Archives For Sri Lanka

Pol Sambol

October 15, 2012 — 2 Comments

Sweat rolling down your face. FIrst your mouth goes numb, and then the sensation envelops your esophagus and stomach. Quickly, you reach for water. Then you scoop rice into your mouth to try and balance out the intense heat of the meal you are eating.

Sri Lanka is renowned for its spicy food. It is really quite delicious, but if you’re not careful it can be a challenge. You must eat strategically here, as most meals are a combination of rice and three to five servings of curries or other side dishes. Saving a portion of mild food until the end helps cleanse your palate.

One of my favorite dishes in Sri Lanka is Pol Sambol, a sweet and spicy dish made out of coconut. It’s refreshing, chewy, and savory. Tonight I made some of this for dinner, and I’ve included the recipe I followed. All you need is one coconut, a tomato, onion, lime, some garlic, and a few spice.

  • Grate a bowl of coconut
  • Chop one small purple onion, peel and chop 2 cloves of garlic, chop one small tomato
  • Add a scoop of red chili powder and course black pepper and mix with the coconut
  • Mix tomato with coconut mixture
  • Pound (with a mortar and pestle) the onion, then add garlic, then coconut mixture. Pound together
  • Add juice of one lime and mix by hand in a bowl

Enjoy!

A man walks down the street, 
It’s a street in a strange world. 
Maybe it’s the Third World. 
Maybe it’s his first time around. 
He doesn’t speak the language, 
He holds no currency. 
He is a foreign man, 
He is surrounded by the sound, sound ….
     -Paul Simon, You Can Call Me Al

 

SriLankan Airlines flight 554 touched down in the predawn darkness of Colombo. Ten hours earlier we had embarked from Frankfurt, and had finally arrived a little after 4am local time. There was a light rain as we left the plane, and I was immediately struck by the humidity. Even in the early hours of the morning it was hot.

I met one other Fulbrighter in the airport and we found our driver, about an hour later we arrived at the bungalow where we will be staying for this month. After a large glass of water and a shower a nap was in order. Some hours later I woke up and made my way to the bank. Sidewalks, apparently, are not common in this section of Colombo. So the thirty minute walk was just what I needed to get out of the fog of jetlag.

After getting some currency, we made our way to a local restaurant. It was a simple place, with good food. For SLR 100 ($0.77) I had a delicious plate of food. It consisted of some rice topped with several curries – most of which were quite spicy – and a piece of chicken. Diving right into the culture, we ate without utensils; instead utilizing the tips of our fingers to mold the curry and rice into balls before shoveling them in our mouths.

Tomorrow starts our orientation.

I just found out that my placement in Trincomalle has been approved by the Sarvodaya district coordinator!

During my first month in Sri Lanka I will be in Colombo for language training and program orientation. During this time the Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission has arranged for myself and the four other English Teaching Assistants to live in a house together.

After the month I will go to the Sarvodaya headquarters for a week of orientation at the NGO.

During my time in Trinco I will be responsible for teaching english for 20 hours a week. My primary teaching responsibility will be with the ‘Youth in Transition’ program.

Sarvodaya’s Youth in Transition program provides vocational training to young Sri Lankans with a focus on war-affected youth and ex-combatants. 6 months of classroom training, 2 months on the job training, then connects them with micro-loans and equipment. Students also receive psycho-social support and participate in multi-cultural exchange programs.

If there is not enough of a demand for English classes through this program I will establish classes within the community for anyone who would like to improve their skills. Outside of teaching English I am really excited for the opportunity to work with this NGO. Depending on the programs in place in Tirnco I hope to work with SEEDS, the microfinance arm of Sarvodaya, or Fusion, a program which seeks to improve access to technology in rural areas.

Many graduates of the Youth In Transition end up receiving loans through the SEEDS program, so there may be some opportunities there.

The Sword (කඩුව)

August 2, 2012 — 1 Comment

Sri Lanka has free tertiary education, but only two percent of students are accepted to university. As a generalization, those accepted to University have excellent English skills; those lacking proficiency in English can be held back and prevented from going abroad on scholarships and grants.

The history of English in Sri Lanka is long and complex. During my orientation I had the chance to meet the gentleman who is the Director of the U.S.-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission – Tissa. He is a gentle, soft-spoken, retired English literature professor. One day at lunch he told my fellow Fulbrighters and I, “We have destroyed the foundation of English teaching because of stupid political mistakes, because of nationalism and ‘equality’”.

He continued to tell us that the Sinhala word for English is a metaphor for the word ‘sword’ (කඩුව, Kaduwa). It is a weapon of those who speak it to repress those who do not. I recently read an op-ed in the Sri Lankan Sunday Times which stated:

The privileged classes will learn an international variety of English and will be able to maintain their higher position in society permanently. The underprivileged classes who are being taught a local variety of English will be further disadvantaged. Those who will stand to benefit, will be the elite.

As an English Teaching Assistant, I will be sharpening that sword, in a sense. While I’ll be working through an NGO, teaching English at a community center, I need to be cognizant of the political and social implications of English in Sri Lanka.

English is a powerful tool, and it enables developing countries to improve their relations with the global economy. There is a profound need for English teaching in Sri Lanka, but I need to be constantly aware of the way that I teach English – so I don’t inadvertently criticize Sinhala.

I’m not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into, but I am excited for the challenges which lay ahead.

 

A government shelling civilian hospitals, providing the false hope of ‘No Fire Zones’, and corralling 130,000 people in one square mile.

I’ve just finished watching Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, and am in a state of shock. This documentary sheds light on the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s Civil War – as the Government crushed the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).

A UN Panel believes that at least 40,000 civilians were killed in the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war. International observers were forced to leave the Tamil occupied regions of the country, while civilians were deliberatley targeted by both the Government and Opposition forces.

The LTTE are the pioneers of the suicide bomb, and the nations of Sri Lanka was plagued by civil war for a quarter century. It is difficult for me to fully judge the government’s actions  when contextualized – though nothing can justify the bombing of civilian hospitals in a designated no fire zone.

I am thrilled to find that on July 27, 2012 the Sri Lankan Government announced it will begin conducting formal investigations into alleged human right violations (Indian Express). This is due to pressure on the Government from the international community, and it is expected that their report will be filed within 6 to 18 months.

With this investigation, I hope the nation of Sri Lanka will take another crucial step towards resolving this conflict.

Update: Thanks to a reader for sharing the Sri Lankan Government response to this documentary:

I recently came across a great report by the Economist Intelligence Unit – Fostering innovation-led clusters: A review of leading global practices.

This report focuses on what government can do to drive innovation within their economy, and how best they can work with the private sector. Below are some of my takeaways from the report:

  • Talent is the most important aspect of innovation – and government should focus on providing quality education
  • Governments are successful when they promote a culture of innovation
  • Specialized clusters work best, especially when they can compete
  • Accelerate the natural entrepreneurship model
  • Governments can realize success just by hosting networking events for corporate executives and government leaders – this is a low cost high reward initiative

 

One interesting focus of this report was “top-down or bottom-up”? Essentially the questions asked was are clusters better when they’re led by the government or led by the market? There are compelling arguments for both, from Silicon Valley (top-down) to Silicon Fen (bottom-up). Both areas feature world class universities, government funded research, and ample amounts of private financial capital. It seems to me that these clusters require much work between the public and private sectors.

As I prepare myself for a year in Sri Lanka, I have been researching their innovation community. There is not much on the web, as this nation is still at the early stages of economic development. Private companies, such as Microsoft  are hosting innovation competitions.  Microsoft’s Software for the 21st Century competition has invested $1.5mm over the past four years in Sri Lanka to raise their national standard of education. This is a long term strategic bet on Sri Lanka as a knowledge center.

While the Government, through the National Science Foundation and its Universities, are providing grants to encourage local innovation.

I’m quite excited to get  on the ground and learn more about whats going on in this quickly developing economy.

Economic development should not just be seen as a way to increase monetary wealth. It is a tool to foster political and social stability. A recent paper by the Council on Foreign Relations argues this. I haven’t read the full paper yet, but there is a great synopsis from the author on HBR’s Blog. Creating these innovation clusters should not just be a matter of national economic policy for individual countries, but a matter of foreign policy for all developed nations.