Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Coming Home

Our plane leaves Colombo International at 2:45am Wednesday morning. After 27 hours in the air, we arrive in NYC at 9:40pm Wednesday night. (...there's something not right about that math.)

It's hard to believe that we've been here in Sri Lanka for three weeks. In some ways, we're just now beginning to feel comfortable. What at first seemed chaotic and disorienting now feels perfectly natural. We have seen and heard a great deal. We have certainly learned a lot. And we will have much to share with you upon our return.

Some final impressions:
We never really explained how we move around the cities. You may recall us mentioning our driver, Sirisena. But he was only hired for long distances. When jumping around town, we take tuk-tuks: little three-wheeled taxis that shoot in and out of traffic with alarming bravery. You have to barter the price, and you have to be careful not to get in until a price has been fixed. It helps to know how far you're going. Last night we paid what we thought was a pretty good price, until we realized we were only a block away from our destination. Alex is trying to figure a way to smuggle two tuk-tuks home; he'll keep one for spare parts.

At dusk in Sri Lanka, you may notice that some of the crows are moving a bit slower, and with a more deliberate wing motion. Then you realize they aren't crows, but three-feet long bats, appropriately called "flying foxes." They are alarmingly huge...but only eat fruit (or so we're told).

Alex may come back a little rounder. He's been very impressed with the food here, and Kiran's been impressed with how much of it he can eat. Kiran, on the other hand, will be coming home even thinner due to her five day diet of delicious hospital food.

The biggest impact from this trip, however, will be in having seen how strong the Sri Lankan people are in rebuilding their lives after the tsunami. It's a pity that it took something like a tsunami to bring us together, but we are so thankful that we've had an opportunity to learn from their wisdom.

Thank you for making this blog such a fun way to communicate. We have relished your comments and been touched by your expressions of support.

Kiran and Alex in Sri Lanka (but not for long)

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Back in the Lanka of the Living

After sleeping away a week of my life, I'm back in the Lanka of the living, and I'm ecstatic. It was an incredibly unpleasant time, but it's truly amazing how quickly your body forgets what it's like to be that sick. The fever, the aches, the nausea -- all that seems like a distant memory.

It has been so nice to sit here and read the blogs Alex has been writing and your comments over the past week. Thank you so much for your prayers and thoughts; Alex told me about them along the way but it was wonderful to be able to read them all myself.

Our stay at the Galle Face Hotel was splendid. It helps to be sick when you're booking your room. Since they knew I'd just gotten out of the hospital, they gave us a massive room with a really comfy bed and a great sea view. This morning Alex went on his sojourn down south, and I'm moved back to the Institute for some less luxurious (but sufficiently comfortable) rest. I'm sad I can't be with him, but that's the way it is.

Now that I'm better, of course, we're starting to think about heading back home. Only a few days left here, and they're going to be gone before we know it. Despite the setback of being sick, I still feel that this trip has been eye-opening and important for both of us. But things just don't always go the way we think they will, do they? It's funny to see how it all pans out, and how little control we have over anything. I've been brought back to the basics: what matters is health, contentedness, being at peace with what happens in life. That's what being sick did for me, and it's also what the people here have taught me. These people who have gone through war and tsunami -- they know how to embrace life in its joys and tragedies. They know how to cut out the superfluousness and get down to the marrow of it all. This is something Alex and I may have a hard time communicating, but it's something very special to have learned.

Enough pontificating. I'm going to go read the English Patient.

Kiran, Alive and Well in Sri Lanka

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Up, Up and Away!

Kiran's platelet count finally rose and she's been released from the hospital. Hooray! Our spirits are definitely up as well. We've treated ourselves to two nights at the relaxing and palatial Galle Face Hotel, where we can enjoy a sea view and a lot of comfy extras.

But tomorrow Alex is heading off for a day trip down the western and southern coasts, as far as Welligama. It was along this stretch that a full passenger train was struck by the tsunami, resulting in the second largest train disaster in history. Because this area of the country is so much more densely populated than the east, the devestation was more severe than that of Batticaloa, even though it did nor recieve a direct hit. The good news for these people is that more aid has supposedly been rushed in their direction. We want to see with your own eyes how the rebuilding process is going. In many ways this will be a bittersweet trip; Kiran was looking forward to showing Alex where she and her family vacationed when she was a girl.

While Alex is gone, Kiran will either remain with the good folks at the Institute, or suffer some more at the hotel. Yet another blood test is scheduled for Monday morning, just to make sure progress is being made and Alex plans to be back for that.

Will write more when we know more....

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Marvelous View

Unfortunately, Kiran remains a resident of room 6013, Apollo Hospital. We were all packed and ready to move to a comfy hotel this morning, but the magic word never came. They want to see just a little more improvement in her platelet count.

I knew when I married Kiran that someday I would be in a hospital somewhere in the developing world. You could call this premonition if you like, but it was more a knowledge that the two of us would travel the world together, contracting bugs along the way.

What I couldn't have foreseen, however, was how nice the hospital here in Sri Lanka is, how prompt, courteous and professional the staff would be, and what a marvelous view of Colombo we would enjoy. If you have to be sick and stuck in a room, this room's not bad. The scene includes an impressive Western sky, the blue of the Indian Ocean, the thriving Colombo skyline, its bustling streets littered with tropical trees, and closest of all, a sports field where locals are constantly playing cricket, soccer, field hockey, or walking the track. Today there is a track and field meet taking place and we've been able to watch the competitors race around the grass lanes.

It is now too late for Kiran to attempt another tsunami-related trip before returning to the States, and my tentative plans to return to Batticaloa without her have all but been cancelled. If she improves in the next two days, I will consider a shorter day or overnight trip to the south coast, but again, we'll have to play it by ear. The good news is that the doctor assures us that our return flight next Wednesday morning is not in jeopardy.

Regardless of how plans might change in the next few days, we continue to be very optimistic, are encouraged by the progress Kiran is making, and feel blessed to be here in this way.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Another Night at the Apollo

Thank you for your prayers and kind words. Kiran is doing better, but still isn't ready to leave the Apollo Hospital. We were hoping that she'd be dismissed this morning, but her fever came back just a smidgen last night and that was enough to make the doctors recommend another night. Needless to say, Kiran's ready to be well and I'm sick of seeing her sick, but these things take time.

Thought I would write more about that conference we attended. The Presbyterian Hunger Program has started a project called "Joining Hands Against Hunger." Its intent is to empower local, grassroots organizations to combat the causes of poverty and to link up those groups with a network (usually a presbytery) in the States. Because it allows the organizations to define themselves, it enables different ethnic and religious groups to work together based on what they hold in common: their desire to elevate hunger. The group being started here in Sri Lanka is made up Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

One of the group's biggest fears is that by being linked to a Christian network in the States, they will be pressured to convert in order to remain a part of the network. This is tricky business; there are a lot of reports of Christian organizations arriving after the tsunami promising a lot of aid if the recipients will learn more about Jesus Christ. It's become so controversial that the Sri Lankan government is currently considering a law restricting the amount of foreign aid coming through religious organizations.

My take on this is that first and foremost, we Christians are called to share the good news, and we should never ever deny our faith. But if in our Christian witness we were to only help those we see as fellow Christians or potential Christians, we risk excluding many of God's children and we neglect to give them the respect they deserve. That doesn't witness to the type of love I think we've come to know. Moreover, a network that keeps us in dialogue with people of other religions and allows us to work hand in hand with them could do a lot to bridge the divide between faiths. We have a lot to learn. Personally, I'm very excited by what the Presbyterian Hunger Program is doing because it keeps our relationship from being a one-way street. Instead of dumping money and running, we find out from them what they want to do and then see how we can help. It's a much more intentional relationship.

A lot of rambling there. I'm sure we'll talk more about it when we get back.

Kiran sends her love. We will update you as soon as we know more. Thanks again for all your support. We can feel God's presence with us here and are confident in the Spirit's power to connect us with all of you.

Lex in Lank

Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Nasty Little Bug

Bad news: a nasty little bug has given Kiran a nasty little bug.

We've been tardy with this latest installment because Kiran's been suffering from a high fever. After the second day of this, we admitted her this morning to a (really quite nice) hospital where the theory is that she's contracted dengue fever from a mosquito.

Dengue fever knocks out your blood platelets and, if your platelet number gets too low, you require a transfusion. Now, if you go look this stuff up on Google, it'll tell you a lot of scary stuff about a related disease: dengue hemorrhagic fever. But because we've diagnosed it soon enough, this shouldn't be a problem. Kiran is in good spirits, is feeling fine (except for some aches), and is getting a lot of needed rest. Looking back, that 'graduation one day, trip to Sri Lanka the next' plan of ours probably wasn't the smartest. She's been really wiped out and was no doubt vulnerable to such an illness. Of course, the mosquito didn't care about that; it just thought she looked delicious.

Suffice it to say, it's tough for me to watch her be ill, but I'm encouraged that we've got her into a great hospital, that the doctors are top-notch and used to this sort of thing, and that she'll probably be a lot better real soon.

This does mean that our plans have been derailed for the moment, though. Kiran isn't going any place real soon and I'm not going to leave her until I know she's back to normal.

We do appreciate your prayers and kind words. It's a great comfort to know that we have a community of supporters back home and a way to be in touch even on the other side of the world.

Know that we're safe, that Kiran is in good hands, and that we're all the more amazed by the empathy and concern of friends both here and at home.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Presbyterian Serendipity*

Now we are back in Colombo, attending a conference entitled "Post-tsunami Development within the Context of Globalization." Serendipitously, the conference is being sponsored by the PC(USA)! It's unusual that they're here, considering that there are only two Presbyterian Churches in all of Sri Lanka. And yet, the purpose of their presence here is to be in solidarity with the people, regardless of denomination or even faith. The conference's theme is to provide a forum for Sri Lankans working at the grassroots level to share their knowledge and experience. So far, we've heard from representatives of the fishing community, the women's association, factory workers, and a few others. We're learning about the effects of the tsunami, but almost more than that we're getting an insight into Sri Lankan history and the ways in which globalization has already run right over the local economies. This is confirmation of what we suspected: that what folks have been saying about earlier "silent tsunamis" is true.

The conference is fascinating, but admittedly it is rather gruelling. It begins at 8:30 am and ends at 8:30 pm and lasts for three days, with multiple tea breaks. There are speakers on the subjects mentioned above, followed by plenty of time for discussion. The good news is, everybody gets their voice heard. The bad news is, EVERYBODY gets their voice heard.

Answers to Some of Your Questions:
The kids at Jeeva Jothy range from ages 4 to early 20s. They loved the bubbles and the balloons, though when one of the balloons popped, you could see a few of the kids flinch as they associated that sound with darker days.

The crocodile is really a crocodile, not a water monitor. We only saw its photo: it's 8 to 9 feet long. It's supposed to be more afraid of us than we are of it, but we never took the time to find out.

Ajayan, Dad, is Silan's son. He lived next-door to us, remember??

The hill country was gorgeous and reminded Kiran of her childhood home in Kodai. It's harder to enjoy now that we've heard the presentation on the plantations, wherein we learned about the exploitation of the tea workers...

Kiran loves waking up to the sound of the Sri Lankan cuckoo, a bird with a gorgeous song. Of course, she was already used to waking up next to a cuckoo.

A wonderful part of our trip to Batticaloa and the hill country was our companion, Sirisena. He was our driver, but he was also our translator, our body guard, our tour guide, and our friend. He's been driving professionally since 1966, so there's nowhere and no one in Sri Lanka he doesn't know. If you're ever in Sri Lanka, make sure you give him a call.

Alex thought that he and Kiran were the only preachers in the family, but after reading his father-in-law's blog comment, he's wondering if he should invite him into the pulpit.

We enjoy hearing from you. It's a real treat to be able to stay in contact this way.

*An old name for Sri Lanka is Serendib, which is the root of the word "serendipity." Happy coincidence!