September 18, 2008

Tomorrow it will have been one full month since we left America. When I left I thought this experience would be about changing how I saw the world. I never thought that my presence or probably more the presence of the ISLE program would change the way people were viewing America.

I think that everyone inherently knows that as a super power American politics do affect the rest of the world, and in developing nations the effect is of course greater. Which is why in Tanzania people had chased our van chanting for Obama and why Sri Lankan newspapers feature articles praising Obama as if he’s already won the election. I didn’t know how to feel about this until the other day when we went to the theater, and we were given a speech about change.

The word change has been thrown around so much during this presidential election, I had let it slip from my mind as nothing more then rhetoric. However, when we went to see the musical Sinhabahu, the meaning of the word change crept back into my thoughts.

Now I must digress for a moment because the play itself is an interesting part of the story.  Sinhabahu is the origin story of the Sinhalese race, however, the play we were watching had been translated to English, which was interesting. For some background info I will do the story the injustice of my limited summary, basically a princess runs away with a lion who is the king of all lions. They have children, who I think are half lion half human, but the lion keeps them locked in a cave. Finally they escape and the son kills the father.

Sinhabahu although entertaining was not was really affected me on our outing to the theater. What affected me was not the play but a woman who I believe was the principal of some school, who spoke. It might seem weird that she spoke but it was because we were at a 10 a.m. performance geared towards school children. The woman first spoke to her students then directed her attention to us, the isle students. She said that she was honored because we were Americans who came to their country and learned their language and studied their religion. The Sinhalese have been bombarded with English and Christianity since colonial times so it is not hard to grasp why it might feel like a minor victory that finally westerners were learning Sinhalese and Buddhism. Then she said, “thats the kind of change Barrack Obama is talking about.”

Well, at first we all looked at each other because it was clear she might have thought Obama personally sent us to Sri Lanka. However, after spending some time thinking about the event I realized the importance of what we were doing. Our presence in Sri Lanka means to the Sri Lankans that America cares about them and if in this time we can restore a little faith in America, I think we’ve done a good thing just by being here. Even if change is just rhetoric its nice to know that the developing world still has some hope in the capacity for the rhetoric to become a reality.

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