Sri Lanka is proving pretty impressive.
Let me explain.
Yesterday, I flew out early to Colombo with two of my friends and fellow ETAs, Julie and Pamela. (We’re here for seven days for a conference for Fulbright ETAs in South and Central Asia.) For a variety of reasons, I decided to do the classic “why sleep at all?” thing and stay up all night before flying out of Kolkata at 7:30 am (and really, it rarely takes much to convince me to stay up all night when I have friends to spend the time with–I love this kind of thing). After a fun night out–a last night out with two friends, in fact, as one was returning to Nepal and the other moving back to France–I hopped in a friend’s van just as the morning prayer call was sounding from a nearby mosque. At the airport, a huge crowd was gathered outside of the international airport, apparently beginning their Haj pilgrimage from the region; luckily, a three-hour layover in Delhi before Colombo meant that we flew out of the domestic terminal. Much simpler.
But, as always, things are never simple. After parting with out French friend with a quick “See you in Delhi!” we boarded our flight. Before entering the plane, we became aware of how dense the fog had grown. Uh oh. Instead of a three-hour layover in Delhi, during which I had planned to meet up with a friend undergoing Air Hostess training and to see Christophe off to France, we chilled out on the runway for three hours. Fortunately, I had a great book to read (Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, courtesy of Lindsey!), so I actually enjoyed the unexpected delay. After a crazy couple of weeks, getting stuck with nothing else to do was the perfect reminder for me to slow down and indulge in some uninterrupted reading time.
We de-boarded the plane in Delhi with just 25 minutes to make the connection. This was my first time back to Indira Gandhi Intl. since the night I arrived in India, but there wasn’t much time to reminisce–we hustled down needlessly long corridors, fought past an unnecessary rude customs official, bumbled our way through a security checkpoint, and then jogged past thirteen gates before arriving–just as the boards read “Gate Closed” and all hope seemed lost–to our plane a full fifteen minutes after it was set to lift off. We were not the only ones delayed by previous flights, it turns out, so we had time to spare. We cheered each other on as each boarded the plane, and joked with those other passengers who had been sitting and watching people come huffing and puffing down the aisle.
Anyway, back to this whole loss of senses thing: for some reason, my ears were especially affected by the changes of pressure during these flights. We flew into Colombo last night around 7 pm., about 21 hours ago, and I still cannot hear much out of my left ear. Well, that’s not true–I can hear my own footsteps echoing in my eardrum, as well as any chewing I engage in magnified three-fold. Normal sounds, however, like voices and car horns and music are muffled. This may have something to do with this cold I have, which this morning contributed to further deadening of the senses: I couldn’t smell or taste much of my nice continental breakfast. Luckily, those sense returned in time for a lunch on the beach–prawns and pina coladas, yum!
I have to say, though: even with three of my senses muted and my body in general disarray following the stress of the last fourteen days, it’s hard not to be ecstatic right now. I’m in Sri Lanka with two days to relax with two great friends, and then we’re meeting up with the other ETAs (some of which we haven’t seen since Orientation in D.C., others since us Kolkata ETAs left Delhi in July) for a conference in a fancy hotel. I am especially excited about seeing the presentations put on by ETAs and for giving our own: a presentation on cross-cultural classroom management strategies lovingly entitled “The Dark Place.” It’s going to be hilarious (for us, at least).
After a good (two-night’s worth of) rest on our hotel’s soft beds, a few hours on a gorgeous beach, and a delicious lunch, I’m feeling pretty grateful for the strange opportunities life has been throwing my way lately. But really, it’s the little things that matter these days, and Sri Lanka’s got a lot of them to offer, like:
-Christmas lights: Sri Lanka seems to have a much greater Christian population, because all of the hotels and restaurants and clothing stores are decked out. We even passed some little stands with inflatable Santas hanging from the doorways. It’s beginning to look a lot (more) like Christmas!
-Buddhas: Huge Buddha statues, some complete with flashing mandalas behind the head, popped up along the main roads during our ride from the airport last night. After bumming around the beach for a day or two, I’m hoping to make it back out there to revisit a few and to see some of the temples here in the city.
-The money: Not only is Sri Lanka’s currency easy for us to mentally convert back into U.S. dollars, it’s also beautiful–the bills are bright tropical colors and are embellished with pictures of birds, flowers, musicians, and temples.
-Seafood: Pretty straightforward. I’m determined not to waste time with much else during meals here. West Bengal is big on river fish, but nothing beats real fish and prawn and crab from the sea.
-Casual clothing: At least in Colombo, the dress code here seems to be a bit more liberal than Northern India’s. I am not a big bathing suit person anyway, so I’m not really testing the limits; I did, however, wear a tank top and long shorts on the beach. It was so nice to feel some sun on my shoulders!
-Fewer horns, nicer streets: I have a love-hate relationship with the traffic back in Kolkata. I mean, the city wouldn’t quite have the same character without the constant honking and the real-life frogger that pedestrians have to play every time they cross the street. I have become so used to it that it took a good half hour last night before I turned to Pamela and July in the taxi last night and said, “Wait, why don’t I hear any horns honking right now?”
-Rain: Just now, it started raining hard enough to draw me out of the room towards our little hotel’s courtyard. It hasn’t been so long since monsoon season ended, but still I have been a bit nostalgic for rain. That’s what a lifetime in the Northwest will do for you, I suppose. Last night, we benefited from a little show of lightening flashing in the skyline beyond the coast.
All in all, I’d say temporarily loosing my hearing out of one ear is well worth a sponsored trip to Sri Lanka!