Monday, October 19, 2015

The Monk Who Flew a Kite: Taking an Interdisciplinary Fulbright to New Levels

I read in one of the English language papers here in Sri Lanka about a Buddhist monk who flies kites. It's not all he does according to the article but granted, it's a little out of the ordinary. But the article goes on to tell how he loved kite flying as a child, was ordained very young, and had to put aside his beloved activity for many years. 

Here I am a month into my Fulbright and in these weeks it would seem like we did "everything." From meeting with top researchers who are doing vital water management work to lecturing at Rajarata University to doing intense fieldwork with students from Rajarata and also here in Colombo at Moratuwa University, our time has been incredibly full. Spectacular walks in the countryside have inspired new ideas about cultural landscape ecology, my stated research activity here, and I have documented these walks in blog posts, photography, and even poetry (sometimes the impressions are so strong I find I can't contain them in prose!). We have savored the cuisine, the music, the people, the history, and of course the landscapes of Sri Lanka during these weeks. 

So in a word or two, Janet and I have embarked upon and accomplished a substantial amount of cultural and academic exchange. It's safe to say barely a day has gone by that we haven't experienced to the fullest, a real contrast to our everyday life at home where we work hard and do our best, but perhaps experience and feel less than we should. 

So it might come as a surprise that we spent this morning hunting down art supplies so that this Fulbrighter can start painting! I'm a scientist by training but I've been painting for a long time, in a damp dimly lit space in our basement. Just the same I love doing it when I get a chance. I've exhibited and sold my work but more important, enjoy giving it away to friends. I'm thinking that this rather solitary activity, deeply reflective and personal, will actually lead to more and not less social interactions. More chances to show the work to friends old and new, more chances to express my gratitude for the beauty and grace of this place, and the chance to set up my workspace in view of the Indian Ocean. 

I'm not a monk but the monk inspired me. As a scientist I'm deeply steeped in interdisciplinary work, one of the goals of my Fulbright. Why not pursue it by painting, something I've always loved doing? Of course, I'll keep my day job teaching and learning and interacting while I'm here. Can't help but do that. It's me. 

The photos in today's post are some examples of my work. Watch for more as the weeks go by and please do let me know what you think. 

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