Now that we’ve finished our first session which included Sinhala 1 and Material Culture, we’ve gotten into Session 2. So far all I can say is wow! Teaching in the ISLE program is apparently very prestigious in Sri Lanka, which means we get the most absurdly qualified professors I’ve ever encountered. I’ve already mentioned our Material Culture professor, Sudharshan Seneviratne, who is pretty much in charge of all of Sri Lanka’s archeology. I figured he’d be one of the most important people we had involved in the program, but I’m beginning to think that every teacher we have is pretty much the God of their subject.
I’m taking Colonial History from Professor De Silva who apparently wrote everything worth reading on the subject. Then there’s our Sinhala Professor, who speaks countless languages and has translated epic texts to Sinhala. I actually feel sorry for him because as our assistant director Dan puts it, “It’s like the top professor from Harvard trying to teach a kindergarten class.” That’s true too, our mastery of the Sinhala language is roughly equivalent to a three year olds. Then I have Art and Poetry with Professor Ashley Halpe, I don’t know much about him yet,except that he is pretty entertaining. When I mentioned his name, my host brother knew exactly who he was, so I assume that means he’s as important as all the others. Some people would think that learning from such brilliant teachers would be intimidating and it is, but the students all being from Holy Cross, Bowdion, and Carleton are used to some pretty bright professors.
The real problem comes during dance class, our guru is one of the best dancers in Kandy. He’s teaching us Kandyan dance which is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It involves huge swinging steps that are reminiscent of a sumo wrestler. There’s a lot of spinning and all the while theirs a pattern that are hands are supposed to make, and of course we are supposed to be in the right posture and looking in the right direction for every move. Basically I spin in circles and wave my arms in the air while bumping into the people beside me. Sadly, I actually might not even be the worst Kandyan dancer in our mix.
Members of ISLE staff actually come out to laugh at us, and we can’t get mad at them because we are too busy laughing at our selves. Three of the girls Sara, Sheila and Kristin each have some history in dancing and they can handle Kandyan dancing for the most part. As for Maria, Jared and I who have no dance experience, well I’ll just say it’s ugly. The dance teacher has taken to coming over to each of us and saying, “Ok let me tell you your problem.” Each of us have our own special problems. Now, there are seven ISLE students, but our seventh Chris vowed never to return after the first day.
One person who I must give specific credit to is our director Professor Nancy Wilkie. Now she has no responsibility that forces her to take part in our activities like dance class, but she comes anyways. You would think that she would come to demonstrate some unusual talent but instead she comes in solidarity with Jared, Maria and I in the back row. She bumps into us, spins in meaningless circles and even lets the guru tell her what her problem is. I think all of the students appreciate that she takes the effort to make a spectacle of herself alongside us. She was a director once before so when we might like to get down on our selfs for being terrible dancers, her presence reminds us that the ISLE program has had a history of terrible attempts at Kandyan dance. However, after dance class Nancy and the rest of the ISLE faculty quickly get as far from the class room as possible because we follow dance with drumming. We may be worse drummers then dancers.