Many things have happened in the past two weeks to change both my views of Sri Lanka and the way in which I approach teaching and what this year is essentially going to be about. I have fully realised the extent to which I will be exhausted this year and also to just how fast it is going to go. Today is a Thursday and my whole body feels like it is about to mush into jelly. I do also however feel that I have broken some sort of barrier when it comes to teaching. After an extremely testing week teaching unwilling and screaming children, I could honestly have done with a headboard to bang my head against. However the week just gone, I decided to take the bull by the horns and change my strategies, partly for the children's good but mainly so I stayed sane without wanting to cry every time my alarm went at 5 30 and I knew what I was eventually going to be facing. Stickers have quite literally changed my teaching life in the space of a week. Instead of having to drone on again and again 'Engliiiish inside play time over' (which no child wants to hear) I just wave about a sticker packet from the end of the playground and they all come running out from no-where. I get them to colour things which I draw the previous night and when I see the naughty child beginning to get restless I quickly engage him in a hand clapping game of 'Iiii went to a Chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of BREAD BREAD BREAD'. I've given up telling the child who jumps on the desk to sit down and instead give the good girl at the front another sticker, the next thing I hear is a thump as the culprit has quickly slammed himself down on a chair too. There are also the heart-warming moments when you get children begging you for a lesson like our grade fives at Mihiripenna and when the grade threes at SGV cheer as you make your way into the classroom. I also decided it would be fun to teach the younger children to shout 'I am a hero' as we were reading a book about a hero lion, and as I ended the lesson one of the boys yelled 'MISS SYDNEY, I AM A HERO' whilst flexing his muscles. At least if I fail to teach them anything they can say that.
World teachers day also meant Jamie and I were awarded a trophy saying 'dear teacher' which I keep by my bed to remind me on the bad days what I'm here for. There was an alarming ten minutes however when, during a show that the children had put on for the teachers, Jamie and I were informed we were to sing a song of our choice in the production that we were currently watching . After some quick fire brainstorming we settled on 'he's got the whole world in his hands' hoping that the teachers in this Buddhist school wouldn't pick up on the fact that we were blasting out a Christian song. The audience reacted with confused smiles as I clapped the beat and Jamie did the hand actions for 'he's got the fish and the birds'. The day ended slowly as Jamie and I had to bless all 150 children in the school, a process which was very long and sweaty as it involves the child going round about 20 teachers, handing us each individually a beetle leaf which we held whilst the child bowed down to our feet and back up again. I do understand that teachers are given a lot of respect by the Sri Lankan community out here, but I did feel it was slightly unnecessary for the entire school to bow down to every single teacher. It was a typically Sri Lankan scenario, some things just don't make sense but they do it anyway.
Beside's teaching we have done a little more travelling to make the round of Sri Lanka. We spent the weekend in a place called Mirissa, a fairly deserted beach area which is so beautiful and made me think this is what I came to Sri Lanka for. Little shacks are dotted along the beach side and the tree house where we stayed was a five minute walk down a side track from the beach. The only issue with this weekend was that the Saturday was a poya day which is the same as a Sunday in a tiny religious town in England, AKA nothing was open. We traipsed around hoping to find a short eat stall which normally cram Sri Lanka's roads but there was nothing. Eventually we found a Sri Lankan family who did not want to pass on an opportunity for business and we ended up inside their house, right next to their bedroom, having meals made for us from scratch which took about two hours. We all felt too rude to say don't worry about it anymore after the first hour of waiting, with their son riding a bike back and forth the room we were sat in. The weekend ended all too quickly and we left but not before making friends with the owner of the tree house. He told us of his experience of the tsunami and how he had to watch a woman be crushed by a fallen wall as he had his arms full with two toddlers he was trying to save. The more I am learning about Sri Lanka, the more I can't believe how it has come out of the past sixty odd years so well. It has had to deal with a civil war, fighting for independence from England, a tsunami and then a climax of the civil war which altogether majorly affected those living in Sri Lanka as well as stunting its growth as no one wanted to visit it anymore. Who would? It sounds awful. What surprises me is that had I not learnt about it I would never have known. The politics are indeed very twisted and a lot goes on under cover but as far as what meets the eye Sri Lanka seems a place of calm. My opinion might change once I have visited Jaffna in December though which was where the civil war hit worst.
The weekend after Mirissa we took a trip up to Kelutara to visit family friends from England. After a week of teaching, this was bliss. There is nothing better than getting away for a weekend and being a bit of a tourist when you have had a tough week and have had keep your knees and shoulders covered at the same time. The week days I would say here are difficult and I don't feel as grateful as I should to be in a country with palm trees, sun and so much culture, but when you get to the weekend and you can relax or spend time with Sri Lankan people you have met, the feeling of being here is amazing. My favourite part is sitting on the bus with the window pushed right open so you have the wind blowing in your face whilst you watch the sun go down over the Indian Ocean. It is stunning and something I know I will miss when I'm on buses in London. We also got given a lift in a cart which went about ten miles an hour back from school one day. Apart from getting sunburnt and the driver trying to put his hand on my leg, it was beautiful as the sea was so blue and the palm trees were blowing in the breeze. It sounds cheesy but you can't really understand until you have seen it for real. It deserves every bit of cheesyness it can get.
My major trial and part success part fail from the week just gone was cooking a Sri Lankan curry for fifteen teachers. Every morning at half ten, the teachers all gather and we have a 'snack' (more like lunch number one, they have 2 lunches here) which one of the teachers (or teachers wives if they are a man) have made that morning. It was mine and Jamie's turn and we decided on potato curry with milk rice. The potato curry was a success however the milk rice had been in the fridge all night which the Sri Lankan's picked up on immediately as no one has fridges out here, therefore we were told the potato was delicious but that next time it was our turn maybe we should ask the canteen to do it. Never mind. Sri Lankan frankness is something I have grown to love, even if it is not straight forward, if they want you to know something they will let you know. If you look nice they will tell you, if you don't they will also tell you, if you are wearing your sari wrong they will yank it into place and give you a stern glare.
One of the highlights of this week was being blessed by the chief Buddhist monk at Mihiripenna temple. Jamie and I decided to have a look one day after school to have a quick look around, why we thought it would be quick I don't know nothing is quick in Sri Lanka apart from the buses. It was worth the time though as I stood there whilst he said a chant which would supposedly keep me safe for three days. I've even got a white piece of string to show for it.
Overall the past two weeks have near enough burnt me out, but I plan to sunbathe and sleep this weekend to pick me back up. By the weekend the feeling is not wanting to develop my skills, character, teaching or otherwise, all I want to develop is a tan and a sleep. Next weekend we are off on a staff trip to Trincomoli up north for the long weekend with 2 poya days. This should be interesting as we will be involved in all the Buddhist festivities and chanting along with the teachers. I know the chanting goes on for twelve hours on a poya day in Mihiripenna, I'm hoping we won't be doing that but who knows. I'm also hoping I won't have to wear a sari for the whole weekend, please cross your fingers for me. And keep sending me letters!! I have to collect them from a house with snapping guard dogs and it's a bit disheartening when I go through the ordeal of facing them when there is no post.
Lots of love to family and friends xxx