Our arrival in Sri Lanka is a blurred daze of heat, humidity and sweat. TheWe were met at the airport by Jo and Alan, retired English teachers from Bristol who run the English section of the Senhasa trust. For the first few days we stayed in Colombo easing ourselves into the Sinhalese culture, although Jo told us that there is a bigger culture shock between Colombo and Unawatuna than Colombo and Scotland. On Monday we were driven down to unawatuna our home for the next year….
Our house is in the school grounds of Unawatuna school, where the boys will be teaching. We live right next to a railway- picture the trains you see in slumdog millionare, but less crowded! Every time it goes passed the noise throbs through the house and they beep the horn (not as fun as it sounds at 5:10 in the morning).
Outside our house is banana, papaya and coconut trees where monkeys can be seen swinging about, which is amazing! The view from our hall is of the railway and the semi jungle where a lot of the village is.
When we arrived our house felt really empty, but Jo and Alan took us into Galle to buy rugs, drawers to but our stuff in etc and so it is beginning to feel a bit homelier. Quite a bit of the house is open to the outside, it has no windows only bars, so you have to be quick getting from the bedroom to the bathroom in your jimjams otherwise the school kids can see you! The first morning I stumbled downstairs in a dishevelled state to find a couple of girls standing at the bars determined to have a conversation.
The great clean up
On the first full day we cleaned the house from top to bottom- it was deceptively dirty (if that makes sense!) As it is open to the outside and the volunteers had left over a month ago, lots of spiders, bugs and ants had moved in to set up house.
At the end of the great clean we discovered a family of cockroaches living in our kitchen cupboard, we had a lot of fun running around the kitchen trying to catch them and screaming. While we were "maturely" dealing with the cockroaches, the head boy and friends walked in to get the cricket stuff, which is kept in our house, to discover us soaking wet, covered in dust and mud, standing on the chairs screaming and spraying wildly. We have yet to live this down!
The next day we discovered a tarantula (or equivalent size) I bravely hung back to take photos of the boys capturing it! While Erin locked herself in a cupboard (her words not mine!)
On our first day in Unawatuna, Tuesday, Jo took us to Galle to buy Saris, the uniform of teachers. Jo then came round to our house at 6 am the next morning and spent an hour and a half teaching us to tie our saris. Me and Erin eventually stumbled out of the house at 7 :30 and penguined hopped to the assembly. We are going to practise walking in them!
Assembly's here are even more boring than Scottish ones, they have one every morning and it begins with a 10 minutes chant in the Sri Lanka's equivalent of Latin, then they sing the national anthem, then they sing the school song, then they get a school talk from the principal. Every day!
Walking across the playground on our first day, we noticed that it had been set on fire by a group of school boys, who were fuelling it with dead palm leaves! Apparently this is normal practise for Sri Lankan school children as it helps the plants grow.
The Sri Lankan kids clean the classrooms every morning before school. We observed one of Alan's lessons and the boys did not turn up as they had been told to clean the staff room. We were woken up the first morning by loads of children pulling out clumps of grass and putting it in a pile, which was the Sri Lankan schools way of mowing!
Sri Lankan Schools
The ethic of school is that, you don't have to listen if you don't want to. Sri Lankan teachers do not really discipline the pupils- if you do not want to learn, it is your choice, so in all primary classes there is a constant low level disturbance. The teachers simply have to teach the lessons, if their planned lesson does not take up the allotted time, they stop anyway and leave/eat or sleep in their class! ALSO Sri Lankan boys are the cheekiest I have seen in my life!
Jo and Alan
The reason we have settled so quickly and comfortably into our new home has to be in a large part to these fabulous people! They have introduced us to the local area, taken us to buy saris, introduced us to their friends, and had us for dinner. When on the first evening we locked ourselves in our house (yes it can happen) with only bread at 8 in the evening, Jo rescued us and brought us supplies of cheese and ice cream.
When we lost our keys (side note: I know that the majority of you will have placed bets on how long it would've taken me to lose the keys BUT it was a joint effort, therefore I am only half the blame) they let us in.
When they arrived all that was here was a cardboard box with a few pictures in it. They have spent the past two year developing an English curriculum and have built a library of teaching resources which is amazing!
It quickly became apparent that all the amazing Sri lankan food I had imagined myself cooking over our two gas cookers is highly unrealistic:
1. have not the faintest idea how to cook Sri Lankan food
2. Cooking without a recipe book is hard
The first week I was determined not to eat the western food available e.g pasta and cereal. So I have been living off the local bread with papaya jam, nuts, eggs, fruit and ice cream, And the congealed pastries from the local cafes…
On Thursday we shadowed Alan to SGV, where we will be teaching, Jo arrived at 5am to help us with our saris and it took us a mere 45 minutes! We took the bus to SGV along a really scenic route by the Indian Ocean. Then there was a 20 minute walk across a railway track and through the semi jungle..
On arrival we were ushered into a classroom and re-dressed by some of the teachers as our saris were falling apart. Then chatting to a Sinhalese English teacher he mentioned someone had told him about our attempts to speak English in Unawatuna a few days before- we now know news travels far and fast!
In the evening Jo and Alan took us to their bolt hole, an amazing beach an 8 rupee bus journey from Unawatuna which was an ideal place to unwind and relax, they also sold the most amazing pizzas and choc brownies which me and Erin devoured (you get a bit sick of pineapple and toast!).
On Friday we had a resources day, Jo and Alan taught us the curriculum they had developed.
After that, me and Erin ventured into Galle by ourselves, the spice vendor Jo had introduced us to, invited us into his shop, gave us free mangoes and invited us back to his house to meet his wife and to cook us a Sri Lankan meal! Which was lovely and made us feel really welcome! That night Jo and Alan had all four of us over for dinner for a traditional sri Lankan meal and some card games.
The Well Wash
On Saturday Unawatuna hosted a regional dance competition, although it could not afford to enter itself. Thousands of children descended onto the school in their traditional dance costumes. Me and Erin snuck into some of the competitions. The dancing was amazing it involved lots of flicking of the wrists and ducking down and up!
On Saturday afternoon J, A and lakshmee, a lovely teacher from the school took us for a 20 minute walk through the jungle up a nearby hill, where we saw a snake, possibly an adder!
Our destination was Lakshmee's aunt's house where we borrowed a bucket, and walked to the local well which was situated in an amazing valley in the jungle . On arrival we tied the bed sheets we had brought with us around us and stripped naked ready for our well wash! Lakshmee pulled the buckets of water out the well and we chucked them over our heads, 20 times, it was the most refreshing wash I have ever experienced!
Sunday- meeting the locals
In the evening we visited the tourist part of Unawatuna, it is amazing and I can now see why it is a top tourist destination!
On the way to meet the boys we were ushered into a random woman's home, she recognised us as the two new English teachers and wanted to introduce her children. Desperately trying to make conversation I mistook her daughter for a son, after that faux pas we made a hasty retreat, although it seemed we were forgiven as she very kindly pressed a bag of fruit into our hands!
In general the locals are welcoming, as soon as they know you are a volunteer teacher not a tourist they are delighted to see you. The children are amazing, we have spent the past few days shadowing Jo, who is spending the week training us. Then we will begin teaching our own classes in Mahrapena and welanwonga.
Thank you so much to those who have already sent emails and letters, they are greatly appreciated!
Keep sending news, the next blog will be less of a splurge but there are so many moments I want to share!q
Please email with news etc
And thanks Jo and Erin for letting me steal your photos!
Lots of love