For the last three days, we lived and worked in the Akkara Ataseeya village located in the Polonnaruwa district. We arrived in the evening and were welcomed with flower necklaces and dancers in traditional costume.
We sat in a circle and had a welcoming ceremony and then were assigned to our host families. I got very lucky with my family and ended up being placed in a home with a 7-year old girl, which was very fortunate because most of the gifts I brought were for children and most of the other homes didn’t have any kids. One of the coolest things about our home stays was to see how each pair of students got placed into homes with families that they fit perfectly into. To reach our homes, we rode in the back of trailer powered by a lawn mower engine that was steered by the driver. At night a torch (flashlight) is held by a passenger over the driver’s head so as to be able to see the road.
During our stay in the village, we participated in shramadana work with the villagers, meaning that we worked side by side together through service while learning from one another. Google may have a more detailed description of what it means but that’s essentially what it meant to us.
We were working on a preschool, cementing the floor, plastering and painting walls, and planting trees. This was very hard work under extremely hot conditions, and it was a very different type of activity than what we have been participating in throughout the trip. While it was so different, it was right up my alley and I absolutely loved my time in the village.
I was able to connect with my family on such a strong level in such a short amount of time, which absolutely amazes me. My amma (mother) called us her daughters and showed us pictures of their wedding and then said that she wants to see our weddings. Our Fatta (father), in true paternal fashion, asked me about my plans after graduation and what my thoughts on getting a job were. Our sister, Boudini, loved playing hide and seek and tickle games with her.
It was so cool to not only have these experiences, but to see how certain aspects of life transcend cultures. It doesn’t matter where you are, dads want to know about your future financial plans, moms want to help you learn and teach you life lessons, and baby sisters want to have fun.
One of the coolest experiences was getting to bathe in the river. Bathing in Sri Lanka is a huge community event, especially when there are two white girls in the middle of a neighborhood that has never seen someone with different colored skin before.
Our first day we just used the outdoor shower. Amma gave us each a sarong and we went outside and showered while wearing sarongs. Nangi was joining us and wanted to us all our exotic shampoos and soaps and razors. Fatta decided to bathe as well in the spicket nearby. Neighbors and community kids decided to come watch as well. We probably had way too much fun which is what drew all the attention in.
The next day we got to bathe in the river. It was a somewhat similar event but with a smaller audience. The river is right in front of the road so it was more public but less constant attention. It was a lot of fun because it was essentially going swimming while wearing a massive piece of cloth that constantly got tangled around your legs and made you think snakes were wrapping you up. It was a really cool authentic experience that allowed us to see how most people not only bathe but do daily chores like laundry.
Staying in the village allowed us to connect with more than just our families but with their friends and neighbors as well. My specialty has proven once again to be spending countless hours playing with all the kids. By the end of our few days there, every time they saw me, they would run over with their arms outstretched, wanting me to throw them in the air.
The morning we left was very difficult. Nangi was very unhappy and left for school in a daze. Amma and Fatta gave us flowers and snacks to eat on the bus ride. When we got to the meeting place, we had a goodbye ceremony that resulted in poor translations and many tears. It’s amazing to me that three days results in a lifetime of relationships. Fatta told us numerous times that we are to come back on a second tour of Sri Lanka and stay at their house again and he would show us the whole island. He wanted us to promise that we would come back and even tried to go ahead and nail down a date. They wanted to make sure we would not forget them and told us to tell our American parents about our Sri Lankan family.
Saying goodbye was difficult, and while we couldn’t promise the dates for our second tour of Sri Lanka, we could promise that we would never forget about them and that we were eternally grateful for their wealth of kindness, love, and hospitality.