Following are internship-related parts of my blog i wrote in Sri Lanka. The entire story was too long and not very relevant to post, so thats why i skipped some information...
Arriving in Pussellayaya
Once I exit the vehicle, I could barely believe my eyes. This place is absolutely stunning! And the accommodation is really back to basic: no solid walls, no doors, no windows, no TV, nothing distracting or luxurious. Just the necessities and a lot of bugs.This will be my home for a while. The others from the internship already arrived one week ago. It was good to see their faces again. Immediately after arriving, we went for a walk in the bush with the staff and other internees. I just arrived here. But I really love the beauty of this place….
The internship itself
The internship is a real good experience as well! Although I’ve nothing written about It yet, it Is a total eye opener. The internet sucks, information is not available and the distances in combination with the poor infrastructure make travelling a challenge. So we skip all the university working methods and fall back on field work! Interviewing a large portion of villagers in one village creates a good situation overview in the area. Although the landscape is very green at the moment (rainy season!), there are difficulties to have sufficient water year round. But how big is this issue? What methods are being used today to keep water? How does wildlife interact during times of water shortages? These questions, and a lot more questions, will hopefully be answered the coming weeks. Not by sitting behind a computer all the time, but to talk with local people (farmers, governmental, institutional) with the help of a translator. It feels a bit strange to work totally different with limited recourses and abilities, but it is an eye opener and asks for a new mindset. It asks a lot of creative handling and thinking. You can’t simulate this on universities while you still have the fixed working methods and way of thinking. It only creates the illusion of creativity.
Simplicity & fishing at night
In the village we’re situated, there is a small school. We got invited to play a game of volleyball at their playground, which was really fun to do. And they (both children and older teenagers) wanted to beat us at all cost. And they succeeded, partly because I suck at playing volleyball. The week afterwards we played Football, which went a lot better. These kinds of activities are great to do!
At one evening there was an unexpected surprise: beer!Only me and Casper were here at one weekend (together with some Sri Lankans) so we took the drink before dinner after a long and warm day. The big cans and high percentages really kicked in ;) I once had a tug of war with a local farmer (well, you have to do something). Or just having a laugh for very simple, universal things. Life is really back to basic here. Once it’s dark, there is basically nothing to do here other than playing card games or alike.
Getting to know the village
During the interviews I’ve seen a lot of the houses of this village, both from the outside as inside. It’s great to experience! In the Netherlands, I’ve seen plenty of homes from the inside for my work. If I had to work in this village, any relocation will be done within 10 minutes (max!). The amount of stuff owned is really basic and just to the core: no more then you need. That’s just the way how it should be, isn’t it? Not owning to much stuff, or the stuff you own owns you.
The people are so friendly! At most places we visit, we get tea, mango, cookies or whatever is available in their houses. And they are open for a good conversation, even if it takes an hour / hour and a half. This is just another good example of the polychromic time orientation over here. Deadlines?What’s that? Are you too busy? Are you sure?
Some hilarious situations also occur. During one conversation, someone just started welding 5 meters away from an interview. And what about an extensive guidance through someone’s farm? Tasting some fresh products out of the field? Or if some bystander walked along, just get involved in the conversation and change the subject for a period. Are you in a hurry mood? Bad luck over here. I just love it. Who needs the stress of deadlines anyway? Or occupying a large amount of your time on some work that has no added value for society anyway?
At one house there was a reminder of the real threat of conflict with elephants, which don’t care about human made boundaries. A lady encountered an elephant attack at her home. Can you imagine that you’re sleeping in your home and suddenly you wake up by the sound of an elephant wrecking your house? She managed to chase the elephant away by firecrackers. But the damage on her house is a reminder of that attack…
Because of the human-elephant conflict, some people can become really angry and desperate on elephants causing crop/home damage and fatalities. At one afternoon, I was in the tree hut when suddenly a motorcycle approached with two poachers. They didn’t notice us: the focus was totally on the elephant 50 meters away from the road. We saw the big rifle being carried; the passenger hopped off and went straight into the bushes to shoot the elephant. Immediately I took pictures of the guys, when my internship guide confronted the men from the tree hut. They clearly were shocked to get caught, and then they saw the westerners (me and an American lady) taking pictures of them from the tree hut. My heart stopped. Fear and insecurity was kicking in at all of us. This situation can get out of control badly if the wrong decisions are made at this point.
Our guide stayed calm, although he had fear as well, but didn’t show it. He chooses his words wisely to calm down the poachers, since they were very upset on us (and as turned out, they were drunk as well). After having a long and heated chat with the poachers, they immediately left when another vehicle was approaching. Getting seen once is enough, and in fear of retaliation, they didn’t got arrested or declared at the police.
I realized how lucky we were, and how easily the situation could possibly escalate. They were drunk, young, had a big loaded rifle, didn’t care about the things they wanted to do,they were in a shock of being caught and we had no means of getting away quickly since our driver was not on the scene. The tactful approach of my guide helped to keep the situation under control and not to escalate it.I will miss him, he is a great guy…
End of internship
As part of my research, I have to give a presentation to the local school children about water management. The difference in age is huge, and the subject is quite hard to explain. So keep it simple: using inspirational photographs, simple to understand examples and Google earth to explain big water issues here really worked out. It worked better then I dared to predict! (And this was the case with the interviewed adults as well). The gathered information and statistics of my research will be used by SLWS for future work to gain support of the local government, so things can be done!
The internship totally blew my mind and really exceeded my expectations. These two months were an unforgettable and valuable experience. It was the total picture of the internship: the guidance, the subject of the internship (water management), the working methods, the staff of SLWCS, the village, the food, the hospitality of the villagers, the conversations, the general culture, the duties for SLWCS besides of my internship, the foreign volunteers that stayed here during my time: The list is too long to summarize it all! But a summary would not be fair, because some things in life are indescribable: you have to experience them. This is one kind of those experiences. I felt very sad when I left the field house. I just don’t want to go yet….
Approaching the end
Although I’m in a wrecked condition on the last day, I feel very happy and satisfied about my internship and journey through Sri Lanka. It is a good moment to get flashbacks about all the things I’ve experienced in the last two months. So much happened in such a small period of time and things that happened just weeks ago feel very far away already. Although the main purpose was to do the internship, I also came here for some adventure and to kick me out of the daily routine. I totally got what I had in mind. The time here was incredible and unforgettable. I am extremely grateful that this unique chance was made possible in my life. I am thankful towards all the institutions and people that made this internship possible. And of course all the Sri Lankan and foreign people I met during my time here. The conversations and experiences I had with them contributed to my wonderful stay.
This (relatively) little Island has a special place in my heart for the rest of my life. I experienced the vast majority of the Sri Lankans as open, modest, kind and respectful. Although I had (of course) a culture shock at the start, I quickly felt very comfortable in this country. This society feels honest and equal, which I very liked. It’s still very hard for me to believe that this country had such a long internal war going on. I never ever felt unsafe in Sri Lanka (besides of some special situations). I can’t say the same about some ‘’developed’’ countries I’ve visited like the United States or France. Making a country rich doesn’t make them automatically wealthier.
The variation on such a small island is massive. The cultures, fauna, wildlife, geographical features, history, and climates: the list is very long. The government launched a PR campaign where Sri Lanka is called ‘’the wonder of Asia’’. I confirm that statement. This country has big potential and I’m very curious how it is 30 years from now on. I really hope this country won’t be ruined by potential mass tourism in the future, because this country doesn’t deserve such fate. The country is still quite authentic and off the beaten track, it feels special. That feeling is worth conserving.
That’s it. It’s time to go to the airport soon. I will miss this country. It is too early to leave yet.