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!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

You Notice These Get Longer Each Time...

We have seen a lot in the last few days and are feeling just a wee bit overwhelmed, but excited too by all the possibilities before us. We've gone to three refugee camps, each more heartbreaking than the last, visited two workshop employment programs, and spent as much time as possible at the Jeeva Jothy orphanage.

At the refugee camps in Batticaloa, it seems that among the victims there are three main types: those who only lost all their possessions and feel blessed to have their family members; those who lost a handful of relatives and are eager to get back to work to provide for the survivors; and those who lost all their family members and don't feel they have a reason to do anything with their lives. As hard as it was to listen to their stories and as difficult it was for them to relive them, we were touched by their hospitality and their gratitude for our presence with them.

We're very excited about the workshop employment programs. One of them, in the village of Kallar down the road from Batti, involves training tsunami victims in sewing, carpentry, masonry, plumbing/electric, all of which are skills that will be needed during the rebuilding. We looked into the possibility of foreign groups (us!) ordering items such as tablecloths and napkins, thereby not only providing employment but also strengthening their morale.

But most exciting for us is the contact with the orphanage and its director, Ilango. Picture Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and your favorite uncle, and you have Ilango. He has a lot of power in Batticaloa, but amazingly, he uses all of it to do good. The man opened his own home to 65 orphan girls, for goodness sake! The orphanage is on the highest ground in Batticaloa, and when the tsunami hit, all the townspeople ran to their area. The girls, who themselves come from war-torn homes, decided to give everything they had to help the new victims. The whole schema of the orphanage is to empower the girls by allowing them to be themselves and to work through their trauma in creative ways. Now they are reaching out to the refugees and are making a big difference in their lives. We clearly have a lot to learn from this guy and these girls!

Batticaloa would be paradise if it hadn't gone through a war and a tsunami ... but there was an crocodile lurking in the lagoon outside of our hotel.
Alex got attacked by a spider. He was very brave. Kiran just laughed, mostly because while jumping away and screaming, he broke his flip-flop.

We've taken a day off today (it's a holiday and we wouldn't have gotten anything done anyway). We went to Kandy, 4000 ft up in the mountains, and now we're in Nuwara Eliya, a town 7000 ft high, with eucalyptus trees, tea plantations, and lots of mountain mist. It's nice and cool. Finally.

Take care, we're thinking of you,

Alex and Kiran

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Batty in Batticaloa

It turns out that not only is there an internet cafe in Batticaloa, but the computer is a lot faster than the ones in Colombo! Probably has to do with all those NGOers writing home.

After traveling through the beautiful and surprisingly congested (trafficwise) area just outside of Colombo, and after skirting by the jungle and the mountains of central Sri Lanka, we emerged into the eerily quiet and war-ravaged areas of the east. We didn't quite know what to make of it, with army camps every few miles and frequent roadblocks. What we found out was that these camps were for the Sri Lankan government and not the separatist army of the north. Because it's a contested area, it's clearly not kept up as well as other parts of the country -- the roads were deplorable and the surroundings quite impoverished.

All this made us realize that even prior to the tsunami, this area surrounding Batticaloa was already struggling. You would think this would leave people feeling defeated or hopeless. Yet, we have seen some of the most beautiful smiles on people here. Our friend, Ajayan, took us to an orphanage last night where we were entertained by some of the happiest kids we've met ... anywhere.

This morning we were privileged enough to witness the launching of the first fishing boat to re-enter the water since the tsunami struck close to six months ago. The bravery of those men, who had lost four of their co-workers (along with countless family members and friends), was inspiring to see. The catch was not large because the season has not yet begun, but the men were not discouraged. Rather, there was an air of excitement and achievement. It's these sorts of local efforts that we are encouraged to see and hope to support.

Alex can't believe he has to leave the continent in order for the Cubs to put on a winning streak.
Kiran is reminded of how exhausting equatorial heat can be.
Wildlife update: Alex found a rather large frog on the toilet this morning.
We've found that mosquito nets provide a better sleep.
Alex is worried that we've given NGOs a bad name; they do great work, but it can't end there.
Kiran had her singing debut last night at the Orphanage. "Hard Times," of course.
We are both loving the Indian rice and curry meal, which generally serves as breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The landscape in the tsunami-hit areas is dramatic, to say the least. Whole homes wiped away with only the wells remaining. It's almost impossible to comprehend what took place here. Again, the fact that those fishermen were willing to launch their boat just in front of the ruined homes is testimony to the hope that we can all have.

We've learned to play it by ear and will be doing so in the days to come. It turns out there's a huge Buddhist holiday this coming Monday and Tuesday, so everything will be closed up. We may be able to meet with some people during that time, but we'll have to see.

Talk to you soon,

K and A in S L

Thursday, May 19, 2005

No Wild Animals Yet

One thing we've already learned about Sri Lanka is that plans can change.

So we're not going to the Wildlife Sanctuary area yet...we're heading off tomorrow for Batticaloa, one of the cities hardest hit by the tsunami. We rearranged our plans so that we can go to Yala with a guide who is very involved in the relief and rebuilding effort and knows the area first hand.

We are learning a lot about what's going on in regards to aid relief, more than we'd like to, perhaps. When billions of dollars are funneled into NGOs(non-government organizations), after a disaster of this magnitude, beaurocracy and red tape hinder the money reaching people in need. As our friend, Silan, explained, groups like UNICEF and the Red Cross are great for the initial response, but over time it's the grass roots connections that make the difference.

Here's hoping we root a few grasses soon.

Second day impressions of Colombo:
We experienced our first monsoon rain this morning, which was sudden, brief, and refreshing. Kiran can't wait till they get stuck in a torrent and just have to get soaked.
Alex's father-in-law was right: coconuts bought and cracked open on the side of the road can really hit the spot.
It's still hot (not only for Alex).

Don't know if we'll be able to update the blog when we're in the east, but we'll be sure to as soon as we can.

It's good to know we're in your thoughts and prayers,

Kiran and Alex in Sri Lanka

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Safe in Colombo

After a ten hour layover in hot and humid Hong Kong, we arrived safely last night in an even hotter and more humid Colombo. We're getting used to the new environment and have already had an insightful conversation with two important contacts here. Based on their advice, we will be heading south-east on Friday morning, then working our way back up the southern coast to return to Colombo next Tuesday. The hotel we will be staying at Friday night apparently doesn't let you out of your room without an escort due to the dangers of wild animals. (Can't wait!) But don't worry, this isn't normal for Sri Lanka -- it's because the hotel is located in a Wildlife Sanctuary. So, Friday night in Yalla, then travel the coast until Mathara, stay two nights there, on Monday head for Galle for one night, then drive back to Colombo.

Impressions of Sri Lanka/Colombo thus far:
Hot is the first thing that comes to mind for Alex.
For Kiran, she can't help reminiscing about being here as a 12 year old with the Young Family (by the way, fam, we're going to the Galle Face for dinner tonight, thanks to the Dombachs!)
Alex has been blown away by the friendliness of everyone we've met, including the adventurous driver of our three-wheeled taxi.
Kiran is energized and feels right at home in the bustling city.

We'll let you know more later. By the way, we loved reading your comments. Keep 'em coming!

Kiran and Alex in Sri Lanka

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Leaving for Sri Lanka

Tonight we leave for Sri Lanka. The trip has finally become a reality and we are very excited about what the next few weeks hold for us. We'll be using this blog as often as possible to keep you posted on what we see and hear during our trip. Thank you all for your support, and keep us in your thoughts and prayers until we return!

Kiran and Alex