Homestay at Wilpotha village & beach time at Kalpitiya

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As part of the orientation program for new Uniterra volunteers, WUSC Sri Lanka sends each volunteer to an overnight homestay in a village called Wilpotha, which is about an hour north of Negombo (depending on the traffic, of course). During this homestay, the volunteers stay with a family who lives around or below the poverty line and who do not speak very much English, if any at all. This experience is designed to help volunteers understand rural living in Sri Lanka and also as an exercise in humility because the volunteers are thrown into a very unknown situation, by themselves, and need to act with as much as grace and respect as possible throughout.

Last Friday it was my turn to participate in this final step of orientation. Generally, the homestay should happen sometime¬†in the first week of arriving in Sri Lanka but we got busy getting down to business so it got put off – oh well! One thing we emphasize to new volunteers during orientation that I have found a helpful reminder myself when things don’t go as planned is: “Go with the flow”. Anyways, we left for Wilpotha on Friday morning. Instead of driving straight there, though, we stopped in Negombo to check up on a couple of hotels we are thinking of using for the second half of the upcoming Uniterra program Asia regional meeting, which WUSC Sri Lanka’s Uniterra team is hosting in August. (We’ll be bringing together the teams from Uniterra’s four Asian countries: Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Nepal! I’m very excited to meet everyone and participate in my¬†small way in these meetings.) We checked out a couple of lovely hotels, got some follow-up contact info, and then were off on our way again¬†to our final destination at Wilpotha.

When we approached Wilpotha, I noticed immediately how green and lush everything is. Sri Lanka is lush in general but here it seemed more noticeable. The palms¬†seemed greener, the sky a clearer blue, and the soil a deeper red. I also noticed that it reminded me a lot of Bibiani, Ghana, where I stayed for three months in 2014 on another Uniterra mandate. (Several things about Sri Lanka – especially the climate and weather – remind me of Ghana regularly but this was the most obvious comparison so far.) Before arriving at my homestay, my supervisor brought me and the other volunteer Sabrina to a women’s centre, where women from the area come together to produce quality craft products like handmade paper and bags made from coconut fibres with the purpose of economic empowerment. We arrived at the centre quite late for lunch so, after a brief tour, we tucked in to the incredible meal they had prepared for us. It was delicious! Afterwards, they showed us how they¬†roast and hull cashews by hand. Cashews have always been my favourite nuts and will definitely stay my favourite¬†after I had them freshly roasted for the first time. They¬†were like warm nut butter packets and probably my favourite thing I’ve had since I arrived (although I just recently ate my first rambutan, which are¬†also¬†amazing).

Since we were a little late to arrive due to visiting hotels in Negombo, we didn’t hang out long after eating lunch at the women’s centre so that Sabrina and I could have some daylight hours to get to know our homestay families. To get to our homestays, we drove down some quite perilous village roads (lots of potholes but some beautiful views of rice patties and palm forests). First stop was¬†the home where I’d be staying the night. I was greeted by a large, smiling family of strangers who were generously opening their home to me (a stranger to them) for the next 24 hours. I was a little overwhelmed with all the excitement and activity happening around me in Sinhala, a language I do not yet speak (I’m scheduling language lessons soon!) but I nonetheless felt very welcomed. They laughed when I threw my hands up in the air enthusiastically when it was announced their family is vegetarian, which made everyone laugh so I guess that was a decent first impression.

The WUSC staff soon left to drop Sabrina off at her homestay (another family down the road) and I was struck with the classic “What now?” feeling of arriving in a new place. Thankfully, my homestay family had a plan… They were taking me to the water tank, said the daughter who spoke a few words of English. I thought (internally) that the water tank didn’t seem like that exciting a place to visit, because I thought the water tank was like the water tower in Canada, but I didn’t know what else I was going to do while I was there so I followed their lead. We actually did pass a kind of water tower as we walked but I soon learned that the water tank is not a water tower but is, in fact, what people here call a water reservoir, which looks just like¬†a lake. It was beautiful there, the water¬†all filled with floating, blooming flowers. As we¬†walked along the concrete edge of the lake / reservoir, the family¬†chatted in Sinhala around me and the teenaged daughter pointed out various trees that bear fruit that people here eat.

They were very protective of me as we walked, making sure I was walking in the centre of the family so I wouldn’t get struck by an errant tuk-tuk or run into a cow or trip and fall on bramble. They continued this trend as I sweat through my shirt. I got many questions (“Too hot?!”) about this¬†but I reassured them I was fine… I generally¬†sweat a loooot here in Sri Lanka and¬†it’s¬†just my body doing its thing to keep me alive in the thick humidity. I was also at the time still struggling with a minor cold so¬†everyone in the family fretted every time I coughed. They fretted not in a way that suggested they were concerned about getting sick themselves but in a way that they wanted to make sure I was okay. An uncle who spoke English fairly well came over later to interpret and told me definitively that I have tonsilitis and that I should go to a doctor soon to get antibiotics. (Note: I’m pretty sure I don’t have tonsilitis, but their care for me was very sweet.)

When we got back from the lake / reservoir, I was fed various fruits from the trees on their property and some fresh bread with mango jam. Then, I was given a bicycling lesson from the older daughter who spoke a few words of English. I say I was given a lesson 1) because I’m not that great on a bike… Just ask the scars on my knees from an unfortunate biking accident in South Africa… and 2) because I’ve never biked on anything other than a paved road before but here I was suddenly biking on the tiny¬†dirt footpath between a shallow ditch and a barbed wire fence. I shouted, “I’m going to die!” before embarking on the short journey down the path to the main road, which made everyone in the family laugh (I wasn’t really joking…). They might not have understood the English words but they certainly understood the meaning of the English words thanks to my surely panicked tone of voice. Spoiler alert: I did not die! But I did not win a vote of confidence for my biking skills because I was encouraged to stay off the main road on the bicycle (the one with the aforementioned tuk-tuks and cows, so it was probably for the best).

As the evening winded down and the sun began to set, my energy levels dipped as well. It’s honestly exhausting attempting to communicate with brand new people, let alone people with whom you share no language, culture, or even life experience, really. (For the record, it’s all these differences that make this experience worthwhile!) So I prepared myself for bed by brushing my teeth with well-water scooped up by my homestay mum. Everyone seemed confused that I was brushing my teeth… And I soon learned this is because we hadn’t eaten dinner. I had mistakenly assumed that all the fruit and bread and jam I had eaten just an hour or so before had been dinner but I was wrong! A short time later, I was presented a heaping plate of vegetarian rice and curry. This meal had been prepared for me on a wood fire and as the guest I was eating first so I tucked in despite not being that hungry. Despite the fact that I was so worried that it would look like I didn’t enjoy the food (which was delicious, of course!), I was unable to finish even half the meal. I had had a late lunch at the women’s centre and all that food in between and I was feeling tired, all of which resulted in a diminished appetite… which, of course, was impossible to explain across the language barrier. So I smiled and said “Thank you!” a million times and prayed my message got across and that no one’s feelings got hurt.

Then, I brushed my teeth again and climbed into the bed they had provided for me for the night. It was a double bed without a mattress but with a mosquito net so it was really all I needed after all the excitement during the day. I did have some trouble falling asleep with Sinhalese-dubbed Indian sitcoms playing loudly from the television,¬†but I reminded myself to “go with the flow” and eventually found sleep. I was awoken at exactly 3:35AM when the rooster decided it was morning but was thankfully able to find sleep again. Then I was awoken around 5AM when a cellphone rang with the loudest ringtone I have ever experienced blasted from the house’s main room, where most of the family was sleeping on bed mats. That phone call (perhaps, alarm?) must have signalled the beginning of the day because after that the whole family was up and began their day. Blessedly, they left me undisturbed so I was able to get even more rest. When I finally rose around 7:30AM, I was presented with a chorus of “Hello’s”, a cup of hot sweetened black tea, and a plate piled high with string hoppers for breakfast.

We spent the morning chatting about the differences between life in Canada and Sri Lanka, using the English-speaking uncle as our translator. It was such a unique experience being able to ask them questions about their lives in Sri Lanka and them ask me questions in return about life in Canada. It felt like an exchange and I was very grateful for the translator’s ability to break the awkwardness that exists between people who do not have a common language. We chatted, drank coconuts, and they laughed as I excitedly videoed the baby goats and then suddenly it was time to leave. I’d been there for just over 24 hours and I had gotten so much from the experience in such a short time. I learned the value of “smile and nod” and other body language to communicate and I learned that just being open to new experiences can take you places you would have never expected. That said, I was exhausted from the effort and looking forward to taking a break from all the learning just for a bit.

Sabrina and I spent the next night in Kalpitiya, a beautiful series of lagoons north of Wilpotha. Kalpitiya is famous worldwide as a destination for kitesurfing and we were hoping to have a lesson while we were there. We planned to stay just for an overnight, though, and the wind didn’t pick up until Sunday afternoon so we weren’t able to have a lesson. Honestly, it was probably for the best because a day or so (an afternoon and a morning) on the beach, reading in a hammock, was exactly what I needed to recharge. It wasn’t just the homestay in Wilpotha that I needed a break from but really the entire experience of being a new expat; while it’s incredibly rewarding being in a new place and constantly experiencing new things / people / places / etc., it is also tiring. I was reminded by this time on the beach that it’s important to focus always on self-care, not just when it’s convenient. After resting for some time in those hammocks, reading, and enjoying the heat, I felt ready again to learn and grow, which is what I’m here for in the first place.

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Spotted on the drive: a gigantic monitor lizard holding up traffic

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Also spotted: transporting an elephant for festivals

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Elephant again, but from the front

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Women’s centre where we had lunch

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Beautiful lunch spread! (Before the flies arrived…)

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Lunch on a leaf (no, you don’t eat the leaf)

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Roasting cashews

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Hulling fresh roasted cashews

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Cashews drying in the sun

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View at the women’s centre

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Just hangin’ out at the women’s centre

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The house I stayed in at Wilpotha

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Homestay’s back room

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My bed for the night (pardon the blurry photo)

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Homestay’s main room

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Homestay’s backyard

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Homestay’s front yard

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One of the bikes at my homestay in Wilpotha (not the bike I thought I was going to die on, though)

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One of the paths I rode on with the bike

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Me with two of the daughters (this photo was taken as I was trying to explain how to take the photo with my phone but I still think it’s excellent because the two girls look utterly bored)

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Baby goats!

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Some of the many fruits I tried

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Sri Lanka Kite, the camp we stayed at in Kalpitiya

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The lagoon at Sri Lanka Kite

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Our little bungalow at Dolphin Eco Lodge / Sri Lanka Kite

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Selfie to capture the hammock moment(s)… I was in there for hours!

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I finished the first of the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson so I thought I’d change things up with Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist

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Finally the wind picked up and out came the kitesurfers

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Good vibes before heading back to Colombo

If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.

Day-trip Safari in Yala National Park

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About a week ago, I¬†learned that one of WUSC’s Leave for Change volunteers, Robin (who’s blog you can find here), was looking to visit Yala National Park. Even though we had done quite a bit of traveling that week, Sabrina and I decided to tag along and go on an adventure back to Matara to visit Robin and visit to Yala together. Altogether, Sabrina and I were only out of Colombo for maybe 36 hours but we packed a lot of fun stuff in that short time.

Everything started on Saturday after a slow morning. We had asked around and discovered we could take a local bus from a stop near our apartments to Maharagama, a bus stand where we could catch a luxury bus to Matara that day. The local buses are colourful and non-air-conditioned and stop pretty regularly to pick people up and drop them off while the luxury bus we took to Matara was express so it took the highway and it had A/C! It was actually quite a pleasant journey, especially in comparison to some very interesting bus rides I’ve experienced in the past.

We arrived in Matara with plenty of sunlight to spare and decided it was time for some food since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was getting late in the afternoon. So we did the most Westerner thing ever…. and went to Pizza Hut! (Side-note: I’ve been keeping a little mental note of the Western chain restaurants you can find in Sri Lanka and so far it includes: Pizza Hut, Domino’s, KFC, Burger King, and McDonald’s, which delivers here apparently! There’s also a restaurant here in Colombo called “Olive Garden” but it definitely is NOT an actual Olive Garden because it seems to serve Chinese food.) Anyways, our pizza was delicious and it is always¬†fun to eat something so North American so far from home.

After pizza, we caught up with Robin at her new apartment, where Sabrina and I were crashing for the night. We struggled to find enough plugs to charge our various phones and external batteries but we eventually figured it out and head to bed in preparation of our exciting day ahead on Sunday. Thanks to the many alarms on our various phones we woke up on time the next day, giving us a chance to get ready for our safari day trip before being picked up by our tour guide Sanjay around 7AM. He thankfully decided to drive us from Matara to Yala in an air-conditioned car (more luxury travel!) instead of the open-air jeep, although I’m sure that would have been fun, too. We chatted the entire way to Yala, which took almost three hours, asking Sanjay a million questions about his life and tour business. (I’d highly recommend him if you’re thinking of coming to Sri Lanka. He and his wife run a great small business you can find more about here.)

We arrived close to Yala at around 10:30AM, switched from the car into the safari Jeep, then headed into the park to start our safari. In total, we spent about five and a half hours in the park, driving around trying to spot as many animals as we could in such a short time. Thankfully I seem to have good luck on safaris because we saw so many amazing things! Yala is most famous for its leopards and sloth bears and you can also find elephants, deer, crocodiles, monkeys, buffalos, a wide variety of bird life, and more. And during our time in the park, we saw everything the park is known for! Our safari started with some beautiful birds and many, many buffalo. Then, we found two large male elephants (in different areas because apparently they are loners).

About halfway through the day, we ended up in a bit of a safari Jeep traffic jam waiting around for a sloth bear but it was worth it because we saw one in the forest and then not ten minutes later, we saw another just walking down the road. It definitely wasn’t excited to see us but it stuck around for long enough that we got a really good look at it’s adorable face and trademark turned in front paws and long claws. It was incredible to be so close to the bear, especially because they are typically very shy and are more active in the evening. We were very lucky to see two in one day, Sanjay told us. Then he laughed and said that all we needed to see what a leopard and it would be a perfect safari day…

As soon as he said that, Robin pointed to a couple of rocks and said, “Well there’s a leopard!” We only saw it for a few seconds – not long enough for a photo but definitely long enough to know it was a beautiful, rather large cat – but it was incredible! We waited around as long as we could but sadly it never came back for the Instagram-worthy moment but we were still buzzing from excitement about seeing one even if it was just a flash of spots before shying away into the bramble. It was time then for us to head out of the park, switch back into the car, and make the journey back to Matara so that Sabrina and I could catch a highway bus back to Colombo.

I should mention that last Sunday was also my first Poya day in the country. Poya is an important day for those who practice¬†Buddhism here in Sri Lanka, which is about seventy percent of the population. Poya falls on the full moon every month and is a time for Buddhists to visit the temple, which is why no one works when it falls on a weekday. It is also a day when people gather together to cook and eat food together. I mention all this because this gathering of people results in some pretty intense traffic! (Also, it’s beautiful to see everyone come together to celebrate, especially because the streets and temples are often decorated with lights and Buddhist flags and banners.)

On our way back to Matara from Yala we experienced all the wonder and beauty of Poya as well as all the traffic! Sanjay¬†embraces¬†the art of driving in Sri Lanka, which is a very particular style due to narrow streets crowded with many tuk-tuks, motos, pedestrians, cars, buses, tractors, some cows and lots of wandering¬†dogs. To make sure Sabrina and I made it back to Matara in time for the last highway bus to Colombo, Sanjay¬†drove as fast as possible, often bypassing huge lines of traffic by driving on the opposite side of the road and then pushing his way back into the queue to get through the various villages and towns we were heading through. It was nuts, I’m not going to lie, but it was also something we couldn’t change so we just tried to enjoy it as much as possible, gazing out the window at the festivities and teasing Sanjay for his driving skills.

Despite all the car-passing and driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road, Sabrina and I missed the last luxury bus back to Colombo. We were lucky yet again, though, because there were others trying to get back to Colombo quickly, too, so we all hopped into a local bus that promised to take the highway. We were leery but out of options so we got on and prayed that it was not actually a local bus that would stop 2948795758 times on the way back to the capital that infamously take double or even triple the amount of time in comparison to the express buses. The conductor had told us the truth, though, so we arrived back in Colombo in just under two hours. We called an Uber to take us back to our apartments and were in bed by midnight! It had been a wild ride (quite literally) of a day filled with excitement and lot of time in many different kinds of vehicles (1 car, 1 jeep, 1 bus, 1 Uber) but it was so worth it! Check out photos of all the shenanigans and wildlife from that day below:

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The streets outside of Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo decorated with Buddhist flags for Poya

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A street near my apartment decorated with banners for Poya

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Inside the luxury bus to Matara

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First animal of the safari – a land monitor lizard

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This bird is called a “bee-eater”

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This beauty is called a painted stork

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First elephant spotting of the day? The rock in the distance on the left is said to look like an elephant and I agree!

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Peacocks – incredibly beautiful but so so noisy

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One of my many buffalo friends we met

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This little monkey was part of a gang that accosted us during our rest stop… He even stole Sabrina’s leftover Pizza Hut box (which was, thankfully, empty)

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Our trusty safari Jeep (it took us through some pretty rough terrain!)

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Yala is incredibly beautiful

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See? It’s so gorgeous and we had perfect weather (though it was super hot… it’s always super hot in Sri Lanka)

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Hanging out outside the Jeep at our mid-point rest stop… We checked for crocs before posing, don’t worry! (There’s also a buffalo just behind me but he’s blocked by the trees)

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The view during our rest stop

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More adorable – though mischievous – monkeys!

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Sloth bear #2 – cranky but doesn’t it look cuddly?!

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We got so close!

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Hi, friend!

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Bye, friend!

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The gang (Sabrina is top right, Robin is bottom right)

If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.

First time out of Colombo – Matara & Arugambay

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My supervisor is keen on the “learn by doing” philosophy. This is best exemplified by a work trip I took last week. After only one full day in the WUSC Sri Lanka office, I was on the road with the Uniterra team, traveling to orient two Leave for Change volunteers to their work locations in Matara and Arugambay. I hadn’t even finished my own orientation and I was already greeting and orienting new volunteers!

After their 20+ hours of travel to Colombo, the two Leave of Change volunteers were certainly tired but with only 3 weeks in the country and big tasks to complete as short-term volunteers with WUSC’s partners around the country, there was no time to spare: their orientation started the day after they arrived. That Monday morning, we quickly overviewed some “Dos and Don’ts” in Sri Lankan culture. Then, we did my favourite part of orientation: the “eating with your fingers” session, which takes place in the fancy Sri Lankan restaurant Raja Bojun. This restaurant offers some Sri Lankan specialities including rice and curry, kottu, and hoppers! This session is fun AND delicious, even though¬†I’m still learning how to eat with my hands (there’s a proper technique¬†that I have yet to master).

Once we finished lunch, we set out on the road. The first stop on our list: Matara, a coastal city about two hours south of Colombo by highway. We arrived about 3:30PM in the afternoon, which meant we had time to have a meeting with the volunteer’s partner organization INDECOS and even some time to play around in the ocean! It was my first time on the beach in Sri Lanka and I fell in love with the warm water and amazing views. It made me sit back and think about how lucky I am to be living in such¬†a beautiful country. That evening, we had an incredible meal at the¬†home of one of leaders of INDECOS. His wife is a very talented and generous cook, which meant the food was both bountiful and mouth-watering.

We stayed at a beach-side hotel that night and were lucky enough to enjoy breakfast next to the ocean the next day. It was an early morning, though, because we had a long drive to Arugambay, where the second Leave for Change volunteer is working to fulfill¬†his volunteer mandate. Though the¬†drive was longer and much slower due to windy roads and a bit of traffic, we arrived with a couple of hours of sun left in the day, allowing for a short period of exploration after we finished some of the recording Sabrina, Uniterra’s communications volunteer, wanted to do to create¬†videos about women who work in tourism in Sri Lanka. Even tired after a long day of travel, it was easy to appreciate the quaint tourist area that is the main road of Arugambay. It is filled with little shops with Indian-style clothes (I bought a beautiful tunic!), stands that sell fresh fruit juice, and many little restaurants along the way, too.

That night we stayed at Stardust, which is a beach hotel, something I didn’t truly appreciate until the next day¬†when I woke up at 5AM – still a bit jet-lagged – to the sound of early morning waves. I went for a short walk on an empty beach and took advantage of the free time to write¬†in my journal. I can’t wait to look back in a few months on these entries chronicling my early days in Sri Lanka. While the first few weeks are the steepest learning curve and so they can be overwhelming, they are also the most magical because everything is fresh, new, and exciting. (Even now, officially in my third week in Colombo and I’m still definitely in the honeymoon phase.)

Then it was back on the road. We went up the east coast a bit to visit the WUSC Sri Lanka office in¬†Batticaloa. We were there for only a short time but it was nice to put some faces to names of the people I had been hearing about since I arrived!¬†I participated in (well, more watched since I’m still very new) a couple of meetings where my supervisor pitched the Uniterra program to potential partners in the region and then, as quickly as we came (this trip was a whirlwind!), we were off and heading back to Colombo. We arrived back in Colombo around 10PM on Wednesday night and, honestly, I was beyond tired. Despite the exhaustion, it had been an amazing trip: in only three days, we had traveled all through the southern coast and halfway up the east coast. I’m very lucky to have had this opportunity so early in my mandate!

More details from my personal travels in the days to come (hint: I went on safari!)

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Hanging out with an animatronic elephant at Raja Bojun in Colombo

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The trusty van that took us to Matara, Arugambay, Batticaloa then back to Colombo (all in three days!)

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The INDECOS office in Matara

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My ocean-view room in Polhena Beach, Matara

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Polhena beach!

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We passed along the way many sights including some in-the-distance elephants near Arugambay & this Hindu temple with a huge statue of Gana Devi / Ganesha near Batticaloa. 

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Entrance of Stardust Beach Hotel in Arugambay

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Stardust beach hotel in the morning sun

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Finishing off the post with this photo promoting the most recent X-men movie. Sabrina and I went to it during our first weekend in Colombo to enjoy a few hours of entertainment and to enjoy the air conditioning!

If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.

Coming to you from Sri Lanka

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Well, hello there everybody! It’s been a while and a lot has happening since I last posted… I should start with the biggest news: I’m now, of course, living in Sri Lanka and I’ve been here for just over a week! Another volunteer and I met up in the Ottawa airport on Sunday, June 5th just after saying goodbye to our loved ones. We took a short flight from Ottawa to Montreal (seriously short flight – only 20 mins!) and then we took a long flight from Montreal to Doha in Qatar (seriously long flights – just over 12 hours!). Though the second flight was incredibly long, it actually went swimmingly. Qatar Airways has fantastic service, delicious vegan meals, and there was even someone waiting for us at our gate in Montreal to walk us over to the gate to depart to Doha. I was very impressed! I luckily slept for most of the second flight so I was feeling not too bad when we arrived in Doha to take the final step in our journey: the flight to Colombo!

We arrived in Colombo safe and sound about 2AM on Tuesday June 7th, Colombo time. We had been traveling for over 24 hours and had lost all of our Monday because of travel. Everything went smoothly in the Colombo airport, too, and we met with our taxi driver easily to be dropped off at the Pearl Grand hotel in Colombo, where we spent our first two nights in Sri Lanka. Sadly, due to tremendous jetlag, I had a hard time sleeping during those first two nights but the rooms were very comfortable and there was a strong Wi-Fi connection so I updated my friends and family back home about my journey… And I also caught¬†up on the episode of Game of Thrones that I missed on Sunday June 5th when I was traveling!

For our first day in Colombo, Sabrina (the other volunteer) and I were driven from our hotel to the WUSC Colombo office. There, we met with the many wonderful and friendly staff that work for WUSC here at Sri Lanka. We even had a ceremony where we received garlands of flowers as a gift to welcome us to the country and to the office. Blessedly, the folks at WUSC understood that we were basically walking zombies at this point so after showing us around the office and getting us acquainted with everyone there (I’m still learning the names – there are so many people!), we were dismissed to catch some zzz’s at the hotel. Trying to align ourselves with the new time zone, though, S and I walked along the main road (Galle Road) right near our hotel. We visited the beautiful shop Barefoot and we also visited Majestic City, a mall nearby the hotel as well as our new apartments.

After another sleepless night (I was trying… but my brain was not on board), my second day in Sri Lanka was spent at the WUSC Sri Lanka office completing orientation sessions. This was particularly fun for me because eventually I will be doing these orientation sessions as part of my mandate as Volunteer Support Officer (more on my job description¬†in a later post – promise!). We learned a little bit about Sri Lankan culture and some “Dos and Don’ts”, too. Then we ate delicious rice and curry for lunch and learned how to eat with our hands, as people here often eat without cutlery. The food is delicious and veggie friendly so I’m definitely happy!

After a busy¬†day of orientation, we moved into our new apartments. Sabrina and I are living around the corner from each other and very nearby my supervisor who is actually my next-door neighbour! I have a one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, living room area, separate bathroom, and… best of all… air conditioning in my room!!! As anticipated, the weather here is hot and humid so the A/C has definitely been helping me as I get used to the heat. Just over a week into my mandate here, I’m feeling more used to the heat (I’m sure both¬†Ghana and Botswana prepared me well! ).

Friday was my first official day of work. After fighting to get my laptop to work with the printer in the office (thanks to WUSC’s resident “tech guy” for his¬†support!), I settled in. We were preparing for my first set of volunteers to arrive on Sunday afternoon so I had lots to do. I made sure the two volunteers had personalized letters and welcome packages to greet them at the hotel and read up on their mandates so I could be prepared to meet them and talk to them about the work they’ll be doing. As Leave For Change volunteers, their mandates are only three weeks long and¬†there’s lots of work to be done during that short time.

For our¬†first weekend, Sabrina and I worked to get ourselves oriented in our neighbourhood. We walked around Majestic City again since it’s our ‘local mall’ and we needed to pick up a few things for our apartments to make them home-y. Then, after taking a break from the heat in our apartments, we walked to get some groceries for the first time. The grocery store isn’t far away from our places, which is a real bonus! I might have overdone it with the food and struggled to carry four heavy bags home with me. (It was worth it for the delicious food I made at home though!). That night, I went out with some fellow ex-pats in the evening. Though it’s always nerve-wracking to meet new people and hope and pray that you fit in, I found them to be a really open and welcoming crew and I had a ton of fun with them.

On Sunday, Sabrina and I walked to Pearl Grand hotel again to drop off the welcome packages for the Leave for Change volunteers. We then took advantage of our nearby movie theatre and went to X-Men Apocalypse 3-D in the afternoon. (We went for the entertainment of course…. but also air conditioning and it felt SO good to be cold for the first time in a while!) One fun thing about going to the movies here is that there is an intermission halfway through. We’ve decided this is something that should be implemented world-wide because it’s so nice to get a chance to stretch, use the washroom, or grab a snack part-way through the movie. That night, I cooked for the first time in my new apartment. I was pretty impressed with my gas-stove skills, even though I’ve never used one before except while camping. I made some stirfry with tofu and felt very much at home.

PS – I’m currently on a work trip to Matara, Arugambay, and Batticloa and will post about that once I’m back in Colombo!

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The stewardess strapped in my backpack on the flight to Doha

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You know you’ve arrived in a humid country when the plane windows fog up

Photo from welcome to WUSC Sri Lanka (June 2016)

Arrival at WUSC Sri Lanka

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Welcoming ceremony at WUSC Sri Lanka

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WUSC Sri Lanka lobby

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Sweaty but happy in front of my apartment

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My favourite purchase in Sri Lanka so far are these doughnut slippers

More photos to come!


If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.