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Sri Lanka April 2010 Update

Can’t remember when it started, but the Soodin kids now call me “Jon-uncle.” So sweet, really, as long as they don’t start calling me, “Jon-uncle Buck.”

you know you’ve been accepted when they start ignoring your constant presence

Laid Up In The Lank

Just got over being really sick. Four days in bed with chills, fever, aches, pains, sore throat, cough, you name it. Ten days later and I am not completely well—I was weak and out of shape to begin with, but this episode sapped the last of my strength. At first I thought it was malaria, but it was not. I must say, that being really ill far from home with no reliable medical help nearby is not all that calming; I was pretty scared, but handled it with as much vipassana/equanimity as I could muster. There were a couple of moments of amusement, though. When a doctor did come to my room and was listening to my chest with her stethoscope, she asked if I had been spending time with the “village people,” because I might have “jungle fever.” I had to laugh as I explained that I don’t know Spike Lee, but I saw Alan Carr in Cherry Grove once. I gave her my best rendition of “Y.M.C.A” to prove it. That might have been the cure, actually, because my fever broke the next day.

wondering if the house or i will be done first

Existential Angst

Waiting for the windows and doors for the Soodin house is taking it’s toll, too—I am not good at just sitting around, no matter how many hours a day I can meditate. Hambantota is a much smaller town than Batticaloa, hence there are no saw mills that fabricate doors and windows on demand. Our carpenters are making them all by hand. Also, we are far away from the forests where the wood comes from, AND there is no railroad servicing this area, therefore, the cost is much higher, too.

teak and mahogany are the “cheap” woods here

like anywhere, sometimes you got to grease the wheels to get things done

BUT they are almost done and installed. I might not be here for the final photograph, but Roy will forward the “ribbon cutting” image, as it were.

remember the old house and kitchen?

new kitchen ready for the Viking stove and the Sub Zero fridge. is that a pizza oven?

I feel pretty good about all that we accomplished in this trip: one house built from the ground up, two others completed, and two tsunami orphans sponsored. The schedules and budgets, as well as we could have projected, worked out almost perfectly. I have to say, though, that sometimes it felt like it was only by the force of my will that things happened—physically and metaphysically. So I guess anything is possible.

ATM Madness

Is it me, or do you think it’s strange to be able to go to a cash machine and, over the course of a few days, withdraw enough money to build a house? I don’t think this would get you very far back home—you might reach the daily limit be the time you bought a few items at Home Depot—but maybe I just haven’t checked the “quick cash” options in a while: $100 … $200 … $600,000?

Fun Facts About The Lank

Here are some things about Sri Lanka that I have not reported, because they are so familiar to me, but I realize they might be news to you:

They eat with their hands here … or more specifically, their right hand. They say it’s the only way to properly mix and enjoy all the flavors of the different curries. I don’t really buy it; it just seems like a good way to legitimize playing with your food. I’m into it, though, and never ask for a fork or spoon. I think I’ll try it at Spago when I return.

By the way, the left hand is used for “unmentionables.” I don’t know what unmentionables they do with their left hand, I use my right for everything. They’d be horrified if they knew! Speaking of which, they don’t use toilet paper either—hence the unmentionables—just a water spritzer and the aforementioned left hand. There is a lot of hand washing here, though, which is nice.

try to guess which one’s the shower

OK, don’t get me started: they haven’t invented shower curtains, either. The showerheads in the bathrooms just stick out of the walls in random places, thus the entire bathroom gets sprayed. One way or another the bathroom floor is constantly wet in some places. I don’t know about you, but I like a dry floor in the bathroom, especially if I am barefoot—which is always, indoors. Also, I haven’t been in a place with a hot-water shower since I arrived; and believe it or not, even in the tropics, a warm shower is often quite welcome. Anyway…

They drive on the left side here—that is when they’re not driving down the middle of the road or swerving into oncoming traffic.

this truck must be broken, because normally the only time you see it is when it’s bearing down on you at 80 miles per hour honking its horn

not that they need it, but some people super charge their tuk-tuk

And they added a half hour to their time zone so they wouldn’t be like India; therefore Sri Lanka is 12.5 hours ahead of California—just for the record.

We’re All The Same

At first, things in a foreign land seem unusual, strange, or scary, but when you think about it, we’re all human and share the same planet, so the variations are only that: slight differences, really. Most cultures have some sort of fried dough with sugar on it: doughnuts, beignets, or churros; here they have rotty. Clothes are basically the same and serve a particular function–shirts, skirts, pants, hats, and sandals.

“rotty” is the general term for all snacks

And even the animals: Here they have cobras, in the U.S we have rattlesnakes; here they have monitor lizards, in the U.S. we have alligators; here they have blood-sucking leeches, in the U.S. we have blood-sucking tics; here they have elephants… well, we don’t have elephants, that’s true, but you know what I mean.

Regards from Ceylon,


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