Archives For Trinco

Yamu

April 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

Yamu means ‘let’s go’ in Sinhala. Yamu.lk is a startup based in Colombo. Right now they’re a city guide, but they’re quickly evolving to cover all things Sri Lanka. If you’re looking for a good restaurant, bar, or activity they’re your source.

Every day about 1000 unique visitors come to the site to find out whats going new in Colombo.

I’ve recently started writing for Yamu, so things have been quiet here on brightful.ly. Check out some of my recent articles:

Its great to have an excuse to get out and visit new restaurants…

World View

March 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

One of the reasons I applied for a Fulbright was to expand my worldview. I had never been to the Indian subcontinent, and The Fulbright provided me a vehicle to get there. I find myself continually searching for new ways to expand my worldview, I think it’s really important in our connected world to have a sense of other cultures. So much so, that I get frustrated by those around me that don’t look outward.

Recently I took a trip to visit a Fulbrighter living in Matara, on the Southern shores of Sri Lanka. She’s the farthest Fulbrighter from me, it would take 12 hours on a bus (16 hours on a train) to reach Matara from Trinco.

When I was hanging out with her husband and some of his Sri Lankan friends, I was really surprised at how little to find they knew about the East. The asked me how I survived in Trinco, because it is so hot. They also thought that people were quite dangerous out East, “you know how Tamils can be”.

When I got back to Trinco, a friend was visibly concerned that I had been to Matara. She told me, “those southern folk are dangerous, the heat makes their blood boil”.

One thing I can say, after visiting most of the island, is that everywhere is hot (save for the hill country) and most people are really nice here.

It’s shocking how little interaction Sri Lankans have with each other. Many people here never leave their hometown, if they do its only to travel to the capital. If you only speak Sinhala, ten traveling to the North and East can be challenging. Likewise, if you only speak Tamil you won’t be able to communicate well in the South.

It frustrates me when people are unaware of the world they live in, be it Americans or Sri Lankans.

L.R. Cake Shop

January 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

The first time you attend a wedding in Sri Lanka you will likely notice a beautifully decorated cake somewhere in the reception area. You may be surprised when you are served an individually wrapped piece of cake, not from the wedding cake. Upon close inspection of the cake you may realize that the core of the cake is styrofoam; cakes are made this way so that they can hold up to the heat and humidity during the entire wedding day.

My Amma (Sinhalese and Tamil for Mom) is the founder of L.R. Cake Shop, Trincomalee’s only degree granting cake decorating school. She makes the most whimsical cakes; American cakes do not compare at all. Last week, when I stopped into the shop, I was delighted to stay and watch a cake be made. I was only present for the final assembly, which took nearly an hour. It was amazing watching plain cake and pink fondant being sculpted into a princess’ dress. Next, white fondant was formed around the Barbie doll, to complete her dress. Lace was intricately cut to layer around the base of the dress, as a bow was made for the back. A lucky little girl will get this princess cake for the cost of 3,000 SLR ($23 USD).

All of the cakes are made to order. You cannot walk into the shop and buy a cake like you can in Colombo. It seemed odd to me at my first visit, but since I’ve gotten better acquainted with the area it makes sense. Trinco’s economy cannot yet support an on demand bakery, and Amma’s cakes are so varied and unique that it would be impossible to forecast the demand for something like a princess cake.

Amma can turn just about anything into a cake. She won third place in a national competition for cake making. For years she has been providing the area with cakes as well as training out of her home. It wasn’t until the end of 2012 that she felt comfortable taking the risk and opening up her store front, things were just too volatile in the East. Now every time I stop in town I visit her shop, which is usually full of students or customers placing orders. Sitting and talking with Amma is great, except for the constant barrage of cake being offered; I tell Amma she will make me fat.

It was no surprise when she told me that she will be making a cake for the President when he visits Trinco on Monday for Independence Day celebrations. Just a day in the life of Trinco’s premier baker.

26.12.20 Tsunami Day

January 29, 2013 — Leave a comment

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I came across this poster in town a few days ago. It is amazing how the tsunami lingers over Trinco; the shells of buildings litter the beach front. Fallowed plots of land are common sites, the salt from the ocean water have rendered them useless.

#bikeLK

January 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

Over the past two weeks I’ve started biking to work every day, and I have to say its been a welcome improvement to my daily routine. Between a cold shower, cup of coffee, and twenty minute bike ride I’m energized and ready to start teaching by the time I reach work.

It takes about twice as long to bike than to take a three-wheeler the 3 km between home and work. My bike provides freedom, I can go wherever I want in this town without worrying about the  cost of a tuk-tuk. I can stop at the vegetable stands on the way home from work, and pick out my dinner for the night. I don’t have to worry about taking a trishaw, or being dependent on someone else to get me around town.

My daily commute

It’s really quite nice to have almost an hour of exercise built into my day, I sleep better and feel better when I get home from a long day of teaching. It gives me twenty minutes to unwind and forget about stressful classes. By the time I reach the last major hill on my ride home I’m usually covered in a film of sweat, and ready to lay in my hammock for a while – until the mosquitos start coming.

People look at me strangely when I ride through town on my bike, for a number of reasons.  I wear a helmet, which is truly bizarre. I had to go to Colombo to purchase the helmet, and visited five stores before buying one. The first store I went into had a helmet for 2,500 SLR ($20.00 USD) and the last store I went into had the same helmet for 1,500 SLR ($11.00). The other stores didn’t carry helmets, and at the store I eventually purchased mine from, they only had that one helmet. I’ve been told by many Sri Lankans that it isn’t necessary to wear a helmet on a bicycle – but when I’m dodging cows, pedestrians, and busses, it is nice to be wearing one.

People also give me strange looks because I’m riding on a bicycle. Most white people who come to Trinco are NGO officials and Diplomats who are chauffeured around in air conditioned Land Rovers and Toyotas. It isn’t often that you see a white guy struggling up a hill on a push bike.

On another note, I’ve been learning to ride a motorcycle. Yesterday my friend took me into town to grocery shop on the back of his bike. You’re really conscious of what you buy at the store when you have to hold onto your parcels on the back of a motorcycle.

Learning to ride

 

Back in November, which seems like an eternity ago, I taught my students about the American Festival of Thanksgiving. I compared Thanksgiving to the Hindu festival of Pongal, which is celebrated in January. Pongal is a festival to celebrate the harvest.

Pongal (Tamil: பொங்கல்) means ‘spillover’, as in overflowing pots of rice. It marks the reaping of the harvest, and the change of seasons – the end of the rainy season. Here in Trinco, the population is overwhelmingly Tamil, and Tamils are generally Hindu.

The festival lasts four days, but only the first day is a national holiday. Today marks the day of sun worship. WIthout the sun, crops would not grow, and the world would be consumed by eternal darkness. Tomorrow is a day of worship for cows. Cows are crucial to the farming process, before tractors they were the sole means of tilling land (and still a popular method here in Sri Lanka). Cows provide the milk that is used to make Pongal, a sweet and savory rice cooked with  cardamom, jaggery, raisins, and cashew nuts. The last day of Pongal is a day of bird worship, and also a time for sisters to pray for their brother’s happiness. (Sorry girls, there is no day for your brothers to pray for your happiness)

This morning, one of my coworkers from Sarvodaya called me and asked if he could stop by. He brought me a heaping pile of Pongal, and two bananas. It was delicious. Tomorrow, at 5pm, I will be joining his family for their Pongal celebrations.

I’m curious to see whether any of my students show up for class tomorrow, as it a cultural day of festival – but not a national holiday. As often happens, I’ll find out in the morning whether I have class.

 

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Pongal and bananas.

New Year’s Party

January 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

Women were adorned with countless kilos of gold and dressed in vibrant glimmering saris. The men had new shirts on, and their shoes were spiffily shined. I rang in the New Year with the staff and students from Sarvodaya’s Trinco District center, and it was quite an event. On Tuesday, January 1st, we gathered at a nearby lecture hall for the festivities. The official start time was 9am, things got rolling around 10:30.

I arrived around 8:30, and it wasn’t until 9am that I started helping my fellow staffers set up for the event. I would have loved the extra half an hour of sleep, but it wasn’t to be.

The morning started like all other Sri Lankan festivals, with a cerimonial lighting of a lamp. The town’s holy men – Monks, Priests, Swamijis, and Imams – Sarvodaya’s Directors, and of course the American. Its odd that my skin color and nationality bestow a level of respect on me, but thats just the way it goes here.

After the lighting of the lamp, speeches were made in Tamil and Sinhala. While speeches were made, short-eats were given out to all attendees. Short-eats are a particularly enjoyable form of Sri Lankan cuisine, they’re snack items that can range from pastries to fruit. Then the district coordinator, Mr. Jeeveraj, was presented with a cake and various plaques for his 34 years of service to Sarvodaya. After that gifts were presented to the staff. I was sitting in the back of the room when a fellow staffer grabbed me and pulled me up to receive a gift with the rest of the staff. We were each give 101 rupees and a new towel. Very practical, and nice gifts.

When staff members started collecting plates, from the short-eats, halfway through the event I joined in. It reminded me a bit of time spent catering, but it also caused quite a stir. It was unusual for men to be doing such things, even more so for a guest from America. I’m glad that a room of 200 Sri Lankans got to see me bucking the cultural norm.

It was an auspicious day, so many performances took place. The first performance was a dance performed by a group of girls dressed from head to toe in gold – even their faces were painted gold. Then Mr. Jeeveraj serenaded the crowd, performing a traditional Tamil song. Various students performed elaborate dance numbers, all to booming Bollywood songs.

I’m really glad I was able to celebrate the New Year with the staff and students here in Trinco, it really helped to make me more apart of this community.

http://www.tamilmirror.lk/2010-07-14-09-13-23/2010-08-12-10-11-54/2010-08-12-10-15-52/56011-2013-01-02-03-59-38.html

http://www.tamilmirror.lk/2010-07-14-09-13-23/2010-08-12-10-11-54/2010-08-12-10-15-52/56011-2013-01-02-03-59-38.html

Source: http://www.tamilmirror.lk/2010-07-14-09-13-23/2010-08-12-10-11-54/2010-08-12-10-15-52/56011-2013-01-02-03-59-38.html

Arugam Bay

December 18, 2012 — 1 Comment

The sea has a rhythm to it; its churning is constant, and meditative. In the ocean you feel powerless, as the waves bash you and the current pulls you along. Submerging yourself in the surf, letting go of control, and having your body be tossed around – weightless – by the sea is transcendental. Once you realize how minimal your existence is when compared to the vastness of the ocean, it is at once awe inspiring and intimidating. Looking at wreckages of buildings on the shore, victims of the 2004 tsunami, is a testament to how little man can do to protect itself from the sea. To think that concrete and rebar are a match to the force of the ocean is laughable.

This weekend has found me in Arugam Bay, one the top surf spots in the world. Leaving Trinco on Friday, it took me about 7 hours to cover the 300 km (186 miles) on bus. I started my journey at the Trinco bus yard, telling the driver I was headed to Arugam bay, over three bus transfers and many miles I was always told by fellow travelers where to get off and what bus to get on next. It was bizarre, as I had only told one man, but the entire bus seemed to be looking out of me. Sri Lankan hospitality cannot be understated. I arrived and checked into my hotel, the aptly named Watermusic. My friends were in transit on the overnight bus from Colombo, and I was surprised to find I was the hotel’s sole guest.

It is off-season in Arugam Bay; I’m told the real surf doesn’t start until April. The throngs of beachfront hotels are empty, not to mention those off the beach. In stark contrast, it is impossible to get a room at some of the Southern beach spots. After unpacking, I wander down the beach in search of dinner.

At the Galaxy Lounge Hotel I manage to find an open restaurant, it even had a few patrons. I ordered my meal and sat looking out at the water. I happened to start talking to an older British couple on vacation, and ended up joining them for dinner. As it turned out, the wife was Sri Lankan. She was born into a burgher family, but raised in the UK due to the troubles of the war. Her family owns a number of highly successful businesses in Sri Lanka; interestingly enough they even supplied the SL Army with barbed wire – a Tamil supplying the war effort. Due to Sri Lanka’s currency policy it is very hard to get money out of the island. So they were on vacation, paid for by their firm, as a way of spending rupees. Quite interesting, to say the least.

After a few glasses of arrack with my fellow travelers, I headed to bed. Around 3:45 I was woken, and disoriented. There was a blaring noise, and I couldn’t track its source. Switching on the lights I climbed out of bed and realized my mobile was the source of the noise; my friends had arrived at the hotel from Colombo and needed the front gate to be unlocked. There was a light drizzle, as I tracked down the night manager and let my friends in. After a few hours of sleep I woke up and went for a run, before joining my friends for morning coffee (not of the instant variety!).

The day was spent fighting the surf. As luck would have it, the day was overcast. Not exactly ideal beach conditions, but it sheltered us from the ferocity of the Sri Lankan sun. We spent most of the afternoon lounging around until the rain came, and then it was back to the hotel to warm up with some hot toddies.

The weekend passed that way, and Sunday came too quickly. I caught the 2pm bus to Batticaloa and napped on the journey north.

We pulled into the Batticaloa bus terminal a little after five, and I went in search of my transfer. As soon as I got to the terminal’s overhang the skies opened up and a tropic downpour started. I found the terminal manager and inquired about busses. I was quite dismayed when I was told the next bus would be at 4am, and a moment of panic came over me. I asked a few other bus drivers, and they seemed to confirm that fact. Now that I wasn’t in a rush to catch a bus, I went in search of the bathroom. After relieving myself I sat down, and started thinking over my options. I promptly took out my Lonely Planet, and started searching for cheap hostels in the area. At this point, someone – he didn’t work at the bus station – came up to me and said more than asked “Trinco bus.” He was pointing in the distance, and I confirmed that I was looking for a bus to Trinco. His next and finals words were “police circle, 6pm”, after which he walked off.

It was almost 5:30, and I had no idea where this police circle was, or how far it was. The rain had stopped, and I started walking towards the other end of the parking lot. Tuk-tuks were lined up about 500 feet away; I hoped they knew the place. It always seems to rain at the most inopportune time. I was twenty paces outside of the cover of the bus station and in a moment I was caught in the height of a downpour. Time was passing quickly so I dashed to the closest tuk-tuk, whose driver was holding open the flaps yelling for me to get out of the rain. I settled in the vehicle, drenched to the bone, and said only police circle. With that he started the engine and took off; we were down the street by the time I realized we had not set a price for the journey. I asked, and he said 80 rupees; it was one of those rare times when I had no desire or need to bargain. Not knowing how far away my next stop was, I was in no position to bargain – not to mention the ride would cost me on $0.60.

When I got to the roundabout I went into the largest supermarket, where several people were seeking shelter from the rain near the entrance. I inquired about the Trinco bus, and happened upon a local university student – who was home from Australia on break. He knew of the bus, and told me he’d make sure I got on it. After he made a few phone calls, we walked down a few stores where I was able to purchase a ticket and reserve a seat. The seat reservation cost an additional 30 rupees – always pay the fee to reserve a seat. The ticket salesman told me that the bus would come around 6:20.

By 6:10 anytime a bus came I would glance at the bus, and then at my new friend. After a few minutes of this he told me, “you Americans worry too much, I’ll make sure you’re on the bus”. I can’t remember if I even told him I was an American before that, but I had to laugh. After that I stopped craning my neck to look at the oncoming busses and started enjoying our conversation. Around 6:30 a bus came and he pointed at it, and told me to run. I shook his hand and was off, the bus barely slowed down – and never came to a complete stop – as a crowd of people started pouring onto it. It was crowded, and loud, but I found the last empty seat and quickly took it.

The seat placement was less than ideal. I was located under the buses single speaker – which blared incomprehensible music a few decibels above comfort level. The woman next to me had her daughter, who was around the age of 14, on her [my] lap. The aisles were so full that I was being pushed on from those crowds on the other side. No, it wasn’t ideal. But for a few hours I could manage, at least I was on my way. By 10:45 I was in Trinco, and the number of riders had thinned over the last few hours. I got a tuk-tuk back home, and passed out in my bed. I awoke right before 8am, not believing I had slept in so late, ready to start a day of teaching. A short journey

A Stroll Through Base

November 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

Trinco is a town dominated by the military. As you enter the main city you have to pass through multiple checkpoints, where uniform clad youths clutch their presumably Chinese made kalashnikovs. In the town itself, Tamil is the language of choice. Sinhalese is about as useful as English, many people don’t speak either.

Last Friday I headed to Fort Frederick, to look at the temple which sat atop the Portugese built fort. To get there you must walk through the army base, along the rather long uphill walk I stopped at a connivence store for a cold drink. I greeted the clerk in Tamil, and he looked at me and replied in Sinhalese. Apparently he didn’t speak any Tamil.
Later I continued on, and found my way to the top of the fort, at the temple. Here I met a solider by the name of Gayan. Like many, he only spoke English and Sinhalese. I learned that he’s spent six tours abroad, as a driver. He had just returned from Lebanon, and was on his way to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica to drive for someone. He was kind enough to allow me to take his photo in front of his landrover, of which he was quite proud.
The most shocking thing about my walk through the military base was that in a city where the primary language is Tamil, there is this world dominated by Sinhalese. Just one reminder, among many, that Sri Lanka is a divided society – and language is a tool to divide.

Funny Boy

November 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

For the past week the international community has been trying to grapple with a number of questions revolving Sri Lanka’s civil war. Namely, how were they so unaware of the scale of civilian casualties in the final months of the war?

It is estimated that 40,000 civilians died in the five months leading up to the surrender of the L.T.T.E. in May of 2009.  The United Nations abandoned its mission in the Tamil-controlled areas on the eve of the Government’s final blitz. In an effort to reconcile this humanitarian catastrophe, the UN published their Internal Review on the fifteenth of November.

In my own efforts to understand Sri Lanka’s turbulent past, I spent a lot of time reading old news articles and watching documentaries. During our orientation we heard from an astonishing woman who told us the horrors her family, as Tamils, suffered during the 1983 riots. More recently I’ve finished reading Funny Boy, a novel written by a member of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora community, Shyam Selvadurai.

The story recounts life in a wealthy Tamil family in Colombo. It is a story of coming to age, as a boy grapples with his hidden homosexuality in a complex and divided society. It is incredibly well written, and makes for a quick read. One of the most striking parts of the book is the epilogue, which recounts some of the horrors of Black July.

The 1983 riots began when the Tamil Tigers killed a group of 13 soldiers, and the government brought them back to Colombo to be buried. At the funeral alcohol was provided, along with the names and addresses of many Tamil families in the capital. Chaos quickly ensued.

Now, some excerpts from Funny Boy:

“The radio news is beginning again. We have listened to the broadcast at 6:00, 7:30, and 8:45, but there is still no mention of the trouble. If not for the phone call … we would think that nothing was going on in Colombo” Page 288-89.

“As he cycled towards Galle Road he saw that all the Tamil shops had been set on fire and the mobs were looting everything. The police and army just stood by, watching, and some of them even cheered as the mobs joined in the looting and burning” Page 289.

“7:00 P.M. Curfew was lifted for a few hours so people could buy food. Yet there was nothing to buy. A lot of the grocery stores are owned by Tamils, and they have all been destroyed” Page 301.

“…I long to be out of this country. I don’t feel at home in Sri Lanka any longer, will never feel safe again” Page 304.

“The mob had set the car on fire with Ammachi [Grandmother] and Appachi [Grandfather] inside it… ‘We’ll have to wait until the ambulance comes and takes the bodies away… Until then, I’ll go and keep watch over the car. Someone has to look out for . . .’ he moved uncomfortably in his chair ‘stray dogs and crows’” Page 306-7.

Reading this book has given me a new lens with which to view the streets of Colombo I have leisurely strolled down countless times before.

The shocking events of the July 1983 riots were not the start of the Sinhalese-Tamil conflicts, but they marked the official start of the war. They also sparked Sri Lanka’s brain drain, when the Tamil elites fled the country. Recently it has been this diaspora community that is being courted to invest in Sri Lanka, and their hesitancy to do so is understandable.

There have been a number of projects to reconcile the atrocities of this war. Recently, a Kickstarter project was launched. Check it out.

Funny Boy (Harvest Book)