Archives For Sri Lanka

Galle and Unawatuna

October 22, 2012 — 1 Comment

This weekend I traveled south to Galle and Unawatuna with a few fellow Fulbrighters. We left Colombo via train and headed south, only to realize that the train we were on was the wrong one; we were able to transfer a few miles outside of Colombo onto a train headed to Galle, and made up our lost time. The four hour trip cost Rs 180 (USD $1.34).

When we arrived at the Galle train station we hopped onto a bus and made our way to Unawatuna, we dropped our bags at our guesthouse and headed to the shore. Dusk was arriving, and we ran into the warm waves of the Indian Ocean. After a while of enjoying the water we headed to dinner at a restaurant on the shore.

Unawatuna is a beautiful stretch of beach, just a few kilometers away from Galle. Its a tourist attraction which was devastated by the 2004 tsunami. When the rebuilding happened, many of the codes were ignored and buildings were built right on the beach. The Government tore down some of the hotels in 2011, the foundations of which still can be seen from the beach, for violating this code. It is my understanding that the hotels were all on the other side of road, away from the beach, prior to the rebuilding. It is a shame that the natural beauty of this beach is encroached upon by businesses which now are regularly dealing with waves washing into their establishments.

Galle (ගාල්ල) is the fourth largest city in Sri Lanka, and has been a major sea port for centuries. The modern city was established when the Portugese took the city by force, and the Dutch built the original fort out of granite. The fort walls kept the old city protected from the Tsunami, though surrounding areas were wiped out. Today Galle is a city full of cafes, stores, and galleries catering to western tourists and affluent Sri Lankans.

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!

In Country Orientation

October 14, 2012 — Leave a comment

The US-Sri Lankan Fulbright Commission is housed in a beautiful 1930’s era mansion in Colombo 3.

This was the first time that the English Teaching Assistants had the opportunity to meet the researchers and senior researchers, who’s topics range from architecture to the informal fishing economy.

Orientation began with an overview of our contract and expectation of us for our grant period. After an hour session on this we broke for tea and cookies before heading to the US Embassy for our security briefing. They encouraged us to enroll in the Smart Travel Enrollment Program once we received our local numbers; in the event of an emergency they will text all registered numbers.

The US Embassy in Colombo is  housed in a large concrete cube, which seems to have been built in the ’70s. It’s situated between Galle Road (the main drag in Colombo) and the beach. The overview provided a lot of insight into the servies the Embassy offers to citizens.

The other sessions covered were: A panel of previos Fulbrighters, Sri Lankan English, Media in SL, An Address by the Ambassador, An Overview of the American Corners in SL, Government of SL, Development of SL, Medical Concerns in SL, and Biodiversity in SL.

 

Shangri-La Bungalow

October 14, 2012 — 1 Comment

For the first month of my Fulbright I will be staying at Shangri La Bungalow, in  Nedimala, Dehiwala. I’m here with my fellow ETA’s. It’s about thirty minutes to downtown Colombo from this location, and the house is beautiful. If you care to see where it is on a map, click here.

The house is quite spacious, and we have a great caretaker – Siva. He tends to the property and helps us with various odds and ends. Every morning he has a pot of Sri Lankan tea for us; its black tea mixed with milk, sugar, and spices. As he speaks Tamil, communication is a bit of a challenge, but we manage.

Yesterday I purchased a coconut from a store, and Siva shook his head. A moment later he was climbing a tree and grabbing a coconut off of it, and bringing it in the house.

Our Sinhalese classes will be held here, and they being tomorrow.

Here are some pictures (click to expand them!)

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.

Questions for Departure

October 9, 2012 — 2 Comments

Today marks the start of my Fulbright. For the next nine months I will be living and working in Sri Lanka.

My monthly stipend of 125,000 Sri Lankan Rupees ($976). The average household income is Rs. 36451 ($704). So I will be earning roughly 38% more than the average family every month.

I’m curious to learn what kind of life this buys someone in Sri Lanka, and I’m especially interested in seeing how someone lives off of the average wage.

This nation’s economy was stalled for nearly 30 years, due to their civil war. Since the war was ended in 2009 the country has begun to flourish once more; tourists have begun to explore the island while the global garment trade has embraced Sri Lanka. For 2012 the country is expected to grow at 7.2%, which ranks among the top growth economies in the world. Growth can easily be assumed to be a wholly positive event, but economic growth presents unique challenges. Sri Lanka is especially vulnerable to energy shocks, as it imports all of its oil; many Americans know the pain they feel as the price of petrol increases, imagine if your income was 10% of what it currently is.

As a nation develops stresses begin to emerge within its social fabric. One of my great takeaways from China was that as a country develops the divide between rich and poor grows at an exponential rate, and this can lead to a great deal of social unrest. Growth at this rate presents many challenges for governments, from containing inflation to constructing infrastructure.

Sri Lanka has a number of things going for it. It claims one of the highest literacy rates in South East Asia (over 90%), along with some of the highest Human Development Index scores. Sri Lanka also has some of the lowest infant mortality rates in the developing world, due in large part to its extensive network of publicly funded hospitals. All doctors are required to spend at least one day a week working in these institutions.

From the reports I’ve read it seems that Sri Lanka is a fairly equitable society on the rise, I look forward to investigating this for myself.

In contextualizing China’s recent growth, many in the nation refer to historical precedent. For a great deal of the world’s history, China was the largest economy in the world. India and China combined made up roughly half of the world’s GDP. To many in China, the last two centuries were an economic anomaly which is on its way to being corrected.

Ceylon, the Pearl of the Orient is reestablishing itself. Once one of the wealthiest nations in the world, it was said a man could walk across the island with just the clothes of his back and not just survive, but thrive off of the local vegetation. Historical evidence suggests that Sri Lanka traded with the Egyptians as early as 1500 BC. Some of the most prized spices in the world originated on this island: cinnamon, cardamom, and citronella. And many other spices flourished in this tropical climate, such as rubber. It might be difficult to imagine today, but for the vast majority of global history wars were fought over the spice trade. To this day Sri Lanka produces over 90% of the world’s cinnamon.

I’m beginning this Fulbright with many questions, and if experience has taught me anything I’m sure that my time in Sri Lanka will raise more questions than it answers.

What’s a Fulbright?

August 31, 2012 — Leave a comment

When I tell people I’ve received a Fulbright there has been two common responses:

  • Congratulations! That’s awesome, where are you going?
  • What’s a Fulbright?

The latter is more common than the former, which is quite surprising to me. So here is my attempt to answer what the Fulbright is, and I’ll try to answer this question again once I’ve completed my grant.

What is it?

The Fulbright is America’s premier international exchange program. Every year hundreds of Americans go abroad to research, learn, and teach English, and citizens of other countries come to America to do the same. It’s soft diplomacy at its finest, and the primary aim of the program is to increase mutual understanding between Americans and other nations’ citizens.

What do Fulbrighters do? 

Essentially, the Fulbright program offers two types of grants, teaching and learning. The fellowship allows both recent graduates and scholars to travel abroad to conduct research, it also sends recent graduates to teach English and scholars to teach in their field of expertise. There are grants available for Graduate School, and to learn critical languages. There’s even a grant in conjunction with MTV to research music.

Where do Fulbrighters go?

The Fulbright program operates in over 155 countries across the world. To date, more than 307,000 Fulbrights have been awarded.

Why is it called the Fulbright?

The program is named after Senator William J. Fulbright, who introduced legislation in 1946 to create this program.

How is it funded?

In it’s inception, in 1945, the program was funded by the sale of U.S. military assets after the end of the second world war. The U.S. government forgave the debts of foreign nations in exchange for funding this international exchange program (this offers some insight as to why there are so many grants for Germany).

The program cost more than $323.3 million in 2010, and its primary funding source is an appropriation from Congress; though host countries contribute to the funding of this program as well.

How do you get one?

There is an extensive application process for the Fulbright program, and I will only speak to the English Teaching Assistantships – as that is the grant I received. During my junior year at Fordham, I was in China, so my application process was a bit different than others. In the second semester I had a few Skype meetings with Fordham’s Office of Prestigious Fellowships, and I began narrowing down the countries I wanted to apply for. There are many tips for various components of the application, let me know if you have any questions.

I began narrowing down the countries where ETAs are granted. As I’m not fluent in Spanish, South America was out. I have a strong interest in emerging markets and economic development, so I wasn’t too keen on applying to a country in Europe. So that pretty much left Africa and Asia.

At this point I went nation by nation and narrowed down the nations I was most interested in to Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. ETAs are not granted in China, save for Hong Kong and Macau. Why these countries you might ask? It was some combination of cultural intrique, economic prospects, transitory factors, and gut feeling.

I eventually settled on Sri Lanka as the country to which I was going to apply, and I spent that summer writing my applications essays. When applying to an ETA you have to write two essays, and are limited to one page per essay. One essay, your Statement of General Purpose is where you answer the following questions:

  • Why do you wish to undertake an ETA opportunity?
  • Why are you applying to this specific country?
  • What do you bring to the classroom that will enrich the learning experience of English language learners overseas?
  • What specific ideas do you have for engaging with students and helping them to learn English?
  • What specific qualifications, training, or experiences do you have to prepare you to serve as an ETA?
  • How do you expect to benefit from the assignment?
  • What plans do you have for civic engagement outside the classroom?
The Personal Statement is where you explain who you are and what makes you a good fit for this program, and to be a representative of America abroad.
By October of my senior year at Fordham I had submitted these two essays, three letters of recommendation, and my academic transcripts. A few weeks later I was interviewed by a board of advisors at Fordham.
Around January I received an email telling me I had made the second, and final round of consideration for the grant. But it wasn’t until April that I was actually awarded the Grant. At that point I had to make a decision, take a job in banking (for which I had signed a contract in November) or take the Fulbright. It was a tough decision, but I’m glad to be pursuing the Fulbright!

What have Fulbrighters gone on to do?

  • 10 Fulbright alumni have been elected to the United States Congress
  • 43 Fulbright alumni from eleven countries are recipients of the Nobel Prize
  • 60 Fulbright alumni are recipients of the Pulitzer Prize
  • 22 Fulbright alumni are recipients of MacArthur Foundation “genius” awards
  • 14 Fulbright alumni are recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Many have gone on to reach the highest ranks of government and business; this includes:

 

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.

Entry Visa

August 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

I received my Sri Lankan entry Visa this week, once I’m there I will have to apply for my residence permit. It’s an exciting step, but getting that Visa made this whole experience feel so much more real.

I’ve known for many months now that I’ll be headed overseas to teach on a Fulbright, but getting my Visa was one of those moments that made me stop and think, wow this is actually happening. I remember a similar feeling when I got my Chinese Visa, its a mixture of excitement, fear (mostly of the unknown), questioning (am I ready for this?).

The next nine months should prove to be some of the most interesting of my life, and I know that this last month at home will fly by.

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: