Archive for October, 2008

October 23, 2008

October 23rd, 2008 by mjgran10

A former ISLE student said to us before we left, that our host parents would actually treat us and think of us as their own children. At the time I doubt that would be the case but after being here for a while I’m pretty sure my host family has forgotten that I am not their actual daughter.

We went out to dinner the other night with most of my host mother’s side of the family, because her older brother and his wife were visiting from the U.S. When we got to the restaurant my host father said to some of the other men, “mage dua,” which means my daughter. They looked at him because obviously they knew he didn’t have a daughter. Then he said that I was a student from America but that I was still his daughter.

Maria, who had been to a similar dinner early that week said that the table was divided by gender and age and that she had to sit at the children's table. I said that if we were in that situation I wouldn’t sit at the children’s table because I was certain my apache (father) would sit me with him at the older men’s side of the table. I said this because at my home it is always my host father and I joking around and hanging out, which is not exactly to be expected because Sri Lanka is still a very patriarchal society, but I think my host father really wanted a daughter. I was joking, but that was exactly what happened. He told me to sit across from him, which was funny because all the women were to my right and all the men to my left and I was dead in the center of the table. 
The dinner went well, but my host father has taken to use me as his excuse when really he wants something. At home he is always saying, “bade ginne,” which means I’m hungry, but at dinner he just kept saying that I was hungry so we would have to eat right away, then he announced that I was tired. Which was absurd because there were children there that were under two years old that weren’t tired yet.

Most of the evening was interesting though, because everyone I was with spoke English and Sinhala, even the small children. Still when everyone got comfortable they started speaking rapidly in Sinhala on all sides of me. I finally understood what it must be like to come to America, and try and learn English. I made a mental note to be exponentially more considerate towards people in America who had yet to master the English language.

Now, if it isn’t obvious, my host parents love children, and they were very happy to play with all the babies. However, in Sri Lanka you are still a child until you are married then instantly you’re an adult. My host brother is 26 but as he is not married my host mother still refers to him as “baba,” which means baby. I knew that it was coming because everyone was dotting over their children so I knew eventually I would have to swallow my pride and be dotted over. Then after I had finished eating my Amma, swooped in behind me and she said it in Sinhala but basically, she said, “Baby, please eat some of mother’s fruit.” Everyone looked at me as if this was a test of whether or not I was really their daughter. As my host parents are so insanely kind to me I consented and let her feed me. It was hilarious because I can only imagine how hard any of my friends would have laughed at me at home if my actual mother had tried to feed me.

October 19, 2008

October 18th, 2008 by mjgran10

We have actually started writing final papers and studying for final exams. Which means that in a couple weeks when we have finished all of these things we will be 2/3rds of the way done with the program. Then we will be moving onto independent study, which is wild because in someways it feels like we’ve been here for a very long time but in the back of my mind I’m still pretty sure its still the end of August. That may have something to do with the fact that the weather here is very similar to Massachusetts in August.

Well, clearly, I am not doing my work right now because I am taking this time to procrastinate and share a funny anecdote. This has nothing to do with my own personal political views, I just feel obliged to report on what I’ve seen in Sri Lanka as a response to the US election. The Sri Lankan press really doesn’t need to worry about being labeled as biased, so they have decided to make this election a battle of good vs. evil, but it is not as one would have guessed, Obama vs. McCain, no one has any idea who McCain is. It’s always Obama vs ‘that Alaskan woman,’ as I always hear her refered to. When the debates show up on the Sinhalese news, which I clearly don’t understand, but I can see Obama and McCain, my host father always just says Obama is fighting with that man again.

I’ve seen quite a few articles that have made Obama out to be the second coming of Christ, or as I’m in Sri Lanka a Bodhisattva I guess. However, the other day we all gathered around the Sri Lankan paper, The Island, and read an article that had a huge picture of Sarah Palin and then in huge letters it warned, THIS WOMAN COULD BE THE NEXT US PREZ. Now I don’t know how the article just totally dismissed McCain but he was a non-factor. It was just future president She-devil, Palin.

Now once again these are not my own views, that is just actually how the article presented her. They called her things like a gun totting flesh provider, which once again this is a Buddhist country so killing for food is pretty much the same as just being a straight out murderer. Then they said something like she hated human rights, and then something about her being an egg cracking mother. I guess in the past they thought that mothers should never crack eggs because of some symbolism about taking the lives of an infant.

Anyways, on the next page was a cartoon of Palin with guns and drills slung across her back pushing a baby carriage and then an arrow pointing down at the baby said McCain, so maybe they just figured if he got elected she was going to push him off a cliff, I don’t know. However, the best part was the end of the article where it just basically said if Obama doesn’t become president it will be the apocalypse but sometime US voters are to “obtuse” and so then they might not vote for good over evil. Also, I’ve heard, however, that US newspapers are showing articles quite similar to this, but I just thought it was funny here to see how into US politics the Sri Lankans are, and also just funny to see what a press that doesn’t have to worry about shrouding their bias will say.

I just remembered another absurd political anecdote. The other day I was late, as usual, so I was eating my breakfast in a hurry, when I heard the TV shout, “Americawa!” Instinctively, I looked up expecting to see another showdown of Obama vs. McCain dubbed over in Sinhalese, instead I just saw a picture of Palin. Then I saw a shot of the website, followed by a clip of Princess Diana. No ones was in the room to translate so I stopped paying attention when I heard, “Brad Pitt.” I looked up to see the screen split in two, with a picture of Obama next to a picture of Brad Pitt. Then I went to school, thoroughly confused.

Ok, thats all I wanted to say today, so I’m going to get back to my homework and hopefully not get distracted again by US politicians.

October 16, 2008

October 16th, 2008 by mjgran10

Today was another day that I had no expectations for. I had no idea what I was going to do with myself after my only Thursday class which ended at 9:40. I swam, I took a walk, I took a nap, I thought about doing homework, then I decided to abstain from doing homework. In fact, today I had been dealing with a recent bout of home-sickness, but in the back of my mind I knew that there was something I was supposed to be doing.

Luckily, I didn’t miss what I was supposed to be doing, because the ISLE staff knows where you should be even if you don’t. 4:15 came around and I was ushered into the car, and driven by our director Nancy, with our assistant director Dan, and Chris the only other student in the art and poetry class back to the University.

Although Professor Halpe is our official teacher for that class he has decided to split his responsibilities with Sumathy. I’m not being rude calling her Sumathy, instead of “professor so and so” because she dropped her last name and is just Sumathy. It was a conscious decision to return to her Tamil roots and reject the Western convention of a surname. Now we were going to a screening of Sumathy’s film, Oranges, followed by a reading of her newly released book, like myth and mother.

Peradeniya University has many faculties but its art’s faculty is its claim to fame.    Genius is what we deal with on a daily basis because Sri Lanka’s best and brightest literary talents seem to flock to Peradeniya. For the book reading it looked like the entire staff of the English literature department had gathered along with quite a few students. Now, Sumathy, is without a doubt a thespian, her speech is deliberate and well delivered and her movements match her speech. We know that her ethnic background is Tamil but that is it for autobiographical details that Chris and I have been able to pry from her. I could attempt to describe Sumathy but I would do it poorly so I will instead quote the back cover of her book, thin veils, where there is a photo of her with her eyes carefully placed glancing above the camera and then under the photo is this quote from her work, “I am the shadow beast And I’ll stalk this land’s destiny Like a woman’s Curse.”

With that quote, regardless of what it was in reference to anyone could guess that she is a fierce woman. In class I am fascinated by her, but on the few occasions I have challenged her I have deeply regretted it. I must say I give her a ton of credit because she just bore her soul in her book and then she stood in front of a crowd and asked for their criticism. I can’t imagine having the inner strength to will a crowd to question my work, but she did. Then a few of the other professor’s decided to criticize her. One man was saying that she was dealing with the idea of learning to live and learning to die but that she was naive because she wasn’t dealing with learning to kill. I think that because we come from a society that hasn’t been torn by civil war, Chris, Nancy, Dan and I had trouble understanding this criticism. Why must Sumathy write about learning to kill, but apparently she was weak because she wasn’t, at least that’s what he suggested. Shortly after, another professor said that she sounded lonely in her writing. Sumathy was quiet for a while and then came the highlight of the evening with all her colleagues there she looked up with her signature glance, eyes posed slightly above the crowd and she said, “I am lonely, intellectually I’m lonely.” I thought that was probably the best response I had ever heard anyone give to their critics.

Some of the conversation moved beyond my intellectual sphere, or perhaps it moved beyond my life experience. I’ve been spared from wide scale suffering in a way that most of the people in that room had not, I think that is why I had trouble following some of the conversation. In my peace and conflicts studies courses we read about people who are suffering but they are always the so called ‘others’. Now the injustices I’m studying are the shared suffering of my host family, my professors, the beggars I pass on the streets, now they are not just the others, they are everyday people just like me. So, just as I was wondering why I had to leave my family and friends and come half way around the world, Sumathy’s fierce words reminded me that I was here in the hopes that I could learn something that I couldn’t from within the confines of my comfort zone.

October 12, 2008

October 12th, 2008 by mjgran10

10/12/08 Michelle Granara Blog Entry  Yesterday was a pretty wild day. We went to see a soothsayer, I didn’t really understand what a soothsayer was before we went and still I’m not exactly clear on what we saw. I don’t know if it was a Buddhist thing or a Hindu thing, I think it was a blending of the two because I’m under the impression it started with Buddhist rituals but then the soothsayer was possessed by Hindu Gods.

We got to the soothsayer’s home at about 8:30 and shortly after that a crowd gathered. The crowd all placed big green leaves, called betel leaves, on the railing and then they placed a small amount of money on the leaves as an offering.

They all stood outside of the Devale (House of the Gods), when the soothsayer entered, wearing only a sarong and some necklaces leaving his chest bare. Then he went about the Devale chanting. We were in the way back so all we could really see was some fire every once and a while and the soothsayer moving frantically within. Then he started ringing a bell and then some one outside started ringing a whole bunch of bells. There was an enormous racket and the soothsayer disappeared into some back room and then suddenly his voice changed. He was initially soft spoken in his chanting and then there was this monkeyish laughter and then his voice turned deep and booming. He was believed to be possessed by Lord Vishnu. We were told that in the evenings he is usually possessed by the Goddess Kali and then he sounds like he is speaking in the voice of a women.

The believers formed a line, and one by one they stepped up into this unseen room. Then Vishnu would read their mind and pronounce what was troubling them and how it could be cured. It seemed like most people came seeking advice about everyday things like marriage, jobs, or children. He then would prescribe what they could do. I remember one case where someone’s child had fallen in with a bad crowd and to cure him from their bad influences they would have to collect the child’s hair, without the child knowing and then use some oils and then bury the hair somewhere. Our professor told us a story of how once a man came and the soothsayer pronounced that he was a murder and there was nothing the Gods could do for him, and the man ran out wielding a sword.

A few hours later the soothsayer came out of the trance, and we got to meet with him inside his house. It was weird because he was very soft spoken and humble and the booming voice we had heard all morning didn’t seem like it could have possibly come from him. We noted that in his house there was an enormous television. One of our professor’s told us that this soothsayer was very popular among politicians during elections so it was probably an offering from one of them.

The soothsayer agreed to let Jared, from Carleton College, come back the following weekend to study him as part of Jared’s independent study on ritual healing. I think we will all be interested to read Jared’s paper once he’s studied soothsayers and exorcisms in Sri Lanka. Maybe then I’ll understand a little bit more of what we saw.

October 9, 2008

October 9th, 2008 by mjgran10

I wasn’t sure if I should report on this incident or not, but I figured life in Sri Lanka is still life so not all my stories can be positive ones, that’s just not realistic.

Onto the story, last weekend I was really excited because my host parents and I had made plans to go to what my host father called the “puppy orphanage.” I had this image of a little building filled with smiling puppies for me to cuddle. I was very wrong, what we went to was an attempt at a pound, but the dogs seemed fairly vicious and they were corralled into pens or kept individually in little chicken coop like houses. I was fairly sure that a pack of dogs would eventually break down these little fences and fulfill their desire to attack. However, I had to note that Sri Lanka is a third world country with limited funds, and a huge stray dog problem. This place was certainly a step in the right direction.

Eventually, we encountered a few litters of puppies but my host father wanted a guard dog. The relationship between humans and dogs is a little different here, dogs are guardians they are not for bringing in the house and they are definitely not for hugging. Which is why I keep getting in trouble with my host mother who keeps catching me playing with dogs. I didn’t care that my host father didn’t want a puppy because there was this huge German Shepherd looking dog that I liked. I showed him to my host father and he said that this dog was “the lucky fellow.” We named him Lucky, which is just some sick form of irony.

We brought him home in my host father’s car. Lucky, about 70 pounds sat in the back seat, more sat on my lap. My host mother was appalled. Lucky and I were pretty much love at first sight and my host father felt the same way, my host mother not so much. The next day, I woke up early to play with Lucky. Then I was sent in to wash and study.

I heard screams outside my window. Lucky, had bitten my host mother. He got both her hands; any stay at home mother can understand the horror at the thought of loosing use of both of their hands. Turns out, Lucky was eating and my host mother was adding more food to his bowl, when he bit her it was probably in defense of his food bowl. My host mother was taken to the hospital, where she received a series of rabies shots and injections into the spot where his teeth had broken her skin. Eighteen shots in total. Lucky was returned to his chicken coop, apparently, he was in the pound because he had a history of biting university students. They were never supposed to give him for adoption.

Somehow, my host mother still seems to like me. I think it’s because she’s Buddhist so she thinks she got bitten because it was her Karma. My host father, on the other hand is very sad about the dog, I’m a little sad about the dog, too.

Anyways, on a more upbeat note it was a good chance to see how close knit family ties are in Sri Lanka, because within five minutes of the incident the house was full of family members offering assistance. Now, about four days have passed and the stream of well wishers still hasn’t run dry. Plus, my host mother has regained use of her hands. My host mother said that we would get a puppy soon, I said that I was not going to offer any opinions while selecting the next dog.

October 3, 2008

October 3rd, 2008 by mjgran10

Today was an unexpectedly fantastic day. My schedule for today just said ‘Arts and Poetry field trip’.

Now, who would know what to expect, as that meant our painter/poet professor would be planning something for us. Now as an aspiring writer, I know that order is not a particular strength for most artist, so I really had no idea what we would be doing.

We started the day by going to Professor Halpe’s house. I have never in my life seen a house anything like this. It was built on top of a hill and along the side of the hill there was a garden and paths dug in to wander. Now, garden is a relative term, as in America we think of garden as a neat patch of flowers planted and meticulously maintained, in Sri Lanka garden is more or less a term for planting trees and watching a forest bloom. From Halpe’s deck he could reach out to the top of a papaya tree and pluck ripe fruit to eat. Then inside his house, their was an art gallery, every wall was lined from bottom to top with original works from all genres of painting. Then to add to the splendor of the place were three pianos, his wife is apparently a renowned musician. Then in the very middle of the floor was a small pond filled with Koi fish. The beauty of his home was so impressive that while there I couldn’t think of a word worth saying, instead I just let my eyes wander.

Then that he appeared at the ISLE center with two friends, who happen to be two of Sri Lanka’s top writers, Carl Muller and Jean Arasanayagam. They are each Burgher people, which just means that they can trace their lineage back to European decedents which accounts for their names not being traditionally Sri Lankan.

I was so deeply touched that such talented and decorated writers, who each came dotting piles of their published books, would take the time to meet so intimately with such a small group of us. Professor Halpe, Muller, and Arasanayagam each read us some of their poetry. To read some one else’s poetry is one thing but to hear it spoken from the author and to hear their background stories gave it so much more value.

The first to read was Carl who was quite a character. We started the dialogue when I asked what his tattoo was of. He said all his tattoos are from his navy days and that they are all women’s names. I’m sure many have described him as crude but his work was beautiful and brave, while he spared no one in his attacks on the flaws in the world.

He was followed by Jean, who described herself as a very innocent women. Carl laughed as if this wasn’t true. I was quite happy, also, because she agreed to let me do my independent study in November on her and the conflicts that were reflected in her writing.

Halpe then ended the night, with his soothing voice. He is a man deeply in love with his wife and he read aloud a few poems about their reuniting after long times apart. His work was wonderful because it reminded all of us not to forget to find the beauty in life, even in deeply troubled times.

Well, thats all for tonight. I should get some sleep. Maybe in the morning I’ll go out and buy some books and finally be able to read the works of authors I’ve actually met.