Danielle Hollenbeck-Pringle ’10 is currently in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright Scholarship studying midwives. The blog entry below as been borrowed from Danielle’s blog (by permission).
I have spent the last two weeks being a tourist, figuring out how to live a comfortable life, and making contacts for research. So far all have been pretty successful (except for my attempt at finding basil). Though these are my only activities, they tend to lead to very long, yet enjoyable days.
Today I was heading back from the University of Peradeniya campus–which is beautiful, yet rather empty at this moment because the students are protesting and so classes are not being held. After a very successful day of meeting various professors who have formalized my affiliation with the University and offered to help me contact midwives, the bus hit a speed bump. Well, we didn’t actually hit a bump, it just looked like it. Everyone in front of me stood up just enough to rise two inches off their seat and then sat back down. It looked exactly like the bus had hit a bump and everyone bounced. I looked to my left (which is the sidewalk side of the street because they drive on the wrong side of the road) and saw that we had just passed the temple. It is a very nice temple, in fact I have been told it is a very important temple, but overshadowed by the Temple of Tooth in Kandy. I have seen people stand up or take off their hats at the exact same point on the street but this was the first time the whole bus did it.
While Sri Lanka has four religions (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity), the majority of the population is Buddhist. Buddhism plays a large role on the island, more than just causing a bus to look like it hit a speed bump (note: I am not sure if it is the Temple, Buddha, or Bodhi tree that requires this act of reverence or something completely different I am unaware of). Besides seeing Buddhist symbols everywhere, including a large Buddha statute on a hilltop in Kandy, many Buddhist values shape the way country operates. For example, there is a law banning mothers from begging with their children. I was told the idea is that the strong tradition of giving to those in need was enabling mothers to earn more on the street than working a formal or informal sector job. Then there is Sinhalese Nationalism that has shaped this country in profound ways.
Through visiting monasteries, listening to professors speak, and trying to buy a beer on a full moon, my life here is also shaped by the culture. Returning to my bus ride, I got off a short while after the speed bump and went to the store to buy vegetables. I got spinach, green beans, sour bananas (they are delicious and not sour but that’s the direct translation), beets, and chilies.
That is when my mission to find basil began. My search, which took me to three stores that sell plants and tested my ability to speak English in a British/Sri Lankan accent (also a fail), resulted in discovering that a garden two hours away might have it. I also learned the Sinhala word for basil. Tomorrow will begin another day of continuing to make contacts and do research, and hunt a for oregano – another herb that will make the next eight months the perfect mix of Sri Lankan and American life.