Saturday, August 22, 2009
Be sure to go through them all. There are some good photos from the 3 week experience.
If you would like any of them, please let me know and I would be glad to send them to you.
Yes, it's cheap. Most food is around 5 dollars and that's on the expensive side. And products to are a few dollars cheaper per item. And, because of their large garment production industry, you can get brand namew attire for half the price.
That being said, they LOVE to tax tourists. I think last night we ate a hotel, thinking the prices were good at around $6 for an Indian dinner. But then we got the bill. I couldn't believe that tax and tip added an additional 35% to the bill.
It was truly surprising to be here and see that. I think we were all surprised. BUt these taxes are only the greatest at the hotels. Normal places on the side of the road don't have these issues. And if they do, the price you see already includes tax.
So, here we are, on our last day of the program and travelling the City of Colombo, buying last minute gifts and enjoying our last day, i guess you could say, on the beach.
It's been a challenging yet wonderful experience.
When i finally arrive in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon, i will have time to write a reflection on the experience.
Taxes aside, it's a unique country with a lot of delicious food and a fascinating example of true co-existence.
Oh yea, i forgot to add that import tax on cars is close to 300%. Or maybe it's more. Regardless, it's expensive.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Last night, i met someone who is Bahai. Yes, that religion that many have heard of because of the gorgeous Bahai Gardens in Haifa, Israel, but most don't know about. It was very interesting because the Gentleman had been to Israel a few times to visit the gardens and the Temple.
Now, i know that we have prayers for everything in Judaism, but i just find it interesting how often you see Buddhist Shrines. someone actually made a comment to us, that the government is placing shrines in places that there are no Buddhist, almost to create a point of control.
So, that's a little on religion in Sri Lanka. After 2500 years, they're still going strong and making a positive impact.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
It was interesting to learn about the many parties and issues, but the main issue that separates parties is how to deal with the minorities and government reform.
The politicians here are smooth. Mostly foreign educated and knowledgable in different govenment systems. The opposition parties are still hoping to create a system that will strengthen the local governments. While our meeting with the government representative was limited to discussing the situation in the IDP (Internally displaced persons) camps.
We have entered our last few days and are running workshops for various NGO workers and members from Chambers of Commerce. Today, we spoke about Interfaith Dialogue and the importance of organizational messaging.
For the messaging session, it was amazing how creative some of the logos and taglines were for the fake companies. I think i've determined that for American companies to create simple, yet effective taglines, they should use people who have English as their second language. While many have a very strong vocabulary, it seems they are more likely to use a basic description with great language.
It seems like it's a good new strategy to use. Some of the photos of the logos are up on picasa (or will be shortly).
So, as we continue with our workshops, we are having a few last meetings with representatives from the US Embassy and others and are definitely looking forward to identify our work when we return.
As a quick aside, i ate an entire Red Snapper tonight. Literally. It was wierd having the fish look at me while i was eating, but it was even stranger when Daman ate the eyeballs of the fish.
We recently met with 2 different media agencies: a newspaper and a blog that is very much like the huffington post.
The blog we met with is called Ground Views and it is a compilation site of articles that discuss various issues that are taking place in Sri Lanka that is not written by the government. They are unique in the sense that it caters to English readers, but that they have a lot of readers in Sri Lanka. The biggest challenge they face is being shut down by the government as a form of censorship.
The newspaper we met with, i can't say its name. But the Editor in Chief is an extremely well connected man who has worked in the past for Presidents. He returned to run his newspaper because he felt, as a journalist, he had to continue to be investigative and impartial.
As for radio and TV, well, haven't really listened or watched it. The TV is mostly in either Sinhala or Tamil and well, the radio, who has time to listen to the radio when there's a TV in your van?
Media holds a special place in the lives of Sri Lanka. Just like in other countries, major newspapers are struggling and are having to find ways to adapt to the drop in advertising, as well as the rise of provincial/regional issues.
It seems that in all aspects of the media, there are those people that want to report the truth, but the government does have an issue with false news spreading worldwide.
So, as we continue on our trip, we hope to either have a TV or radio interview to discuss all of the various programs that we've been having. I'm hoping it will be interesting.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The majority of the people give me directly to their churches or Temples, but don't give
directly to local organizations. They often depend on aid from international organizations
like the UN or large organizations that support the work of small projects.
It's quite different from the US, where 85% of donations come from 15% of the people. These
organizations now face a tremendous challenge regarding sustainability because if they lose
funding from one source, there is a huge chance that they will fold.
What makes it even more interesting is that there seems to be a lack of a connection with
the Sri Lankan diaspora. Although there are roughly 2.7 million living mostly in Canada,
the UK, US and Australia, they do not seem to be involved in with local organizations.
This is definitely different from the Jewish perspective where we give so much to Israel and
local organizations, as well as the synagogue and various other non-Jewish entities.
Hopefully, now that the war is over, funding will arrive in Sri Lanka for projects that
promote dialogue to help unite the communities.
At the end of the week, we will be leading a workshop on fundraising for young professionals
and members of various chambers of commerce throughout Sri Lanka. I look forward to hearing
from them, what the potential is for raising more money directly from their citizens.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
We're all still a little hesitant to eat Sri Lankan food.
Most people in the group, have had at least one day of issues because of the food.
However, i'm keeping strong. I think the best part of eating in Sri Lanka, is eating the food with your hands.
Last night, we ate at the home of one of the Sri Lankan participants. I sat next to his father and nephew (who is 13) and watched as the laughed at me, trying to eat like a Sri Lankan.
It's not nearly as easy as i thought it would be. It's all based on Rice and then they add the curry and other acutremonts (however that is spelled). Well, as I tried to treat my fingertips like a spoon, that is obviously the wrong way and they continued to laugh.
The technique should be a lot easier, but these little rice meatballs that i was eating were falling to my plate before I could get anything in my mouth.
I've also decided that the food tastes even better from your finger tips. You don't worry about eating the bones in fish because you break it apart with your hands first.
And, you really get to mix every bit of the food. The rice becomes covered in all of the curries and spices because it's as if you are coating each grain yourself.
It is definitely tasty and I think the real reason why cultural Kashrut is so great.
At the same time though, i'm truly enjoying eating vegetarian meals ALL the time. It's so easy and tasty, i wish it were so simple in Atlanta.
Something i think i forgot to add:
Although people have been getting sick, it has definitely NOT prevented them from eating the food. I think everyone has gone out on a limb and tried something new and different.
I have to say that two of the most interesting meetings we have had so far were with the Business for Peace Alliance and the One Text Initiative.
While i don't want to go into too many details, the Business for Peace Alliance, is bringing together the participants for the workshops we will be doing our last week. They are comprised of a number of Chambers of Commerce from all around the country.
The One Text Initiative, is headed up by a former Sri Lankan Ambassador to India and the United Kingdom. It was fascinating to meet with him and hear his thoughts on the future of Sri Lanka.
One of the most common themes that has arisen throughout all of our meetings is about the Sri Lankan connection to their Diaspora community. It's interesting to learn about the challenges and hopes that all of the organizations have for engaging that group.
As a community that has learned a little about being in the Diaspora for over 2000 years (thank you Judy Marx), i see things a little differently than my non-Jewish colleagues.
I feel these various organizations are on the right track, but it will be difficult to tell, since they have so much work ahead of them.
There is definitely something to be said about driving in Sri Lanka. They always use their horns and well, never stay on the correct side of the road. It doesn't matter how much room there is on the side of the vehicle, there is no vehicle too fast to be past and there is no on coming traffic that will prevent you from getting your spot on the road.
Honestly, it's crazy. I like to drive, but i don't think i would be capable of not getting into an accident here. Thankfully, i won't be driving at all during this trip, but it is truly a cultural phenomena.
Travelling throughout the country, you definitely have the opportunity to see new things.
There doesn't seem to be a style of architecture that is unique to Sri Lanka, except Red/Spanish tile roofs and concrete shells. Those are the most common that I've seen.
We are currently in Dambulla, and have travelled from Colombo (on the western coast), to Kandy (past the tea plantations into the hill country) and are currently in the Dry area. Although we will be arriving at the beach of Trinco tomorrow, it is very interesting to see the various ecologies that you pass to get from one place to another.
I think the top speed we have travelled so far is 60 mph.
there is too much traffic and well, the roads, just aren't that good.
Today, we did see a lot of culture, visiting the Temple of the Tooth, The Temple in the Rocks (I think it's called that) and Sigiriya (which depending on your travel book, has different stories). After hiring 2 tour guides for our first visits of the day, i acted as our tour guide in Sigiriya, which makes think about a career change into guiding :).
It's amazing to think that we are going on an 8 day road trip, because if you did that in the US, you would pass through a number of cities and areas (and even possible drive cross-country), but in Sri Lanka, it's the entire place.
Good Times had by all.
I learned that they play those matches because of international standings.
So, the game. There's no reason to attempt to explain the game here because I still have some issues following it. It was the atmosphere that really made it.
We were sitting in what we in the states would call the Bleacher seats. We went there with Shini and her friends. They hired a BAND to play in the stadium. Supposedly, it's quite common for bands to play in the stadium, but they were the only band there that night.
Otherwise, it really felt like an international soccer match. People were singing and dancing and supporting their national team. Actually, we didn't sit for the entire game (which reminded me of being at a UM football match).
A strage note about Cricket - besides the fact that they can take tea during the series, they have actual advertisements in the middle of the field.
The craziest thing of all, was that we didn't arrive until around 7, but the game began at 4 in the afternoon and lastest for hours. We left early, because, well Sri Lanka lost the game.
The people we were with, obviously blamed it on the Americans, but that's okay, I would've done the same.
It was the perfect end to an amazing week. Still can't believe the atmosphere of the match (nothing like baseball), at all.
Hoping that in the future, i might have the chance to see another match. But now that i know more of the game, it is sure to be more exciting.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
We then met with the folks at the American Center to learn about their initiatives in Sri Lanka. It an interesting meeting that I can't talk about, but was fun. We learned that the new Ambassador to Sri Lanka was appointed yesterday (although I can't for the life of me remember what her name was).
Following an uneventful lunch at the hotel we went and met with some of the folks at ICES-Colomobop (International Center for Ethnic Studies). You might remember that we met with their office in Kandy. This meeting wasn't nearly as free flowing, but it was still interesting. We learned about their research regarding the Sri Lankan Diaspora community (which i found particularly interesting). Sri Lanka has a unique challenge in engaging their diaspora community, many of which have been gone a long time. They are definitely trying to engage them on a more grassroots level. It feels very similar to the challenge that Israel has with its Ex-pat community (just my thoughts).
Really, we are waiting for tomorrow when we are busy ALL day. We have meetings back to back to back and then in the evening, i get to go see my first ever cricket match. Although i don't quite understand how the game is played, i'm looking forward to being a part of it. It's Sri Lanka vs. Pakistan and I hope to devote an entire story into it.
So, that's where we are. After i finished posting all of yesterdays photos, i've got nothing for today.
I'm still learning a lot and look forward to the continued opportunities.
We are finally a complete group. Brooke, from CIPE arrived yesterday.
I tried to identify a list of interesting foods that I've eaten, but unfortunately, nothing really comes to mind.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I hope this works.
http://picasaweb.google.com/dovwilker -if that doesn't work, try this:
I wish there were words that could adequately describe the experience. Think of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade at night with Fire and Elephants and Religious icons. That's really it.
It started around 8 pm, but didn't get to our view point until 11pm and it lasted until 12.45am.
When it finally came to our 'seats' we saw it down the road, and it took literally 30 minutes for the procession to arrive in front of us. There were men, dressed in typical/historical Sri Lankan garb. They were dancing with fire and dancing with flags. Show all of the flags of the various kingdoms that were around originally. you could see these enormous elephants (their legs were shackled so they couldn't stampede the crowd, which has happened in the past) and there were men and boys of all ages dancing. They carried with them fake swords and musical instruments to show their respect and dances of the past.
The photos will really speak for themselves, along with some of the videos that i have. I hope you enjoy them when they are up.
Oh yea, and one last thing about Kandy. In our hotel room, i looked outside yesterday afternoon and saw Monkeys out the window. About 5 of them. Seriously. They come from the jungle near by and take stuff out of people's rooms. I can't wait to go back there and hopefully get some photos of them. I had never seen a stray monkey like that. Think of squirrels on the rooftop.
We just returned from Kandy (the hill country). We've lost 2 of our group to the food, but Daman and I are staying strong. We've eaten some interesting fruits that have thick skins, so they're good for us to eat. And, I've finally eaten like a Sri Lankan, with my HANDS. it's was tough and i kept on cramping up, but it was cool. I can't wait to continue eating.
We were in Kandy for the Perahera (which i will write about seperately because i need to do it justice.
In Kandy, we met with a group of academics at the International Center for Ethnic Studies. We thought we would be having a roundtable discussion, but when we arrived, there was a head table with our names on it for a panel. We spoke about the work we do in the US and then got to speak with the participants, about 20 of them, about the political system in Sri Lanka. It was interesting to learn from experts since i do not have much past experience with it. Two main questions that were asked of us were: How do you get youth involved in the process outside of an election year? How succesful are interfaith/religious dialogues without discussing politics?
To answer the first question, was very difficult because i don't know the micro issues that are in Sri Lanka, but my recommendation was to focus on issues. Get people motivated through issues that directly effect them, but are not broad issues. As for the second, I've always felt fortunate at AJC and think we do a good job of dialogue without discussing politics (at first), so hopefully that helped them as well.
As for the 'Fabulous Jew Moment' that came in the evening, when i realized that the family i was with had never met a Jew before. They told me they thought that Jews ruled the world and were really surprised to hear that we are so few. But really the best part was when i showed them the yarmulke i was travelling with. they LOVED it. I tried to explain about Jewish people as best as I can and they were familiar that a good number of Jewish people have become Buddhists, but overall, they were really interested. Good Times in Kandy.
Monday, August 3, 2009
It seems to be a great vacation spot from the Gulf States, as they are in close proximity and it allows families the freedoms that they may not have in their own countries.
It's also interesting to see how the other people in my group deal with being a minority for the first time.
In addition, there are very few folks here from Africa or other Americans (it's kind of a long trip from the US), but lots of Germans. It's much easier for europeans to visit, as the longest flight seems to be from the UK and that is really no longer than flying from NY-Israel.
We are continuing our journey today and leaving Colombo. We are heading to Kandy for the Perahara Festival (that will last from my understanding through the night). We are scheduled to meet a political science professor from a University to continue learning more about the conflict.
Actually, last night we went to one of the oldest Hindu Temples in Kandy, that dates back 420 years, where we met with the priest and spoke with him about life as a Tamil.
Hopefully I'll have the chance to write again tonight, following the festival.