Volunteering and Teaching in Sri Lanka
Meet Lewis Smith and Dani Mason, best mates from Cardiff who are currently out in tropical Sri Lanka taking part in two volunteer placements with gap year organisation Travellers Worldwide.
This dynamic duo split their time in Sri Lanka between teaching in schools for under-privileged children and working in an elephant orphanage. Over three months, they be sent gapyear.com regular updates to tell us all about life volunteering in Sri Lanka.
Follow them as they teach children of the wonders of fruit, celebrate Vesak, get covered in elephant poo, find the World's End, visit tea factories and much, much more.
Day One: Wednesday 3rd May 2006
"We made it! Well, all's quiet, around here at least, apart from car horns! I shall paint you a picture with words...
Sri Lanka is:
- Boiling - the heat is insane! It makes you want to shower constantly and it makes you wish you chose to go to the North Pole instead. Work with Polar Bears and teach English to Santa's Elves maybe..?
- A Traffic Policeman's nightmare! They don't drive in single file. Thinking about it now, they don't drive, in the traditional sense of the word. They race. Imagine the whole of the UK, lined with extremely small shops selling massive bunches of bananas, with the roads full of tuk tuk three wheeler motor taxi vehicles, and loads of buses and vans all trying to overtake each other, with no concept of danger. All beeping at the oncoming traffic. You'll have one van driving straight at another, head on, beeping for the other one to move out the way. And the other van is doing exactly the same. The roads are absolutely insane! I was thinking of secretly hiring a couple of bikes to finally get Dani to come on a bike ride with me, but after seeing the roads... no way!
We had two hours of teaching today. We went to a school called St Joseph's (the poorest of all the schools we will be teaching at) and we played games of Hangman and things. The kids were about nine years old. It was great fun! All the boys were showing us how big their arm muscles are (tiny) and showing us the John Cena stickers they had on their books. He's their favourite; a wrestler. I convinced them my name was Lewis Cena and that I was his brother. They were very impressed.
There has been a change to our project timetable because of something to do with the goverment creating a new school holiday, so instead of doing one month with the elephants then two months teaching, we're teaching from now until the 19th, then going to the elephants until the 26th of the following month, then coming back here to do teaching for the last month."
"Hello from Sri Lanka! The journey was ok, we didn't sleep at all though. But we didn't kill each other!
I can't believe how different everything is here - we could not have found a place more opposite to Cardiff if we tried! It's such a beautiful place, palm trees and things everywhere. And it's so hot! I never thought I'd enjoy cold showers so much. I'm looking very glamorous at the moment... wet hair, covered in insect repellant and suncream, sweaty. It really is a lovely sight.
We had our first morning of teaching today. They were really lovely, but it was hard work! There was no sense of plan or order to the schools either. The one we went to was like a long barn, with different classes all made up along it, stray dogs roaming around and children everywhere. It was madness. And the children were all over us; poking our skin and touching our hair and things. Good fun! To sum up - we're alive and having fun..."
Day Two: Thursday 4th May 2006
"Our class (different school from yesterday) must have been only about five or six years old and as we went into their classroom they were all very, very excited to see us. Dani wrote 'Hello my name is...' on the board, and we said hello and who we were. Then we started to go round and talk to the children asking them their names and they each stood up to answer us, then sat back down again.
We asked a few children to show us their books to see what they'd done so far and we thought we'd teach them all about fruit! We drew pictures on the board and they copied the title 'What is this?' into their books, drew the pictures, coloured them in and then labelled them. It got a bit crazy then, so we just went round asking them to spell the names of the fruit out. Then some of the kids drew objects on the board and the rest of the class wrote them down and tried to do their own on the board.
After getting covered in chalk, we got most of them to sit down in their chairs. They were asking us to mark their work, so we had to tick their pictures and draw a star next to them. And you'll be as pleased as Dani was when you learn what I taught the children!
When I was playing (ok, messing) with some of the children I shook their hands and said "Hello, how are you?" and their response would always be "I'm fine, thank you". But now they proclaim "I'm super thank you!" Dani just shook her head really slowly from side to side. Imagine I did something really awful like magically turn one of them into a toad. Dani would have shaken her head from side to side in the exact same disbelieving shocked way. As in "I do not believe you've done this Lewis..."
We're going to be climbing the 5200 steps to Adam's Peak later. We get there for about 11pm, sleep in the van until about 2pm and then climb it for sunrise. I'm usually very optimistic, but I don't think we'll manage 7km of steps straight up into the sky! Although we have heard there are tea rooms along the way, how weird is that..? Maybe we'll run into Miss Marple..."
"Day two of teaching was really fun - the children were really lovely and so polite! I've read Lewis' post above. Let me explain what actually happened. It was all going well, a bit crazy... and all of a sudden, these tiny, cute little boys were running around slapping each other (and us!) saying 'Brilliant!' and 'Super!' Good job, Lewis.
We went to the supermarket yesterday in a tuk tuk. It was really fun, although I did have my eyes closed at one point. I can't understand the money at all though!
There was an interesting episode yesterday when I attempted to charge my phone. Laura, who I'm sharing a room with, couldn't get the adaptor plug to fit, so I pushed it in sideways, which looked fine to me. The others were too scared to plug anything in (wimps) so I thought I'd just put in my phone charger and see what happened. All the electricity on the first floor of the house fused. Only for a few minutes! I can't understand what all the fuss was about...
We're going to climb Adam's Peak tonight. We should get to the top about 6am, in time to see the sunrise. This is the last week that it's 'in season'- apparently this means it's all lit up, and pilgrims come from all around to climb it! It sounds amazing! Needless to say, I'm a bit concerned about doing a 7km climb up a steep hill, half of which is steps... But it'll be good training for the London Marathon 2008!"
Day Three: Friday 5th May 2006
"We're just on our way down Adam's Peak! We're about half way, and our legs are hurting so much. It's the going down that releases all that yummy lactic acid. The way up was fine! View was amazing. Can't type. Pain. Ow. Bye."
"Lewis said he was a bit vague about Adam's Peak, so I thought I'd fill you in...
The drive down was OK (ish), but we had a rather bizarre experience in this weird hotel place. It was the strangest place I've ever been! They offered us a room for 1000 rupees (which is about £7). But after being in this place for a while, we couldn't wait to get out! So we decided to sleep in the van. There were eight of us all together. Seven girls. And Lewis. Somehow, I ended up on the floor of this dirty van! There was one bit in the middle big enough to fit my hips, I slotted myself in and slid down so I was actually stuck. Not really very comfortable, as I'm sure you can imagine and it did nothing at all for my already sore bum! However, if you'd seen this place, you would have opted for the van floor too!
We got up at about 2am and did some very cool stretches to prepare ourselves for the climb. Not that it prepared us at all! From the bottom we could see the stairway up into the stars... and it looked very steep. Which it was.
We can't describe to you the walk now, it's just too painful. We refuse to revisit those memories. You'll have to just imagine the pain. And if you can't, here's what we suggest you do:
Close all the windows in your house, turn the central heating up to the max, create a pile of steps out of jagged rocks so steep that sometimes you can't get your legs up, then step up it and down it 5200 times, for a total of 10400 painful slices of hell. And do this at a rate of one step every two seconds, for seven hours. Then cry. Also, do this with a bag full of two litre bottles of water, jackets, crisps, fruit, insect repellent, suncream, hats, first aid kit, torches, cameras and sandals, whilst three rabid dogs fight around your ankles.
Also, make sure you have absolutely no sleep the night before. Preferably lying on the floor of a van with seven other people. And then you'll have an idea of why we refuse to talk about it. So don't ask."
Day 5: Monday 8th May 2006
"Eight wonders of the World?! What? Here they are:
- The Pyramids of Egypt
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Statue of Zeus (Jupiter) at Olympia
- Temple of Artemis (Diana) at Ephesus
- Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
- Colossus at Rhodes
- Pharos of Alexandria
- The Sri Lankan Child.
We've just got back from teaching (12pm) at a school called Eakala (ek-er-ler), and after introducing ourselves and going round asking names Dani drew a big picture of a girl on the board. We told them to copy it into their English books (we would then label it etc). Some of them didn't have their books, so I went to my bag and pulled out my clipboard filled with about 200 pieces of plain A4 white paper which I stole from the printer at home.
Some of the kids went wild and ran toward us cheering and shouting at the front of the class trying to get their piece as quickly as possible. It was like we were on a stockmarket trading floor. It seems that something like that doesn't happen to them very often. Paper! I wonder how many pieces of paper I've wasted recently. And the pride they have in their pens is incredible.
The 8th wonder of the world. The gratitude of the Sri Lankan Child."
"Yesterday we hopped in a tuk tuk and asked to go to Airport Garden Hotel swimming pool. So off we went.
For those who don't know, a tuk tuk is a three wheeled rickety taxi-type-thing, with no sides, and a death wish driver. The tuk tuk driver was going to take us there and back for 500 rupees. He was going to pick us up at 6.30pm. But at 6.30, another tuk tuk turned up. He seemed to know where we were going, so we thought he must be from the same company we phoned to book one in the first place, so we got in.
We paid him the 500 rupees return, as we thought we were supposed to. It wasn't until later that we discovered that all tuk tuk drivers are independent. There are no companies. And we then had to pay another 500 rupees to the man who was just left waiting for us at the hotel! It only worked out as £3 more expensive. But we were scammed.
Teaching is really fun. It's amazing how excited the children get when they see us! Lewis was telling you about the paper. I wasn't expecting it to be like this really. They all take such care over their work, and come running up to show us their biro, or their pencil really, really proudly. Today, one of the boys tore out a page from his exercise book and presented it to me as a gift. Unbelievable!
Apart from that, we've done very little. Although, on our way back from the hotel yesterday (in the death wagon), we went passed a clothes shop. The sign on the top said 'Fashion Monger'. Lewis then embarrassed himself by saying 'Hey Dani, I'd like you to call me that from now on. The Fashion Monger'. I said no."
"Another cool day teaching.We were in the same school as the other day when you will remember we did fruit. We also had the same class! They remembered us and came up to me and did the cool thumbs up saying the "Superrr..." thing I taught them, and the High Five "Brilliant..." thing.
They got A4 paper from us too. It got the same reaction. And even though they were so happy to receive it, only one kid (Maishan) asked for two pieces. And he did it jokingly..."
Day 6: Tuesday 9th May 2006
"Four peculiar things about Sri Lanka...
- There are lots of adverts and posters featuring blonde women. Yet I haven't seen any blonde women at all apart from Dani and a couple of other Travellers Worldwide volunteers. Interesting to think of what happens when role models are so out of touch and out of the society's reach. The school children are facinated with Dani's hair, and lots of the girls have Barbie pencil cases.
- All Sri Lankan children are absolutely beautiful. In the UK, a lot of the kids are just ugly and rotten-looking. You know how some kids hurt your eyes when you look at them? Not here. In Sri Lanka all the children will be the most beautiful you'll ever find anywhere.
- The best food here is the pineapple. If you get the chance, eat a Sri Lankan pineapple. You can thank me later.
- Nothing is wasted. All bottles are recycled. No paper is thrown away. There are shops on the side of the road selling things we would take to the tip to send to a landfill. Old coach seats, old bikes, old car parts, old buckets and barrels, things that you can't even recognise as being anything.
And a bonus: nice people. Everywhere we go. Except the nutcases who drive the tuk tuks. They're just insane."
"It's weird how fast you get used to seeing wildlife everywhere. You go into the bathroom, and there are ants and spiders everywhere. In the evening, loads of little orange lizards are running all over the walls.
Lewis just aided in the capture of a huge tropical spider (the size of an apple) that was hiding in someone's locker and yesterday, we had a run in with a two metre long fanged serpent. And on the wall behind us at this moment, is a tiny frog. It's been there for ages! We're also covered in flies."
Day 11: Sunday 14th May 2006
"Today was amazing! We had a journey for about an hour in a four wheeled oven with 15 other people. It is festival day (there's a parade tomorrow) and Buddhists are celebrating the birth of Siddharta Guatama (the Buddha) and also his enlightenment and also his death. A pretty good day to be in the capital city of a predominantly Buddhist country.
We went into a little museum and talked to an orange-robed monk about monkhood. Outside, in a small temple, there were hundreds of white-robed Buddhists and yet it was silent. We also cooked our feet on the absolutely baking marble floor. Part of the celebration is that the streets get lined with stalls of food. And the food was free. And a bit weird. And there was loads of it.
And as we are Western, we became top priority. People were clamouring to give their food away to us. Every time the van stopped... a tray of drinks appeared through the window! We were even hounded by the local press. Five men with cameras and notebooks asked questions and took lots of pictures of us whilst we were standing in a big long queue for a big long food tent.
We went into the food tent, which was basically a big long school dinner-type table with lots of chairs lining either side. In front of each chair was a plastic bowl full of cling film and rice and curry. We were sat down with about 30 other people, and told to eat. We tried. We had no cutlery! We were sitting opposite a rice-and-curry-eating pro, and felt like a couple of right divs. It was really fun though. We were all just looking round trying to work out what on earth was going on. It was just all so unbelievable.
Next we visited the second most important temple in Sri Lanka, we burnt our feet once again on the white-hot floor, we placed flowers at the foot of a golden statue of the Buddha, we walked through throngs of white-robed Buddhist followers and we bought an ice-cream each.
The Midnight Vesak Parade was stunning, two hours of absolute magnificence! 25 elephants wearing coats and hats, 20 foot tall stilt-walkers, children dancing (and wearing fake beards), men spinning fire, school children praying, sequins AND glitter, cool elastic jumping flipping people, thousands of lanterns and lamps and lit up lotus flowers, dancing skeletons, free ice cream and drinks and tuk tuks everywhere!
We also have the best photos ever because I'm about three foot taller than the average Sri Lankan! Have you ever been to a parade you thought would go on all night? Or one you wished would go on all night?!
We had a thoroughly enjoyable day, and at this moment we are sitting in the dark on the balcony of our house listening to Buddhist chanting in the distance. Happy Vesak!"
Day 14: Wednesday 17th May 2006
"Yesterday and today, we went to a community centre for people with disabilities, instead of our usual primary school teaching. There are probably about 50 people, of all different ages, who go there three times a week. They do painting, and sewing, 'shell craft', computer skills, woodwork, music, and they make weird woollen flowers. We were allowed to join in, sitting with one or two people each.
The things they were making were absolutely amazing! Far far better than anything we could do. We did more watching and learning, rather than helping. They sell all the things they make at craft sales to raise money to keep the centre going.
Lewis was learning how to make roses out of shells (and getting covered in glue), and I was trying to use a sewing machine (very unsuccessfully), helping paint, and watching what looked exactly like a Year Nine DT lesson.
Today one guy got out the most appalling english book ('X' for 'x-mas tree'), and we spent about an hour and a half saying letters and writing words. It was really fun, and everyone (the people who go there, and the volunteers in charge) were all absolutely lovely. And they all thought Lewis was a girl. Not just hair, but his girlish good looks too. It's a good thing he has a sense of humour..."
Day 16: Friday 19th May 2006
"We were helping in the disabled school again yesterday, doing much the same stuff... except we did dancing! I found myself being led upstairs, into the strangest music lesson I have ever been to!
We had to take our shoes off outside the room and the lesson began with a short prayer, followed by what I think was the national anthem. I was then handed a circular piece of wire, with lots of flattened bottle tops threaded on it. This, along with the weirdest looking guitar I have ever seen, were the only instruments they used.
They sang lots of Sri Lankan folk-type songs and all took it in turns to stand and sing solos, or to lead the group in their chosen song. They also all took it in turns to stand in the middle of the circle and dance.... Fortunately, Mrs. Meggitt (my old dance teacher) had prepared me for such an event. It's just a shame I didn't have a sparkly wig, or a sequined belt/necklace set to demonstrate how it really ought to be done. The routine is just not the same without it..."
Day 17: Saturday 20th May 2006
"We're having a change of plan! We're leaving Ja Ela (teaching) for our month in Kegalle (working with the elephants) next weekend instead of this weekend because a couple of other people with us here are going there then, and we are all going to go on a beach trip in the week in the meantime!
But today (actually at this moment) we are in an incredible bumpy three hour van ride for a weekend trip to go on a big long walk with tea plantations and to go white-water rafting! And our van just overtook a car on a blind bend...
Day 20: Tuesday 23rd May 2006
"We've just had a very exciting, fun filled, action-packed weekend! I'm going to try and remember everything we did. Here we go...
We left on Saturday and went to Kitugalle to go white-water rafting, which was amazing! Very scary; you don't actually sit in the raft, you have to sort of balance on the edge with your feet in, while you go through rapids and in between rocks and things. We were given a helmet, a life jacket, and an oar... and off we went! But it was really fun and absolutely beautiful, we highly recommend it!
We then went on a beautiful (if slightly bumpy) drive to Nuwara Eliya, past loads and loads of tea plantations, and found a place to stay. And got bitten to pieces by bedbugs! I won't share with you where exactly, but let's just say it hurts to sit down!
Anyway... we weren't there for very long. We got up at 5.30, and drove to Horton Plains National Park, where we went on a beautiful walk to World's End, which was just as stunning as it's name suggests. It was a 9km round trip, and on the way we also went past Baker's Fall, which was also beautiful, another camera man's heaven! It doesn't stop there! Written down like this, it seems like such a lot! I'm quite shocked.
Anyway, we then went back to Nuwara Eliya, to a tea plantation and factory. We got a really cool apron and hat to wear, and went on a tour of the factory. They showed us all about how they make tea. It had the most amazing smell and they let us try some. A fantastic, fun-filled weekend!"
Day 22: Thursday 25th May 2006
"Another day in the Disabled School yesterday, and it was the first day I decided not to do shells!
There are about 50 people at the Disabled School and Dani has grown a bit of a fan club. She gets on really well with everybody there. There is a group of maybe 12 or so of the absolute nicest boys you will ever meet who hold her hand and walk around with her.
Instead of shells, I initially opted for the same task as Dani, which would have been whatever the 12 boys would be doing. So in came their volunteer guy to spread the marvellous news that today was woodwork day! And how do you prepare for a woodwork lesson in Sri Lanka? You exercise.
So we went out into a little courtyard and stood around in what turned into a routine not unlike a P.E. lesson warm up. Yes, we did star jumps. Yes, we were bouncing on the spot. Yes, we did (attempt to) touch our toes. We were ever so graceful. I think there is definately a special bond between two people only achieved when you have bounced 10 star jumps in a courtyard in a Sri Lankan Christian School for Differently Abled Children feeling the stupidest you have ever felt in your whole entire life, and then discovering that you were being watched throughout the 10 minute routine by Heather and Jess (cool Travellers Worldwide volunteers just like us) from one of the windows above!
With our newly discovered respect for each other, we made our way to where they have their woodwork classes, and looked on in horror as the volunteer guy handed out actual real saws and real hammers and real files and actual blocks of wood! I didn't think this was such a great idea - but Dani had seen it all before! So no big deal...
Until they started walking with the saws sticking out in front of them as if sawing through the crowd, or when they'd be sawing a big block of wood and just lose concentration and look around the place and chat, and forget they're sawing, or when they'd be hammering a nail into a block of wood and let the point they are aiming for drift slowly to the left, where their finger is. Or Dani's finger.
I dreamed of shells. How stupid I must have been to leave the safety of gluing shells with my new friends Gihan and Anushka! The whole woodwork thing was terrifying, so I ran away.
I went inside and sat for about an hour with a boy called Sujith Fernando. He learns English. The way he was taught English had him writing out what were basically lines. Like you would have to do as a punishment in a UK school. So instead we decided to learn with actions and pictures I drew. He was amazing! We learnt about 30 words in an hour! And I tested him at the end by going through each one without the actual written word in front of him, and he got every single one right.
I think I may do shells today though, just for the memories..."
Day 24: Saturday 27th May 2006
"We've now finished teaching until after our month working with the elephants, which starts on Monday, so we have taken a little trip! Remember we said about a trip to the beach? Well we're here!
We took a bus from Ja Ela (where we're living) to Colombo (the capital) as the first leg of our long journey South. The bus journey took about an hour and a half, and it cost us 40 rupees. And that works out as 10p each. The next bus ride was to Galle, about two and a half hours away, and that cost us 75p each. And now we're here. At 'Harmony Guest House' in Hikkaduwa, which is absolutely beautiful. To walk from our room to the beach would take less than 30 seconds, so we'll have to write more later. We can't really go and get sand on our BlackBerry now can we..?
Day 26: Monday 29th May 2006
"Here's what we did this weekend. We set off on Thursday afternoon for Hikkaduwa. It was beautiful there. We stayed at Harmony Guest House, which was right on the beach - palm trees and everything! We explored Hikkaduwa on the Friday, which was a lovely place. Lots of little shops, all selling handmade clothes and artwork and things. We then got absolutely drenched in the rain walking back!
You all keep telling us how wet it is back home, but it's monsoon season here, so we are also getting our fair share! Not just cats and dogs, but elephants, hippos, lions and tigers and bears. Oh my.
The next day, after a bit more shopping, we crammed into a taxi (a man with a car, and a sign stuck on his gate saying 'taxi') and set off for Unawatuna, the next town round the coast. We found somewhere to stay, a place called Sea View, which was about 10 steps from the sea. After some hard bargaining, we managed to get what works out as 50p off the price. We saved enough to be able to splash out on a lovely restaurant in the evening, and ate only dessert. Actually, several desserts...
The next morning we went on an exciting adventure, which Lewis is going to tell you about just to add a bit of mystery and suspense to our diary! An essential ingredient to any good story, I'm sure you'll agree.
After our secret adventure and a much needed shower, and some more food... we all got a van back to Ja Ela. For our last night in the house!"
Day 27: Tuesday 30th May 2006
"We promised you an exciting story, and here it is... It is the story of the Sunday which changed my life forever. It all began after breakfast at the Sea View hotel in Unawatuna. We were on the beach. We were clutching a bottle of water, some flippers, and some snorkels. And some suncream. But not enough suncream. We climbed into a glass bottom boat, and set sail...
It was at this point, about 20 feet from the shore, that I started to feel sick. Then about 10 minutes into our journey... I was sick. We were on a trip to Jungle Beach, and, if you haven't guessed yet, we were going to do some snorkelling. In the ocean!
"But don't you have an irrational fear of the ocean, Lewis?" Yes! Yes I do!
"And don't you get sea sick even in the bath, Lewis?" Yes! Yes I do!
"And aren't you too cool for flippers, Lewis?" Yes! Yes I am!
But Dani isn't any of these things. She likes the ocean, she doesn't get sea sick and she isn't cool in the slightest. And this is why I went along.
We got to Jungle Beach, jumped out of the boat onto the sand, got our snorkels on, and ran, heroicly, very much like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, into the ocean. We were probably in the ocean for about an hour, and there was no instructor guy with us in the water!
At first I was holding Dani's hand. But this is not a story about a wimp snorkel boy. It is a story about a hero. So I ventured off alone. On my own, in the ocean, with fogging up goggles, banging into rocks. I was fearless. When Dani caught up with me (hehe...) we went around exploring the coral and swimming with all the colourful fish. We were true Ocean Explorers. And that is our exciting story..."
Day 28: Wednesday 31st May 2006
"After spending Monday packing and sorting (very calmly - not a headless chicken in sight) we said farewell to Ja Ela and set off for Kegalle. And here we are!
The house is much smaller than Ja Ela - it only takes up to 14 people at a time, and that's with the beds really crammed in. There's eight of us here at the moment, but tomorrow another six are arriving. And there's only two bathrooms between us all! And one of them is outside. So it's rather cosy!
Yesterday was our first day with the elephants, which was amazing! Remember how we told you we were sweaty, smelly, and covered in flies? Well, now we're covered in elephant poo as well. It is a truly beautiful sight.
The day started with us all dressing in our very best 'poo clothes', and after one last check in the mirror to ensure we were looking our most glamorous, we set off. We were given a pair of gloves (thank God) and presented with three sheds, each as big as two tennis courts, all full of sticks, leaves... and lots of poo! Our job is basically just to pick up all this stuff and throw it onto the back of a trailer. It was really fun!
Then it was back to the house for a shower (which, given the bathroom situation, takes quite a long time!) and some lunch. In the afternoon, we went back to watch the elephants in the river. There are about 75 elephants all together, and they all have names. We helped wash them, and some of them returned the favour and washed us too... the second shower of the day! This is how we're going to spend the next month. Covered in mud, poo, and dirty river water. Excellent!
Then we go back to teach for a month! We're going to have to find out what "smelly teacher" is in Sinhala so we know when we're being laughed at!"
Day 31: Saturday 3rd June 2006
"It is true. Elephants really do have trunks! And they really are absolutely enormous. And they really do lift massive logs of wood with their trunks. And they really do chase dogs. And they really do walk in long lines. And they really do listen to their Mahouts. And they really do make that elephantine trumpeting noise!
And how do we know all this? Because we meet them every day! Yippee!
We fed the baby elephants on Thursday and they hoovered up the cashew nuts from our hands with their trunks! They will also open their mouth for you, so you can put one on it's tongue. When we were feeding the baby elephants we watched the enormous adult elephants eating. They have mountains of leaves and it seems like they eat all afternoon.
Most afternoons we go to the river next to Pinnewala to watch the 75 elephants mooching about in the water and we also help wash them. They just stand patiently, looking at you, as you throw water over them. These animals are absolutely magnificent."
Day 35: Wednesday 7th June 2006
"We did it! We rode an elephant! And it wasn't as scary as you'd think!
We were going round the streets for about 20 minutes on the back of our 10-foot beast, then we went down to the river (at the Millenium Elephant Foundation), and, still sitting on her back, got absolutely drenched with water from her trunk! Several times. And I was sitting in front of Dani.
But we dried quickly and whizzed off in the van back to the house where we ate, packed some things, and whizzed off in the van again all the way back to the Ja Ela house... which is where we are now! We're back at the house we stayed at for our month of teaching. There is so much more space here, which is good because I feel so trapped in the other house. We are going to be back at the amazing disabled school tomorrow, and then we're going on a cool weekend trip to a national park and to a rainforest! How exciting!"
Day 35: Wednesday 7th July
"We've just gotten back from our weekend trip to Kandy and we had a wonderful time! Here is how our adventure started.
We got the bus on Friday afternoon, which was very cheap, if not very comfortable! The journey was about an hour and a half, most of which was spent completely wedged and squished between people, grabbing hold of anything we could to try and stop ourselves landing on innocent stranger's laps. I don't think we embarrassed ourselves too much though.
We eventually arrived and made our way to 'Lake Bungalow', the guest house that other volunteers have stayed at before. It was really lovely, like being in their family home! Complete with family portraits, lots of weird ornament type things, and two huge dogs!
As we were absolutely starving at this point we decided to go on a food adventure. We bought lots of fruit, and cheese and crackers, and looked for somewhere to sit. We found a bench next to the Temple of the Tooth opposite the beautiful lake, and we had a picnic in the moonlight.
The next morning we walked into Kandy, which was madness! Imagine walking down a street, lined with very enthusiatic Big Issue sellers and charity fundraisers, all scrambling to get your attention. But you are walking with so many people in a sort of swarm, so you can't actually move your arms or get out of the crowd! We were just carried along towards the market, which was like a very crowded car boot sale. Rows and rows of towels lined up along the floor, each piled high with a very random selection of absolute junk! It was really fun and we managed to escape without giving away all we own in exchange for plastic monkeys or 'I love Jesus' hats. Quite an achievement!
After the chaos of the market, we hopped in a tuk tuk and went of to the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. They are the largest botanic gardens in Sri Lanka, and they are beautiful. Really quiet and peaceful. We saw a giant Javan fig tree, which covers 1600 square metres and coconuts the size of a car tyres. Amazing!
In the evening, we went to see the Kandyan dancing. It was brilliant! The costumes were really beautiful and the dancing was very impressive. They also did a fire throwing and fire walking display at the end! I was a bit scared because they were just laughing and posing for photographs and things, whilst throwing around the fire. I would have liked them to appear as if they were concentrating even just a little on what they were doing... but they were amazing!
Sunday was another fun-filled adventure. We visited the Temple of the Tooth, one of the most important temples in Sri Lanka. It was absolutely beautiful inside, with lots of gold and flowers. Security to get in was very strict, we had to go through three bag and body searches just to get in. They nearly didn't let me through because I was wearing a plain red shirt. Apparently, I was a walking advert for Coca-Cola. Very weird.
Guess what else we saw?! Monkeys! Just running around the streets, like you might see cats at home! We saw one monkey steal a box of incense from an old lady's bag and she was not happy! Very funny!
After another wander around the town, and making lots of new friends, we decided it was probably time to head back to the house. We'd heard that the drive back was stunning, and since it's rather difficult to admire the scenery when you're hanging on for dear life on a bus, we jumped in a tuk tuk. It is, after all, the only way to travel. And that's was our weekend in Kandy!"
Day 37: Friday 9th June 2006
"At this very moment, due to the wonders of our BlackBerry, we are posting this update whilst standing up in the back of a Jeep during our three hour Udawalawa National Park Safari. It is just like you imagine it. Baking sun. Complete silence. Bumpy tracks. And a safari guide, pointing, who can't speak English.
At this moment we are parked next to a small herd of elephants all eating tall grass. Three babies and eight adults. I can see a peacock a bit further behind them. And we can see mountains in the background. It is all so beautiful, and it is so strange that we're here. And I have an urge to pick up all the Elephant poo!
Day 42: Wednesday 14th June 2006
"After our adventurous safari, we travelled for many bumpy hours to the guest house we had decided to stay at. It was close to the rainforest, so we could be up nice and early with smiles as big as coathangers.
But at about 8pm our smiles faded. We each had leeches burrowing through the material of our trainers and shoes and sucking our blood. Everytime we were brave enough to look down we could see leeches moving around on the ground. The rainforest itself was amazing fun, and the leeches soon became a harmless joke. We laughed them off. Ok. We weren't exactly laughing, but we weren't crying either. The bleeding ankles really were worth it when we were given the opportunity to swim in a waterfall!
Now I know what you're thinking. Lewis, and swimming. Not the greatest combination. And if you were thinking that, you were spot on. Being an absolutely rubbish swimmer I nearly sank to the bottom of the calm part of the water. I was extremely adventurous and swam to where everyone else was, but I couldn't reach the bottom. So I decided to sink. Everyone else helped keep me above the water so my hair didn't get too wet and so I had oxygen going into my lungs. The whole affair was a roaring success.
We got out of the water, attempted to dry ourselves, failed, put our clothes back on over our wet bathers, and carried on through Leech Avenue. We did see a few living things like a lizard and a snake, but nothing huge and scary like a leopard. Although we did see a cow! She was huge, if not scary.
And it does rain in the rainforest. It is not a myth. It does, and you do get drenched. We were in the rainforest for about four and a half hours and we survived! Would we recommend it to a friend? Dani did find the leeches quite traumatic, but I think we would!"
Day 48: Tuesday 20th June 2006
"The oldest of all the elephants at Pinnawela is aged 65. His name is Raja, and he is blind. He was found 15 years ago wandering helplessly in Anuradhapura after being shot at 22 times by poachers. They were trying to capture him for his tusks, and two of the 22 bullets blinded him. He was brought to Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, and he is now 100% dependent on humans.
That obviously includes his time washing in the river. The rest of the herd, when they go down to the river, have water thrown over them by either us or the mahouts (using a bucket). Because Raja is blind he goes to his own secluded part of the river to get clean and sparkly. And we went too!
Raja lay down in the water, using his trunk for air, and we scrubbed him with coconut husks. And we could scrub as hard as we could because his skin is about an inch thick. He found it very relaxing, and so did we! And now we can say we've given an elephant a bath!"
We're having a party this evening, actually we are partying at this very moment! There are 15 Travellers volunteers here this evening. Twelve are female, so we're having a Girls Pyjama Party. There are 14 Sri Lankan Old Lady nighties, and my new pyjamas.
Dani is wearing a lilac frilly nightie we bought for £1.80. My pyjamas were a bit more pricey on account of the silky multi-colouredness.
We've just had coconut oil put in our hair to make our beautiful locks silky smooth, with cling film wrapped round our heads to keep it on. I'm just about to have a cucumber, avocado, and yoghurt face mask and Dani is just having her toe nails painted. What has Sri Lanka done to us?! Or rather, what has Sri Lanka done to Dani... I do this all the time!"
Day 57: Thursday June 29, 2006
"This is a slightly overdue account of our Cultural Triangle weekend. I realise it has been a long time coming - so make sure you're sitting comfortably, and here we go...
The Cultural Triangle is made up of the three ancient capital cities of Sri Lanka - Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. Within the triangle, there are lots of other major cultural sites and interesting places to visit. So, after a morning of mucking out and a quick lunch, we jumped into our faithful van and set off to explore!
Our first stop was Dambulla Cave Temples. After consulting the Lonely Planet Guide in the van on the way, we had learnt that "The hike up to the temples begins along a vast, sloping rock face with steps in some places." Oh dear me.
But surprisingly, it wasn't that bad! And it was so worth it. There are five separate caves, containing about 150 buddha paintings and statues, all very old and very beautiful. Each cave is like a miniature temple - we had to take off our shoes before going inside, and they were completely silent with people meditating and coming to leave flowers. Then we stepped outside, and were mobbed by men trying to sell us beaded bracelets or wooden Buddhas.
The caves themselves were absolutely beautiful! And the view from the top of the vast sloping rock face was stunning. So after stumbling our way back down (fighting off the salesmen as we went), we climbed back into our van, and set off for our next cultural stop which was Sigiriya Rock Fortress. I had no idea what this actually was, or what it involved. I was just happily bumping along in the van.
When I noticed we were heading towards an absolutely enormous rock thing, I started to feel a little bit worried... So when Manjula (our driver) stopped at the foot of this 200m high beast, he confirmed what I had been fearing. We were going to climb it.
My first thought was "How?!" It was literally an absolutely huge square rock with vertical sides. And we could just about see teeny tiny dots that were people climbing up the side. Standing at the bottom, wearing flip flops, clutching a camera and a small amount of water that had been decanted into a not quite finished Fanta bottle, I felt rather unprepared. And rather like 'Here we go again...'
So, fighting every natural instinct to turn and run back to the safety of the van, we set off... and it was amazing! We really enjoyed it. The views were stunning, and the ancient Buddhist monks had thoughtfully constructed a metal step ladder type thing. Once we had all climbed down, Manjula took us off to a guesthouse he knew of, where we had a lovely dinner and a shower and fell asleep.
The next morning we headed off to Polonnaruwa to see the ruins of the ancient city. We found our guide, Sunil, who was excellent, and he took us round and explained it all to us. We spent another night at the same guest house, and woke up refreshed and ready to explore Anuradhapura, our last stop.
Anuradhapura is the most extensive and important of the Sri Lankan ancient cities. We had another guide, Charitha, who was also excellent, who took us round all the major Buddhist relics and temples. He was very passionate about Buddhism, and he taught us lots about the religion.
He also took us to an ancient monk's meditation spot (the spot was ancient - not the monk). It was a sort of cave carved into the side of a mountain, where the monks would go to meditate as a sort of retreat. They even had beds carved into the stone, which were actually surprisingly comfortable! Charitha also treated us to a palm reading!
He read Lewis' first, and said that Lewis takes a lot of strength from his birth, but he doesn't use it because he is lazy. He warned him to be careful and not to get too close to people, because they will hurt him as he is very sensitive. He also said Lewis is often too soft with people. A few palms later, and it was my turn. Charitha looked at my hand for a while, then pointed at Lewis. He then smiled at me and said, wisely, "Birds of a feather flock together."
He said that I, like Lewis, am also very soft - maybe too soft. He went on to say that I am creative and have a powerful mind.
So after another lovely and very relaxing day, we headed back to Kegalle, ready for poo-shovelling Monday morning. And that was our Cultural Triangle weekend!"
Day 61: Monday 3rd July 2006
"Saturday night. Were Dani and I out at the local discotheque, partying it up Sri Lankan style? Were we out with our Kandyan friend Ravi, sampling all that the Kandy nightlife has to offer? Were we in Colombo in Cheers, the British themed pub, watching England lose to Portugal? Were we sitting at the Ja Ela house with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book?
No, we were not. We are far too adventurous for any of these things. And far too cool. We went to the Airport Gardens Hotel, and went swimming in the moonlight. It was magical! The pool was really nicely lit, and it was a nice quiet night. And one thing I know is that nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
We also went for a very tasty meal in the restaurant there. It was very tasty. We can do the discotheque next Saturday."
Day 74: Thursday July 16th 2006
"We've just had our first few days back teaching again, and it's been great! It was really weird on Monday morning, sitting in the headteacher's office in Holy Rosary School for the first time in about 6 weeks, outwardly quite calm and collected, but inwardly thinking... "What the hell are we going to teach?! What are we going to do?! What are we going to say?! How are we going to survive?!"
And other not particularly comforting or helpful thoughts. It was just like our first ever morning teaching, all over again. We walked into a class of what looked like about 70 children (but I'd guess it was about 30), smiled, introduced ourselves, decided on a topic to teach. And that was the last time we spoke to each other for the next two hours. They kept us rather busy!
We'd decided to teach 'My Favourite'. We went through lots of different things (food, animal, colour...) getting them to fill in the gap what their favourite is. But in between each topic, every child insisted on having their work marked and having us draw a star on their books!
So we spent the lesson with books being thrust in our faces from all directions, frantically drawing stars, and running to and from the board like maniacs to change the favourite topic. It's great to be back!"
Day 75: Monday 17th July 2006
"So we set off. We pack our bathers and our tooth brushes, get in another bumpy van, and head south. With our thoughts on newly-hatched turtles, we arrive in Mirissa. Further south along the coast than our previous trip to Hikkaduwa, Mirissa is known for nothing other than it's beach. So we went to the beach and it was absolutely perfect. The type of beach where, if in a film, there'd be a haggered old man launching a message in a bottle into the ocean. There were palm trees lining the beach and blazing sun and unlike the movie beach, there were lots of Sri Lankan boys playing football.
As for my love affair with the ocean... I am now officially a water baby. As you know, I am afraid of the water. Even the bath scares me which is why I still smell of elephant poo. I am also scared of big huge gigantic massive enormous titanic waves but we went swimming anyway! Dani was so impressed, she gushed, 'Your family would not believe you're doing this right now! I'm just so shocked!' Then she ran out of the water to take some photos of me to prove it.
Because all of our trips seem to involve us climbing a rock, we found one called Parrot Rock, which was a bit taller than a house, and we climbed it in the evening to watch the sunset. We spent two days at the beach, and I spent two days in the ocean. No sharks.
On our way back to Ja Ela we stopped at a turtle hatchery and made friends with some cool teeny tiny turtles who easily fitted into the palm of our hands. Then it was off to Pizza Hut takeaway, and home again."
Day 79: Friday 21st July 2006
"Four interesting things about Sri Lanka...
- Young Sri Lankan men laugh when they kick dogs. There are just as many stray dogs in Sri Lanka as there are school children. Possibly more. None of them would attack you. They're not dangerous because they're scared of people, which is fairly understandable. Plus I highly doubt there is anything in place in Sri Lanka similar to the RSPCA. I also highly doubt there is any plan to introduce anything similar. But is this any different to how we treat non-domesticated animals in the UK?
- In Britain, and most other countries, we nod our head to mean yes and shake our head to mean no. I have even read somewhere that people who were born blind do exactly the same. Even though they've never being told to. In Sri Lanka, there is a third option. It is the Head Wobble. And even the children do it, without ever being told to. It means yes or no. It means I don't know. It means I haven't heard you. It means your joke was funny. It means your joke wasn't funny. It means they stock what you've asked for. It means they don't stock what you've asked for. It means the bus is going where you want it to. And it means the bus isn't going where you want it to. It basically means anything they want it to. And what's even crazier is to watch two Sri Lankans have an entire conversation consisting of only wobbling heads. No words. It's an entire language.
- Let's pretend you have a piece of paper to throw away, and you are walking the streets. If you're in the UK you will probably find a bin in about three minutes. Here, you will not find one in three years. We see lots of people burning their house rubbish instead of it going through any kind of waste collection landfill setup like in the UK. We also see massive piles of rubbish dotted round. A bit like fly tipping gone crazy.
- In poorer parts of Sri Lanka there are lottery stalls dotted along the side of all the busiest streets. A lottery stall is a big booth with lottery tickets hanging on little washing lines, with stereo speakers bellowing words about how people should buy lottery tickets. On every street corner is a lottery man. A lottery man is someone with a big plank of wood with lottery tickets stuck to it with pins and clips. There is also a lottery bike man riding round on every street. This man has a big wooden board hanging off his handlebars with lottery tickets stuck to it with pins and clips. These people will only sell tickets in the poorer areas of Sri Lanka and they will sell hundreds of tickets. The poorer the person the more they want believe in the long shot, but I guess that's the same anywhere."
Day 81: Sunday 23rd July 2006
"I'm a hero! Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes. Not me. I caught a rattlesnake trying to get into my groundfloor bedroom. It was trying to get through the window which is about a foot off the ground. I scared it away. Then it scared me away, because it was a rattlesnake.
I didn't need to use my BlackBerry this time to find out whether my latest foe could kill me or not. I've seen Steve Irwin and Indiana Jones wouldn't be scared of them for nothing! It was only about as thick as a hose pipe, but the rattle sound is rather terrifying.
What if it had made it into my room? What if I had gone to bed? Lying in the dark and I suddenly hear this horrendous rattle near my head. I'd be hysterical for days.
When I saw it first it was less than a foot away from me, he had his head through the window and was on his way into my room. So I acted. I scared it away heroicly by leaping backwards and shouting 'Woah! There's a snake trying to get into my room!' Then it scared me away by moving towards me. But I lived!And more importantly, so did my BlackBerry."
Day 85: Thursday 27th July 2006
"On Saturday morning we travelled south along the West Coast to Bentota. Once one of the top tourist beaches in Sri Lanka, Bentota is now a bit overshadowed by the beaches further south, such as Hikkaduwa or Unawatuna, but it is still the biggest attraction on the West Coast. It was beautiful!
After wandering along the beach on Saturday afternoon, we decided on Sunday to explore the town, so off we went! We had been walking for less than five minutes when we found a friendly, helpful and intersting chap we'd never met before. Or rather, he found us... His name was Ravi, and he was a tuk tuk driver and what an adventure we went on! He took us - not in his tuk tuk, but on foot - on a walk through the tiny Buddhist village, which was a dusty road, lined with banana trees and beautiful little houses. It was absolutely stunning and completely silent - apart from the children shouting, dogs barking in the distance, and Ravi pointing out the different trees and animals and local sites (such as the primary school) and waving to his friends.
We asked him to take us to some shops, and he took us to a beautiful craft shop with lots of wooden carvings and statues of elephants and Buddhas. Our newest friend told us he would take us back via the river to see the birds and take pictures. That's what he meant too... via the river on a cool Sri Lankan fishing raft! It was so amazing! Ravi's fisherman friends rowed us along the river, which was so peaceful and relaxing. We saw all sorts of creatures too. We saw a chameleon and loads of huge two foot long iguana things swimming in the river. They were a bit scary looking, actually. We even went through a miniature Forbidden Forest. It was like a tunnel of tree roots growing up and out of the water, as if they were trying to close in on us and block out all light. How amazing. We then landed on the sand, and went back to our guest house for some ice-cream!"
Day 90: Tuesday 1st August
Lewis and Dani write...
"We've tasted poo. We've fed baby elephants. We've ridden an elephant and been sprayed with water from her trunk. We've learnt the names of entire classrooms of children. We've gone on safari. We've climbed up a mountain, and we've stumbled down again. We've seen the Buddha's tooth, and we've had a Buddhist lecturer read our palms. We've risked life and limb getting driven in tuk tuks and we've risked life and limb driving in tuk tuks.
We've squashed ourselves into dozens of buses, and we've travelled a million miles standing on our feet. We've braved river rapids and floated in our life jackets downstream. We ventured into the rainforest, where we were attacked by leaches. We've seen the ruins of great palaces, and we've eaten a lifetime supply of pasta. We've washed behind an elephant's ear, and we've climbed a tree with two Mahouts. We've written 'Beautiful Work' ten thousand times, and we've met ten thousand beautiful children. We've climbed a rock to see cave paintings, and we've climbed hundreds of rocks to watch the sunset.
We now have friends in Ja-Ela, Kandy, Bentota, every school we've taught in, the disabled centre at Pinnawela, and now across the UK. We've been bitten thousands of times by thousands of mosquitos. We've faught off spiders, cockroaches, snakes, rabid dogs, Sri Lankan men, the blistering heat, and twenty million flies. We've been taken on mystery tours, we've floated through Harry Potter's Forbidden Forest on a rickety Sri Lankan fishing raft with two foot iguanas swimming right past. We've seen a family of five driving on one motorcycle, and an elephant hitch hiking on a flat-bed truck. We've seen real-live tea pluckers on the hillside, and we dressed like oompa loompas to take a tour of tea machinery in a tea factory. We even spent one memorable afternoon in a Sri Lankan cinema.
We've been given hundreds of phone numbers from both school children... and Sri Lankan men. We swam in the ocean at every opportunity. We've experienced the most perfect beaches we've ever seen. We've sat under palm trees terrified of falling coconuts. We've seen fire-walkers and Kandyan dancers. We've watched a mischievous monkey steal things from an old lady's bag, then sit on a wall just out of reach clutching his winnings. We've eaten more than our body weight in Cadburys chocolate eclairs.
We've seen 80 elephants march past wearing hats and coats, and we've seen the orphanage elephants curiously and carefully poke new baby Vishua with their trunks welcoming him to the herd. We've seen Vishua's first days on his feet, we watched him fall asleep standing up, and we've watched him use his trunk to pick up invisible leaves. We've taken part in Poo And Spoon relay races with the Pinnawela cleaners. And we've given them our shoes. We've slept on the floor of the van at the foot of our impending pilgrimage. We've stayed in rooms which have been growing. We've been attacked by bedbugs. We've been dressed up in old-lady nighties and snazzy 'retro print' pyjamas and put on facepacks and wrapped our coconut oiled hair in clingfilm. We've been snorkelling in the scary scary ocean, and we've held baby turtles.
We've taken over 1000 photos, and written on average just shy of one post a day. We've laid flowers at the foot of Buddha statues on the most important day of the Buddhist Calender, and we cooked our feet on sunbaked marble floors. We've had poems written for us, songs sung to us, presents given to us, seats given up to us, and pictures drawn for us. We have witnessed the effects of the tsunami on the south coast. We've taken part in the scariest woodwork lesson ever, and we have also taken part in the funniest exercise session ever.
We have had three months of cold showers, and we've been to a Sri Lankan British themed pub in the basement of a five star hotel. We've taught the children about family, food, hobbies, parts of the body, fruit, animals, transport, the weather, hangman, the home, and favourite things. We read with them, we sang with them, we danced with them, and we played with them. We remembered their names, and they remembered ours. They copied down our home addresses, they gave us theirs. We have given them paper, stickers, and pencils. We've been featured on the homepage of gapyear.com because of everything we've done, and have had thousands of eyes witness our fame. And we even made it to page five of a Sri Lankan newspaper.
We've dangled our legs over the end of the World. We've been in Sri Lanka, done all this and more, and we've had the best time we've ever had. Until next time!
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