Friday, December 6, 2013

Hello again family and friends!  Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  For my Thanksgiving, a friend and I made a complete mess of ourselves eating Jaffna crabs.  Then we went for ice cream sundaes and drinks on the beach.  It wasn't turkey, but it was a great night nonetheless.  The next day I held my ballet workshop at the Fulbright Commission.  Nearly 30 people showed up for each of the children's and adults' classes.  It was so packed that moving around was a bit difficult, but I was happy to have attracted such a crowd.  The students really seemed to enjoy the class, and there will be another workshop on January 24th.

Dance workshop at the Fulbright Commission
Last weekend I moved to Kandy to begin lessons with the Surasenas.  Master Peter Surasena is a famous traditional dancer and his son Janika is a well-known dancer as well.  Both have performed Kandyan dance abroad.  Every day I have dancing class for about and hour and a half and then drumming for another half hour, plus I'm expected to practice every morning.  Both father and son teach and play the drum for me, and a 16-year-old student of Surasena's named Tishani helps demonstrate.  They seem to think I'm doing very well.  Their school is having a performance in February and they've asked me to perform a Kandyan piece as well as a ballet piece.  Considering how long it's been since I've performed ballet, should be... interesting.  Thankfully there is so little ballet in Sri Lanka that no one will know how terrible I am right now.

I'm currently living with the son Janika and his family.  There is a studio in the house and the father Peter lives next door.  All my food is provided, so there is no need to ever leave the house.  I can laze around cross stitching all day or play with my nangi (little sister) and malli (little brother) who are ridiculously adorable, good kids.  Yesterday I woke up from my nap to a little voice saying "Sarah-akki" (big sister) outside my door.  I opened it and my malli led me downstairs to where the two of them had made me a snack.  Made my week.  Today I bought some thread so we can make friendship bracelets.  Finally I get to hang out with people who share my love of crafts.  I thought I didn't like Sri Lankan food, but Janika's wife Inoka makes some delicious grub.  Yes, it's mostly curry, but I have a secret chocolate stash to add some variety.  Lastly, it's gloriously cool here.  Some nights I can sleep in a sweatshirt!  All in all, Kandy has been an extremely pleasant change of pace.         

Nangi playing with cards...

And malli.  We knocked over cards all day.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My dancin' outfit!

I've been in Sri Lanka now for about as long as I was here last time.  This is a bit of a turning point for me (dancer pun intended).  I feel a bit like Samwise Gamgee leaving the Shire: "If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been."

When I'm not sick, dance has been going well.  Kandyan dance continues to be difficult.  I realize how much I like doing things that I'm already good at, so starting as a beginner has been challenging.  As respite, I took a ballet class in Colombo the other night.  After class, the school's owner asked me to teach ballet and contemporary workshops.  I've never taught contemporary before, but I'm looking forward to choreographing my own combinations.  Perhaps this could lead to more choreography work when I return to the States.  The workshop I'm conducting at the Fulbright Commission at the end of November is drawing nearer, and the word is spreading around dance communities in Colombo.  Hopefully I'll get a good turnout.  We're thinking about making this an ongoing class with a small performance at the end of March.  I'm very much looking forward to my choreographic debut!

Now I'm sitting at Barefoot café, waiting for bar trivia to commence.  It's fairly easy in Colombo to live a life similar to what I'd experience in the States.  To be honest, I'm a bit nervous about moving to Kandy in December because it's much more difficult to live a western lifestyle.  In Kandy, things shut down at around 6:00 pm and there are far fewer opportunities to make friends.  Good thing I have my cross stitch and This American Life to keep me company.  I'm constantly looking forward to visits from family members.  I would also very much appreciate letters or postcards.  I haven't given out my address yet because I've had a bit of a shaky living situation, but I'll send out my Kandy address once I get there.  Write a return address, and I'll send something back!  


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Don't worry folks, I'm still alive, but just barely.  I've spent the last several days battling a flu-like illness.  I suppose it wasn't THAT bad, but I could've really used some sort of mom-like figure to take care of me.  The other Fulbrighters did a great job making sure I was fed and comfortable while sad, sick me crashed on their couch.  Unfortunately for me, almost all of them left Colombo today for their teaching or research posts.  But now I have friends to visit in many interesting locales.

A couple of weeks ago I made a short trip to Kandy.  I visited my old host family, who were much like I had remembered them.  My host grandfather can't speak much due to illness, but in greeting he just gave me a little slap across the face much to my host grandma's amusement.  Good ol' aththaa.  I also paid a visit to my guru and one of the most well-known traditional dancers in Sri Lanka, Mr. Peter Surasena.  He lives next door to his son, also a dancer, who has a dance studio in his house.  I will live with the son, his wife, and their two adorable children while I am training in Kandy, beginning in December.  It's a beautiful area, surrounded by palm trees and paddy fields, and not nearly as sweltering as Colombo. Much to look forward to.

This weekend I took a day trip to Galle with two Sri Lankan friends to show me around.  The Dutch colonial fort in Galle is quaint as can be.  We also stopped by the resort town of Unawatuna, just a few minutes' drive from Galle.  I got overly excited about the ocean and jumped right in.  It was absolutely glorious. 

Life aside from weekend excursions is business as usual. Dance is beginning to hurt less, and I'm catching up on the steps rather quickly.  It feels great to have had a good workout and feel exhausted at the end of the day.  In addition, the Fulbright commission has asked me to put on a dance workshop for the community at the end of the month.  It will be a good experience to be in charge of such a project. 

There have been some expected and unexpected challenges living here, but with each one I learn so much and am stronger for it.  I've been managing to survive, learn dance, and have some fun, so I can't ask for much more. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I made another curry!  I should probably re-title this blog, "Culinary Expeditions of a Fulbrighter in Sri Lanka."  This time, it was a chicken curry with cinnamon sticks and cardamom in addition to the roasted curry powder, turmeric, and curry leaves.  Amazingly, it was even more delicious than the first curry.  For dessert I mashed up some microwaved butternut squash with butter and salt.  And for second dessert, an orange.  I make do with what I have. 

I have rediscovered curd, and it is better than ever.  I'm not sure how curd is made, but it's a dairy product similar in taste and texture to Greek yogurt.  Paired with kithul treacle (a syrupy product of the kithul tree), curd is exceptionally delightful.  Unfortunately, my fridge is broken.  It's not nearly as cold in there as it should be, so all my dairy and meat products are going in the slightly colder freezer.  With my big tub of melted strawberry ice cream.  Breaks my heart.

In other news, I made a friend(!) in my Sinhala conversation class and she invited me to an exercise class in the park.  So on my day off of dance, I dragged my exhausted backside to the park dreading the exercise but hoping to make more friends.  By the end of the class, my red Mathnasium t-shirt was drenched (shout-out!) but I had some new potential friend material.  I feel like a wild Sri Lankan leopard stalking my friend-prey and waiting a socially acceptable amount of time to pounce on the opportunity for a coffee date. 

I'm keeping busy enough to keep from being homesick most of the time.  However, there are some aspects of life here that get to me at times.  Like tiny biting ants all over everything in my apartment.  Or tuk tuk drivers who can't get a hint that I'm not in a talking kind of mood.  Or being sweaty all. the. time.  But despite these inconveniences, this place is starting to feel like home.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Triumph of the month:  I made curry.  And it was delicious.  Today I shelled out for a $30 cookbook, but I needed help, and badly.  In it I found a recipe for a cauliflower, cashew, and green pea curry that looked doable.  So off I went to the supermarket, where the exceedingly helpful staff marveled at the fact that I was about to make something quite possibly edible.  I had to find such ingredients as coconut milk powder and karapincha, which are fresh Sri Lankan curry leaves.  The cashews got a bit toasty and I can't say that no cookware was harmed in the process, but I came out with a delicious meal and leftovers for days.  (But not too many days.  Thanks for that lesson, lasagna.)

I am still incredibly sore.  The entire Kandyan dance technique is based upon one position called the mandiya.  This is a turned out, very deep second position plié.  In other words, you stand with your feet far apart and turned out and then bend the knees at a 90 degree angle.  I'm getting quite the quad workout, to say the least.  We also work out our abs, arms, backs, faces, and eyebrows.  I'm especially good at the eyebrows. 

I had the opportunity to take a private ballet class last weekend with Niloufer Pieris, a Sri Lankan woman who was the first Asian to join the Royal Ballet.  She noted that I had good training and lamented the fact that there is no good ballet to be seen in Sri Lanka.  Having studied Kandyan dance as well as ballet, she had some fascinating opinions and projects in the works. I certainly hope to spend more time with her. 

Living alone in a different country can be very lonely at times, but I've been making a few friends.  By chance, I met the entire American embassy staff at Sri Lankan Oktoberfest.  I had tea with an artist from New York living in Colombo who is helping me figure out how to cook.  I just dropped by for a glass of wine with my neighbor, a beautiful but eccentric Austrian woman who used to be a flight attendant.  It's easy to relate to foreigners but it's more difficult to make friends with the locals, who aren't necessarily looking for a giant, clueless, American friend.   I can only hope that someone will find me endearing.  At least I could make them some curry.

I made this!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A temple on a lake in the heart of Colombo
I haven't been this sore in a while, and I feel great.  Yesterday was my first class at Chitrasena School, which just happened to be a fitness/conditioning class.  It may be a sign you're out of shape when the first thing the teacher says to you after class is, "Are you okay?"  It was difficult to physically keep up with the other students (all college-aged), especially because of the climate.  Today's 1.5 hour private lesson was a bit lighter on the cardio and more focused on basic dance exercises.  Many of the warmup exercises were influenced by ballet; We did movements comparable to plies, releves, and rond de jambs (for you dance folks).  Both yesterday's and today's classes incorporated yoga and floor exercises.  If I don't have a sixpack when I get back, I'll be a monkey's uncle.  I have the day off tomorrow, but Thursday I have a private class in the morning and then a group class in the afternoon.  With nine year olds.  I sincerely hope I'll be able to keep up.
I enrolled myself in a Sinhala conversation class, the first of which was tonight.  It was great to practice my Sinhala and review what I learned this summer.  Plus, there's endless milk tea.  I'm also hoping to take private lessons to learn some dance vocabulary, among other things. 
Other tidbits:  I miserably failed at making stir fry last night.  A cockroach showed up in my apartment for the first time but I was too scared to squish him so I just let him be.  I can only assume he scuttled back into the hellish abyss from whence he came.  I've found a vegetable guy and a fruit lady and made friends with the mechanics at the garage in my neighborhood.  Now it's time to wind down by watching CNN and eating my nightly orange.  Who knows, maybe I'll even cross stitch.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

It's been a week now since I arrived in Sri Lanka, and for the most part things are swell.  After a brief stay in a quaint guest house I moved into my apartment in Nawala, a neighborhood south of the heart of Colombo.  I'm in the lap of luxury here with Wi-Fi, hot water, and a delightfully pink mosquito net.   The apartment sits atop the home of my landlords, who I'm sure are growing weary of coming upstairs to show me how to turn on the oven or use the TV.  I still can't figure out the microwave, but I've limited myself to at most two technical revelations per day for sake of my landlords' sanity.

Indeed, my most profound questions so far have all started with, "How do I _____?"  For example, how do I cook here?  Many of my dietary staples in the States are either very expensive or unavailable. Because I'm not sure what to do with what ingredients are available, each shopping trip results in a rather eclectic assortment of goods.  The supermarket workers are kind and helpful, but they must wonder what I'm going to cook with eggplant, grapes, and pineapple jam.

Alongside learning the basics of living on the opposite side of the world, I'm diving right into my research.  Tomorrow I begin Kandyan dance lessons at the Chitrasena school.  Chitrasena is the most famous professional dance company in Sri Lanka, and many would say it's the best.  My first class is an hour-and-a-half private lesson with their principal dancer.  Holy moly, to say the least.  That said, I'd better switch off the Sri Lankan version of "Dancing With the Stars" and climb underneath my pretty pink mosquito net into bed.