I shouldn't have to tell you how to get here."
"If you didnt know you didnt have to say yes to us then!" Said Melissa.
"We are already giving you a hundred more than we agreed on" Blair added.
The argument went on like that. I did most of the talking, mostly nonsensical stuff, and then Blair and Melissa would make good points. Then I would just repeat what they had said, using my size as my only addition. He thought we were tourists. They know that we aren't tourists since we are living in a provincial, but they still try to squeeze more money out of us. It's not so much that I couldn't spare the extra dollar, but I took it as an insult. I wouldn't let him push me around and besides, we weren't getting paid to teach and a dollar can go a long way here. If I got ripped off a dollar every ride for 6 weeks, I'd be short nearly 60 bucks.
"Is night time, is different."
"It was night time when we left, when you said 300!" In actuality it was his friend that said 300.
"No! He didn't know what he was talking about. He didn't know where we going!"
"Then- you- didnt-have-to-take-us." Uh oh, Melissa was getting Bronx on him. I was waiting for the earings to come out before the rumble.
"Okay," he said "then lets go to the police."
"Okay," said Blair and Melissa together. The man was taken aback by their willingness to go to the police. At first I thought that the last thing I wanted to do was get their police involved. Then I saw what they were doing, this guy had to work and couldn't waste his time with the police, and besides, the police would cause him just as much trouble as they would us.
"Yeah let's go! Let's get in your cab and let's go."
"I don't know where it is." He said.
"It's right here!" I pointed to the wall 3 ft away, behind which laid the fortification known as the police station.
"Let's hop the damn fence!" Melissa suggested.
"Common! Let's go! After you." I was practically shouting. It was very unlike me, but I was having a good time. "I don't have to teach tomorrow, so let's go, let's go bother the police for 100 rupies." I was stepping into the took took, hoping that I was calling a bluff.
The man turned to me. A pregnant pause.

I thought he was going to hit me. He was half my size and the security guard was watching me, but I was a bit afraid. It was a dollar, I could give it to him, a dollar to not get hit or stabbed. His eyes were a little worried and tired.

Then, in a low voice he said to me, "you are a crazy-man!" He took the money and left. We ran inside and threw the gate closed behind us, the security guard was laughing.

We sat down in the lobby of the provincial to take it all in when Bro Rajan came up to us. "Have a good evening?" He was so polite, so concerned for us. His aim was to please us with all that he could. He had told us several times that it would make him happy if we could come up with something for him to improve on, but really, everything was perfect.
"Mmmmm... yyyyeah." Blair said.
"Your 'yes' does not sound so..." he was searching for the word.
We laughed and told him our story. "Yes well, then you got a good taste of Sri Lankan hospitality." Everyone laughed "Okay, I am going to bed," he looked tired. "Is there anything I can get you first?"
"No," we all said with smiles on our faces, "nothing at all."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Before I start talking about stuff I just want to thank everyone who has been reading these. It makes me feel less pathetic when I write them; it's good to know someone is reading them. I'm not sure how one responds to comments on this thing, but know that I thank you a lot! I'll get personal when I figure it out.
So anyway, the first week is over. Everyone here has been more than helpful in making sure that we are havnig a good time. I find that I now know my way around the city rather well, although I spend most of my time, when not at the school, resting around the provincial. It's very relaxing. Usually we return from school, lie down for a half hour, and then we meet in someone's room and talk. I have to say, Melissa and Blair are two fantastic travelmates. They are both just plain out of their minds. We make each other laugh as only real friends can.
At the school I get worn out. The kids drive me crazy and I love it. If I liked them everyday then they wouldn't be my students, but they would just be a novelty. I know them enough to hate their sweet little guts.
The most satisfying part of the day is the two hours of extra help I give after school when I get students to memorize part of a Blake poem and then write their own. On Friday one of my best students appeared at extra help and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why. Then when I asked them what they like to do he told me that he likes to write. An ideal student, getting help for the love of writing.
Today I had to help the drama club with their preformance of The Mechant of Venice. Since few people showed up, however, I was asked to talk about Shakespeare. I gave an hour long lecture about him. If they liked it or not, I do not know.
I had to make my own lunch today. Bro Rajan asked if it woudl be okay if the cook go home to see his mother. "Well, if everyone here left work to go and see their mothers, then we wouldn't be here would we!?" Is what I said. Then I made him scrub my toilet. Actually, I said that I could manage (and by I can manage I really mean I can leech off of Blair and Melissa). But that's how nice everyone here is, asking my permission to see their mothers.

Bro. Rajan said to me "so I noticed that there are some things on your floor." I think he meant to say was, "What happened to the floor? I can't see it anymore?" "Can we give you somethign to help you keep organized?" (As if the dresser I dont use isn't enough.) "Oh, no," I say. "I'm just messy."
"Oh, okay then."

I return to my room and I find a toilet scrubber in front of my door, brand new!

I can't imagine what I miss when I'm not here. Such fear ran through me when I heard of the war going on in Sri Lanka, but when I am here, I realize that there is very little to be afraid of.

I spent a half hour today looking out at the sea. The bay was filled with small boats coming in from the day, and others going out for the night. The men who were leaving were beginning a long hard journey over the tiny sand bar and into the Indian Ocean. Ahead of them laid a large falling sun sending rays of light that resembled large thin glowing fingers reaching across the sky to grab the other side of our lonley troubled planet and rock it asleep. Eventually it would be night time and everyone here would be asleep while they would be working hard. Few people will know what happened while they were gone. While rowing out to that sun they delay the darkness only a little; enevitably the dark night will fall upon them. They row on, not worried about what they won't be able to see because they know there is very little to see at all.

"So we beat on, boats agains the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A tropical paradise, a beautiful summer's eve, two good friends, and the best sea food in all of Sri Lanka, what more could I ask? I spent the better part of a few nights ago stuffing myself with a fresh fish (the head of which Blair attempted to make out with until its tongue fell out), garlic prawns, and spicy crabs. It only cost me $18 too. Eventually I rolled out of my chair and walked onto the beach. We walked over to get a cab and we found the greatest cab driver ever.
"Cab, Taxi."
"Yeah. Mutwal? De La Salle road? Okay?" While talking to Sri Lankans I talk like a retard.
"Yes Yes! 350 rupies?" The price was pretty good, so we said okay.

Then he ran away. I looked for him and I caught him jetting down the block. Usually I would have gotten someone else but I knew that he would be coming back.

And he did. He wheeled around in his red trishaw and we hopped in. I generlly judge a cabby by his cab. Some cabbies deck theirs out, statues of Hindu gods, sexy Sri Lankan babes fully clothed, its pretty much right off of the set of "Pimp My Ride." All this guy had was some Arabic writing on his windshield. You know, it'll give me some reading material as I smash my face off of it.
"Where you from, sir?"
"Ohhhh, Americans!"
I turned to Blair and trying (successfully) to worry her I say, "This way, he knows what currency he'll be getting after he shoots us and takes our money."
He goes on to tell me that he's a musician who plays the drums. In between sentences he laughes an outrageous amount. Then the conversation turns to musical taste. He likes Abba and The Eagles. Then he says that he loves Peurto Rican music. I turn to Melissa and laugh. "Oh yeah like who?" "Rikki Martin, Marc Anthony...Shaggy!"
"Oh yeah, Shaggy came to Sri Lanka, right?" Says Melissa.
"No, before he come here." We had offended him. How silly of us, he liked Shaggy when he was underground. "Black music also very good!"
"Oh yeah, like what?" No answer. I realized that I sounded like I hated it. Oh yeah? I bet you can't give me one example cause it all sucks!
"Oh uhhh.. I mean I like it too."
"The Commodors" repeat Melissa and Blair.
That came out of the blue.
"Lionell Richie?" Asks Melissa asks as a joke.
"Yea!" Oh, okay then. "English music, American Music very different."
"Yeah I love English music."
"Freddy, Queen, Freddy Murcury. Very good voice. Great band. Sad, Freddy died. Old Age."
I didnt have the heart to tell him that he really died of AIDS. "Yeah, old age sucks."
"One time I drove three Ameican to Mutwal!"
"Oh yeah?"
"They give me 1500 rupies!" Then he laughed.
"Yeah well...." then I trailed off, casue I'm cheap.
We got him lost but after asking for directions he found the Provincial.
Melissa gave him 5 rupies and he automically went to give us change, usually they go for it slowly hoping that we will forget. Considering that he drove us across the city and only asked for $3.50, didn't kill us, we got him lost, and he got pulled over because he had Americans, we let him keep the extra money.
Melissa asked for a picture of him as she turned to us and said, "He said Peurto Ricans are the bomb!"
"Come! You sit in here" and he pointed at his seat. Melissa sat in it but she asked for him to be in the cab too. He gave a handsome pose and it was then that I realized that this man looked like my dad's friend Paul. Melissa took one more picture of just him, the gate was opened and we went in.
"Oh shit!" yelled Melissa. "I lost the phone!" The old boys gave us a cell phone to use in emergencies. She checked every pocket. We heard the cab wheel away into silence. We ran inside trying to think of where it could be. We figured that it had to be in the cab. We ran upstairs to the phone in out hallway. Oddly enough it is a hollow phone with fake buttons, but it's plugged in. I figured that there had to be a phone in the part of the building for the old brotehrs. I led the way, tip toeing and making sure that the "coast was clear" everywhere we went. We got to the hallway for the old bro's. the 85 year old brother, who has done nothing but insult us (he told Melissa that she was too dark, Blair was too light, and I think he just hates me) showed us the phone we could use (after I tried to use the phone that could only call in the building). Melissa dialed the cell number hoping that the cabbie would pick up. No answer. "Try again" I said, and she did. I was glad that she was doing it 'cause I didnt want to have to put up with trying to explain the situation to him. "Does this sound mean that it's ringing?" She asked as she gave me the phone just as the cabbie picked up.
"Hello?" Damn you Melissa "Yes! It's me. The American. In Mutwal. De La Salle!"
"Oh yes! Mutwal! How are you?"
How am I? Didnt he think it was strange that we called him on a mysterious cell phone, yet I still responded "I am good.... You have my phone. Can you bring it here, please?"
"Oh yes your phone! I have it. Okay Okay, I bring it tomorrow." It sounded like he was going to hang up.
"No no! Please we need it tonight. We will give you money!"
"Okay I come!" Uhhh hello, it's I WILL come. Anyway I thanked him a million times and we hung up.
We ran back to the courtyard. Blair and Melissa ran to their rooms to get the money, I went to the street to meet him. The gatekeeper jumped out of the dark bushes and caused me to scream like a little girl. He opened the gate with a cigarett filled smile.
Blair and Melissa met me a minute later.

And we waited.

A trishaw went by... not him.

And we waited.

Another trishaw!

We witnessed some sort of drug deal and them some other guys walked by saying hello to Melissa and Blair. The guys blew them kisses. I was the only person to say hello back and the guys got mad and left. Oh well.

We waited.


The police came by and asked us questions.

And we waited.


A tiny bat flew past the street light.

Then a gigantic bat flew by. I think I peed myself at that point but it's so humid here, who can tell?

And we waited. And hour had gone by.

"Who are we kidding, that guy is curled up with a Lion Lager and a Shaggy album calling everyone he knows," I said. We went to the guard booth to see if they had a phone. They didnt. I walked to the entrance to look with one last ounce of hope for the man as I considered to close the gate.

I heard another trishaw.

It was red! It had Arabic lettering on it! It was him! I shot my arms up in joy. "My man!" I yelled as Blair and Melissa jumped and clapped. He stuck his hand out of the cab and slapped me five and then we shuck hands.
"I drove very far!" He said sounding like a kid who just learned how to drive. "I did not hear it the first time and then I heard it!" He got out and stretched, the poor guy drove all over. He showed us his phone and I think he wanted to give us his number, we should have taken it. We gave him 700 rupies, almost tying the other Americans. We should have taken his number. He asked the guard how to get somewhere and we went inside thanking him. He had a huge smile on his face.

I can't help feel like that man. I came here once to help these kids and I had a great time. Then eventually, after not writing, only three of us came back. Some of the students seem dissapointed that so few of us Americans liked their country. enough to come back. A few of them though, like me waiting for the cabbie, seem relieved that we came back, having never lost their faith in our word. Some thought that none of us would ever come back at all. But like I said in the beginning, I knew that the cabbie would come back. I hope no one closes the gate. I hope we don't come back too late.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

My roomate's name is Annabelle. When I first set eyes on her I realized that our relationship would work out becuase she was eating a mosquito. Yeah that's right, she's gecko, and a sexy one at that. She ate some flys an then tried to sell me car insurance.
She seems to like the room as much as I do. I have my own bathroom with a shower, dresser, desk, the room is bigger than any room I have had before AND it comes with a mosquito net (Annabelle has to watch her girlish figure and therefore can't eat all of the mosquitoes).
The first night we got there it was 2 am. So we went right to bed. I fell asleep at around 3 45, just in time to hear the Mosque say their prayers over a loudspeaker right next door to me. That was frightening. At this point, I almost find it soothing.
So I woke up again at around 10 am and Melissa was already awake. We weren't sure where Blair was, the options were either kidnapped, still asleep, or eaten by a snake. So, not wanting to disturb any of those three things, Melissa and I went to go for a walk to the shore which lies just at the bottom of the hill, below the provincial.

What a mistake that was.

To get there one must walk through the fishing village. It involves maneuvering in sewage and practically in people's homes. Everyone stared at us. On man jumped in front of me asking where I was going. "To the Johnsons for some brunch. Sure we've had our differnces but oh man, his wife's cooking is so good I'll keep coming back." Where did he think? I just walked around him, ready to kick some Sri Lankan ass (Sri Lankans don't have a martial art like other Asian countries, so I don't really fear them).
We reached the sewage delta known as the harbor and we headed back to school, but not the way we came. I thought I saw a path leading up the hill to the school so we headed for that. When we got the bottom of it there was a puddle of neon green sewage. My first inclination was that it was the ooze which gave the ninja turtles their power, but then i realized taht it was probably anti freeze, if I was lucky. I took one step in and then realized that four snaked swam further into the sesspool. "What was that?" Melissa asked. "Uhhh, I'll tell you when we get out."
I wasnt too sure if we would, but we did.

Turns out that Blair was sleeping. She was awake and wanted to go for a walk. "Wanna go to the beach?"
Hell no.
"Yeah sure!"
Melissa said she would just watch from above. Nothing too exciting happened this time, although I was almost attacked by a wild pack of family dogs.

Then there is teaching. It's harder work than ever before.

Before we began we waited in the computer lab. Someone knocked on the door. Upon opening it a tiny Sri Lankan man screamed "Bonjour!!!" Oh Bro. Augustine, how glad I was to see him. He was giggly and himself and I was glad. I was afraid that he would be angry because I never wrote him. He looked at me and said, "Sorry I never wrote, I just forgot." It was then that I remembered why we got along. "It's fine" I said.
He loved the C.D.'s and I imagine him singing the words alone in his room at night.

At tea time today Bro. Vernon asked me what I thought of my neighbor in the provincial. I realized that it was a joke since he was sitting right nedt to me. Bro Benjamin (or as I refer to him, "Easy Rider" since he drives a motorcycle) is another giggly man who seems like he is high. I love him. I looked at him and said "Oh he's a good neighbor so far." He started to crack up and then forcing away the laughter he said, "Most of the time I'm half naked!!!"

It's true, too.

When I got back from school Easy Rider's door was open. The tv was on and there was a huge picutre of Jesus on the wall. Behind the desk all I found was an upright newspaper. "Hey Brother, how are you?" He lowered the newspaper revealing the shirtless Sri Lankan behind it. "Oh fine fine!"