Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A challenging week and some notes to friends.

It's been an unusual, challenging, and strangely rewarding week for me. If anything I've had the immersion into Sri Lankan life that I've craved for this project. I do what I can to post my experiences each day but above and beyond that I've reported to a few people back home about the intensity of experience during these days. Here are excerpts written without regard to style or punctuation to friends and family in the states and here in Sri Lanka. 

Dear V,

Thought you would be interested in this British era map of Hambantota, in the far SE of Sri Lanka where I've been for a few days. It was devastated by the tsunami & I'm at a Fdn here that does preschool & community outreach. My host actually asked me to strategize w him for a long range plan since he's 68 and in poor health. Strange job for a Fulbrighter looking at landscape intangibles! Janet's back in Colombo getting ready for Julia and Jose in a few days. I'll join her tomorrow and then we'll take them around by car for 10 days or so. Jan 13 a RISD prof who's doing urban planning in Batticaloa will meet me along w her students out there. She found my blog and we got in touch that way. Pretty crazy. I've connected her w my colleague at Moratuwa who will bring his urban planning students out there to work w the RISD students. Pretty amazing to have made this connection bc I was not able to get BU interested at all in Sri Lanka and the BAC just doesn't have the infrastructure. My colleague at Moratuwa has been underutilizing me even though he's a good guy and thinks out of the box. So this is the best of all worlds. Have participated in so many colorful and dramatic Buddhist rites here and on long walks w Janet discovered a village of potters who are doing pottery designs that are literally thousands of years old for everyday use...cooking and setting yogurt. With my host here in Hambantota we visited his native village where they do cinnamon industry. His family is super rich and they make cinnamon oil but the lady of the house cooks on a wood stove using those same clay pots we saw being made. Victor I try to write blog every day but the experiences of the morning are eaten up by the experiences of the afternoon and the night crushes it all like a pc of scrap metal so even though I spend like two hrs writing every day it's like just skimming what I can recall from the exhausting day before. So that's why I haven't written to you more. I miss you a lot and looking forward to getting back to you but not really looking forward to being back in America that much. OK enjoy the map. They actually make the place look tame where it's anything but! That's the british cartographers eh?ben was offered a job at Berkeley to do transp stuff but he turned it down even though it was a raise and I think a good professional growth step. Don't know the reason but I think it starts with an M. He is starting to  market brutalist building blocks on etsy. Pretty amazing young man. Lucy got a real job w a startup starting jan 6. I am so excited for her to finally be spreading her wings. Everyone here has had tragedy in large doses and of course as you know it keeps perpetuating sick behavior of so many varied sorts. It's like the human being is such fertile ground for taking experience and churning it and making it come out in such strange perverse ways. So nothing, absolutely nothing here is as it seems. And your only choice as someone immersed in it is to bobble along and remind that these are not your problems to solve and never expect anything ever and never say no and never try to be anywhere at a given time or believe anything you see. It is a real joy to be out of control and on top of that effectively a deaf-mute. But conversation I think is overrated. Everyone else has do much to say. My job as I told a Buddhist lady abbot from Korea the other day who I thought was an effeminate man (how dumb can you get?) is to listen listen listen. This in response to her quip that people just talk talk talk. Haha. Take a look at the blog if you get a chance. Take care victor and love to your girls. 


Thank you B. Now I am working with my friend who brought me to the village to revamp his website and his floundering foundation out here in remote Hambantota. It began as a tsunami response but a different set of problems evolved and he became 11 yrs older (68 now) so it seems can I say, language problems included, pretty daunting. Just took a break from intense brainstorming (after a day of utter lassitude--sarongs 24/7 and wives safely in Colombo and rain here but started "working" at 8 PM. 


B I would appreciate if you can think about this and brainstorm using your well developed understanding of marketing unusual products. 

I'm staying with a family in rural Sri Lanka who makes their own essential oil. The operation, the surroundings, and the ppl are amazing. 

They are very rich by Sri Lankan standards but they are very simple people and give a huge amount to their community. Their distillery truly is sustainable, using scrap wood for heating the stills, etc. they also provide employment directly or indirectly for maybe 50 people in the neighborhood. They actually mulch their cinnamon fields with "used" cinnamon bark and the difference is unbelievable when compared to un mulched fields. 

So. Bottom line is that they want to stop selling to third party exporters and reach out to an intl market. Any ideas?? I wrote this letter for them which they'll send out but I would really appreciate any ideas you have. Waiting to hear what you say!! 


Dear M, Nice to hear your climate comments. We are in distant Hambantota where I've been invited forever by this retired guy who runs an NGO here. Orphans and preschool. Like a lot of the ppl my age who are retired here he is doing his "merit" kind of an interesting way of looking at things. Shuldie and I slept with clouds of mosquitoes so I can't say it was delightful in that sense. But last night there was singing which was quite amazing. So. Another day. Gotta run cuz my host is up and it's 7 and my job is to listen. Bye grl!


Dear J--

 Well I missed you last night. A lot ! But only one mosquito!

We got a tour of the cinnamon plant, several cinn gardens, several random gardens, buffalo milking place, later, a waterfall.  We were asked to stay another day so now here we are. There's a nice breeze coming into the living room and the birds flying in and out and fish are swimming. Suraj gave me reload from his phone which was very nice. Karu got a leech bite so now we all had to check ourselves. Kiribat and onion curry for bkfst was amazing. Waking up in the cabin was amazing. Wish you were there! The log cake still hasn't shown up here but I wonder of it was put in the freezer? Saw cinnamon scrapers. Looks like  it might rain. Lots of literature about depression around in Sinhala. Karu was astounded by how well you did yesterday with Kumari. Like you said with the boys at the hotel ppl are on top of me every minute. So it's hard to "get anything done" but I got some good shots of me doing tasks like sorting cinnamon bark and raking stuff. Miss you a huge amt. today Karu says we 'll come back to town on the 29th. I love you. Hope you get everything done you want!!

Dear N,

my chat features etc disappeared but I can still email. This week finally deeply immersed in Sri Lanka life. Went to the countryside with a friend to his ancestral village and saw cinnamon forests and cinnamon peelers and cinnamon oil makers. They never stop eating and between meals that feature huge amts of rice or very thickly sliced white bread they are eating ice cream from the truck, soda, etcetera. Everyone has diabetes. No one walks even a block except for old men. Some skinny ppl still ride bikes but it is the poorest peasants. Janet and I have had amazing walks and experiences. Wound up one day in a village of potters. Another day, woodcarvers it's all in my blog which is all I can accomplish in a day. The experiences are so many that the afternoon swallows the morning and night obliterates the afternoon with impressions upon impressions that get crushed and compacted like so much scrap. In between heat and torpor and ppl who can't bear to be separate from each other or from you. Families stand at the corner together to send one person five miles into town or as Janet noted when they're not together they volley phone calls back and forth "I'm still waiting." "Now the bus is coming." " the bus just stopped" Etc. I'm sure you've seen this millions of times. K grl excited for all your life changes can't wait to hear. Glad to be giving you some space to have them. Yesterday we kidnapped a Buddhist nun. Haha I thought it was a fat effeminate man all day. What a dope!


Dear G,

Ain't no one nuanced enough to address what's going on here. This place is beautiful but isolated, and a model preschool as a way out of poverty and civil discord, which seemed a moral imperative in 2008 when he set up the place, is a vision that can't be sustained, especially by a director who's 68 and in bad health and has no car and lives 8 hours away. Sri Lanka has changed and it's good that it's no longer a place marked by disaster but people here in Hambantota are tough as nails and the vision my friend had just isn't real any more. Think kesher. Think alef bet     

Re Julie. There's barely a day that passes that we don't think of her. We found ourselves in a village of potters and there she was in our minds cuz she used to do ceramics. Did you know? Janet was frolicking in the ocean and she recalled that Julie and her grandfather would play around in the ocean and go for long swims. 

There are lots of remembrances of my parents too--too many to tell you. But I keep them private. Janet needs so much space to process her life. 

The other day I was just leaving the village (already a couple of hours late) when we met a Japanese-Korean Buddhist nun on the beach. Long story short you can read about it in my blog. Though the funny thing is I thought she was an effeminate older male priest. She had lady sandals on and was fat and outta breath and I thought about my mother a lot. Very similar in so many ways. Also today is dittos birthday and I've thought of him so much these months. Especially when I'm swimming which he loved to to and my mother would never ever join him. and though Janet will tell you she's been swimming a whole lot it actually took 2 months before she did anything but stand in the pool!

But I'm very happy she's doing so well now!!!! 

It will be amazing to see Julia and Jose. I am really happy they're taking the leap to come here and I hope the travel will be interesting and not too hard for them and that sightseeing will be balanced enough with relaxing and nature. Fingers crossed. Wish you were here too grl. BTW when do they leave your time? I want to start counting the hours. 

Yours truly and have a good night grl!!!!

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