I have been out and about quite a bit over the last month or so and have neglected to keep this up to date, so apologies for that.
I had a really lovely long weekend in Unawatuna last Poya with three friends, Eve, Caroline and Natalie. It was very relaxed with a few dips in the sea and a trip to watch the test match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Galle. We turned up on the second day without tickets but that wasn't a problem as we could buy them through the fence for 30 rupees, which is about 15p! It was standing mind. We were also apparently on the television, as spotted by one of Eve's work colleagues. We fear we may have been swigging beer at the time, but there have been no repercussions. I also had a touching moment whilst I was travelling back on the bus. I was sat down with my knees jammed up against the seat in front, feeling squashed, too big and uncomfortable, when a tiny woman came and sat next to me. Her problem was that her feet did not touch the floor and she looked equally as uncomfortable. We acknowledged each others' size challenges and proceeded to have a brief conversation without any words but by nods and a knowing look of understanding. I was quite sad to see her get off the bus.
I have had several trips to Colombo for various meetings and arranged to stay with friends at the weekends, which has been lovely. As a result I have picked up a few more pieces of work and feeling much happier and relaxed about that and have also got to spend time with the other volunteers, getting to know them some more and feel as though I am developing some very good friendships. So all in all I am feeling much more settled and getting in to my stride and really enjoying myself.
A couple of weeks ago I went with work on a Shramadama. Apparently, this means gift of labour. We went to a client's house, where a mother and son live, whose garden had become very overgrown and they were clearly struggling to manage things. So we arrived, on mass, clients and staff to help clear the garden. We got there by piling eight in a car, three in the front and five in the back! I was quite shocked to see the poor conditions in which the mother and son were living but equally moved by the way the clients rallied and worked together with compassion and co-operation to clear away the garden, which they achieved in just a couple of hours.
A few weeks ago I went to visit the Millennium Elephant Foundation and got to ride an elephant! It was an extraordinary experience and I felt very privileged. Apparently the elephant I rode on is a movie star and very big here in Sri Lanka and India! She was very generous to a mere commoner such as me. The foundation is a conservation project and encourages people to find out about elephants by allowing visitors to feed, bathe and ride them. There are eleven elephants but on the day I went only two were there as the others had gone to Kandy for the Perahera and as a result there were hardly any visitors there either. So I was very fortunate to hang out in a very peaceful space.
One of the volunteers Julie, had gone back to the UK for a couple of weeks and very kindly offered to bring back things for us all. So a few of us had been ordering M&S underwear and the like online and posting them to her daughters address. Two friends, Sarah and Nanthini and I had arranged to go and meet her at the airport. We thought it would be fun to make some welcome back posters to greet her, knowing that she might be feeling sad about leaving her family back in the UK. So we duly arrived, giddy with excitement in a Love Actually kind of way, clutching our banners and marched up to the front of the arrivals lounge and took up our position ready to greet her. Only the security guard was having none of it, firstly we were too close and had to move back...and further back...and further back and then our posters (made on A4 paper) was a "big problem" and we didn't have them displayed on the official clipboards at any rate! Well you can imagine all this did was create more giddiness and evoke mischievousness. We were moved back several more times and fortunately no arrests were made despite not using the official clipboards! We did have a moment of panic though as Julie seemed to take an age coming through and we started to imagine her at customs with her open suitcase of small brown paper parcels and the customs officer asking her if she had packed everything herself!
I stayed with Nanthini and Julie that weekend and we went to visit Kelanyia Temple where Buddha is said to have visited. When I went into work the following Monday, my colleagues told me the story of Kelanyia. Apparently the stupor at Kelaniya is a unique shape and the only one like it in Sri Lanka. The sides are a bit straighter, and not as curved as the others and this is because it houses a chair made of gems...intrigued?
Well, there were two brothers named Chulodara (meaning "little tummy" - I'm repeating this verbatim) and Mahodara (meaning "big tummy") and they lived in Nagadeepa near Jaffna in the north. They were fighting over this gem chair until Buddha arrived in Nagadeepa (on his second visit to Sri Lanka). Also in town was a king called Mani Akkika from Kelaniya. Anyway Buddha resolved the brother's argument by deciding neither should have the gem chair and instead Akkika offered to build a stupor at Kelaniya Temple to house the said chair. And that is why Buddha went to Kelaniya on his third visit to Sri Lanka.