If you would like to view just the workshop report, click here.
Just a warning: this is a very long and badly-written post. I’m feeling a little tired today, so the goal was just to get everything out without paying too much attention to style.
This trip has been rather eventful (read: terribly messy) in terms of transport. I was at Esh’s house on Sunday and planned to go to the station from there. It’s a funny thing though – being closer to one’s destination doesn’t necessarily mean you can leave that much later to get there, especially when you’re going to be passing through Maradana. Suffice it to say that a combination of a lack of budget taxis, spending a few too many minutes getting ready, and waiting for sandwiches, meant that I found myself in the midst of an ugly traffic block in Maradana with minutes to go before the train left. What made it worse was that this week I had agreed to travel with Natale, a Sri Lankan-Canadian from Toronto, who was coming to observe this week’s workshop. And she’d arrived at the station early! It was really unfortunate, and entirely my fault – but fortunately we managed to get on the train just in time!
I discovered in Anuradhapura that Sushmitha, a girl from school, had been travelling in my carriage the entire time, so we had a bit a chat about lots of things: Guruparan’s talk on youth activism at the American Centre last week, the pre-university training programme inexplicably organised by the Ministry of Defence, and the fact that LC-ite are more vociferous than others when it comes to stating opinions. Finally, we talked about the possibility of Sushmitha acting as my Tamil tutor so that I don’t have to keep using a translator. She insisted that she would do it for free, but I’m not sure she realises how much tutoring I might need! Either way, I’m budgeting to reimburse her for her time.
I’ve kind of given up telling Cargills in advance that I need juice, since I always arrive and find that the message has not gone through and that it takes more time trying to communicate my needs. I’m learning that the children are probably not that fussy about flavours, and won’t take it amiss if one day I arrive with an assortment of mango, orange, and mixed fruit. Also, I admit, if I came to Vavuniya on the same day every week, then perhaps it would be easier to arrange something, but living at home means that this project has to jostle for space with family obligations, grad school applications, and time with friends (many of whom seem to be getting married or going away to grad school!). This week I bought mixed fruit juice for the children (a nice change from Milo) as well as biscuits.
After a lunch of fried rice and devilled prawns at Thai Hotel, we set off for Chiraddikulam. I discovered that the manager of the hotel, Mr Kamal, had told the driver that we were going to Kakkaiyankulam, not Chiraddikulam, who was subsequently quite grumpy for the latter half of the journey. Also, we nearly ran out of diesel since the driver was under the impression that he had 30km to drive, not 60km, but fortunately there was a tiny little place in Nattankandal selling it in cans (phew). I shudder to think what would have happened if we did, but this trip seemed marked by narrow shaves, near-misses, and skins of teeth. (Juss miss by kess guss comes to mind.)
I don’t know whether he was just driving incredibly fast, but we completely missed the turn-off from Nattankandal to Chiraddikulam, and found ourselves in a place called Orukulam, I believe. The roads were getting slightly nicer; I also noticed two huge army camps. I wished we could have kept going so I could explore the area, but for the moment we had to turn back. Another vehicular faux pas on my part! I like to believe I am usually more attentive to my surroundings than this, but strangely I am hyper-aware when alone, and deeply unobservant when with other people.
We arrived a little late at the community centre – there were 17 kids there! I had just enough files with the “extras”, and I’m learning that I really should budget for more kids. One of the ‘visitors’ to Chiraddikulam from last week was there again, a little girl whose name I think is Janusiya. She always shakes her head when I ask if she wants to join in – but perhaps I should be more persistent! Also, Gowry was there! I’d met Gowry on earlier visits with CI, and it was nice to see her again. She struck up a conversation with Natale, who also served as this week’s photographer.
We started with Fruit Bowl and the Walk Stop game (the kids were slightly better this week) and then we moved on to doing craft. I really wish I HAD made extra copies of the activity, because it’s hard to teach an involved craft activity when you’re not showing them each step visually, rather than communicating with words. Plus, I got a little confused midway and gave some rather muddled instructions to them. For an activity that was supposed to help them learn the value of working through the different steps, I think I rather failed by them! They really seemed to enjoy it though, and there were a few mothers who came to look on. I’d asked the parents to come meet with me today, since I wanted to discuss the Building Bridges programme and gauge how comfortable they might be with my taking their kids to Kakkaiyankulam every fortnight. Only three had arrived, and I was disappointed by the poor turnout and the apparent lack of interest in what their children were doing with their time! But it may be a number of factors, so I won’t judge too hastily. The three female relatives who were present seemed enthusiastic, however: “It’s for their education!” said one old lady who turned out to be Vanoja’s relative. She might have been her mother (I notice that few ladies in Chiraddikulam look youthful) but if I’d had to make a guess, I would have thought she was a much older aunt or possibly even a grandmother.
Midway through the session, Natale and Gowry left to visit a nearby kovil and meet Gauri’s family. I thought it was nice of Gowry to open up her home so quickly to complete strangers (she invited me to come after next week’s session, so I must remember to take printouts of photos she took with Natale!)
We finished the craft activity faster than expected, because I think I was just tired – I didn’t go into as much detail as I did in K’kulam explaining what should go where and stuff, which I felt was a pity. I do tend to have more energy in the mornings, and I’m glad the “building bridges” workshops will be on Saturday mornings.
After the tea break, Gauri and Natale still hadn’t returned, so I decided to play some games with the kids, even though I felt I should really send them home. I played the mirror game with them, which they didn’t do too badly at, given that I could see they were getting jumpy. They were too full of pent-up energy to really focus themselves though (although I do feel that if we had played it at the beginning of the session, they would definitely have been better-coordinated than the K’kulam, if not as creative in their choice of movement. We then moved outside to finish the session with a game of Dog and the Bone. Next week, I will try to finish a little early so I can visit Gowry’s family!
On the way back, Natale told me about her visit to Gauri’s house. Most of her family were very welcoming, with the exception of one aunt who didn’t seem enthusiastic about partaking in the photo-taking and friend-making. They also showed her photos of an important event in Gowry’s life – and it seemed they had gone well beyonf their means to make it special for Gowry.
We reached the crossroads near Kakkaiyankulam, and asked me which way to go. I told them, straight ahead, the road to the right also gets you to Vavuniya but the road is really bad. However, in times of doubt, people ask the army, and the army guy at the checkpoint there told them theroad to the right, through Thandikulam, was shorter (true) and better (lies). We took the road to the right, and it was dreadful, as I’d told them. Suddenly, even though being hurled about in the van was not the most pleasant sensation in the world, I suddenly felt like a local who Knows My Area, and I felt rather pleased, even though I admit my elation came at a rather high cost. The van charge this week was the highest so far! I told Mr Kamal how difficult it was for me, so he offered to discuss drivers’ fees first the next visit. It will only get more expensive when the building bridges workshops begin…sigh!
Over dinner, Natale and I discussed the workshops, living in Canada as a minority when you know you’re part of the majority in an island across the ocean, ensuing questions of identity, different viewpoints on post-conflict efforts, and the upcoming Sri Lanka Unites conference in Jaffna. We also discussed theatre, although Natale’s forte is improv, while part of what I love best in rehearsal is delving into the script to develop character. We also discussed the dynamics of the Sri Lankan diaspora and some of the fears of each group. In a sense, I’m terribly insulated in Colombo from what the rest of the country (as well as Sri Lankans living abroad) think about living here. Despite many things, I feel comfortable living here; comfortable in my own skin, comfortable with the tiny cosmopolitan fraction of the island’s people I hobnob with, comfortable with my pseudo-city life. Everything is familiar and unthreatening. I admit, nothing will ever feel as safe as Copenhagen did: for the first time in my life, I was envious of another nation’s people (America is great and all, y’all, but it never makes me want to live there). At the same time, though, I live in a bubble of believing that I will always encounter good things. I’ve never yet had my childish fancies disproved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re true.
We woke early, and were ready to leave by 5.05am. Having learned from my narrow shave the day before, I’d asked Premadasa to be at Thai Hotel by 5.10am (it only takes 10 minutes to get to the station, but I hoped to stop at the bakery to get something for Natale’s breakfast, as well as get my official ExpoRail ticket in place of the internet printout). However, it turned out his “wheeler” needed repairs, so he sent another guy…who arrived 25 minutes late. We arrived at the station with mere minutes to spare, and I just leapt on to the train as the bell rang and travelled 2nd class until the next station. The ExpoRail people thought I’d missed my train. Fun fact: I don’t actually need to get a replacement ticket for my online confirmation, despite the paper stating otherwise. Also, Singam was playing again (the Tamil film about the law-loving policeman, Duraisingam). Unfortunately, I missed Natale on the way out – I looked for her for about 20 minutes, while she thought I must have left in the crowd and left the station herself. So I did the best thing I could think of, and called her uncle to let her know she’d arrived at Fort, even if I didn’t know her precise location. She did eventually get home safely.
As icing on my upside-down-travel-cake, I made the mistake of thinking it would be a good idea to take a meter tuk from outside the station to Moratuwa – they charge a higher price per km than the taxi companies do, AND he took an extra hundred rupees because of the traffic. ALSO, he nearly didn’t give me my 20 rupees in change. I don’t care that I sound like a skinflint – what is the point of a meter if you charge extra? No more station tuks for me – or at the very least, I will ask how much they charge per km!
In the evening, I had a really nice Skype session with Karen (who was a ReachOut Fellow last year in Palestine). I’m learning that I just really need to be more flexible about a lot of things: activities, extra kids, not enough food, transport issues, hiccups, spanners, etc. Rolling with the punches has never really been my forte though. Karen said she had started out the same way, but realising that the kids liked familiar things as much as they did new things, and that a few hiccups don’t change their view of the programme as much as we might think it does. Karen started out with plans that were made to be stuck to, but as she went along and became more flexible, it became easier and less stressful. She also offered to email with lesson plans, reports and syllabi, which I am very excited about!
Lastly, I just got a text back from Sushmitha, who insisted, “I cannot possibly charge for teaching my mother tongue!” It gave me a nice warm feeling for several reasons – the fact that she speaks of her language as though it is so precious that it must be given away for free, and that she is willing to give her time like this to help me. Sushmitha, you have no idea how helpful this is, and I will try to be the best Tamil student you ever had.
I’m glad I wrote a post on being grateful a few weeks back. Despite the vehicular hiccups, there are so many things that remind me how lucky I am! Perhaps especially the vehicular hiccups – they are a reminder of how much could have gone wrong on some of my more flawless sessions, and also a reminder of how things could have gotten just a little worse (like missing my train, for example!) but didn’t happen. I’m so used to things running like clockwork, and having everything my way, that these are good opportunities in exercising my thankful muscles.