Day two was hard.
As part of the work of the project, volunteers spend a bit of time at the local special needs home once a week. In doing so yesterday, my heart broke. While the facility was clean and many of the "inmates" as they're called seemed happy and well cared-for, there were some sights that will not be easily forgotten. Residents were old and young, some able to walk around freely and others confined to rooms with windows or adult-sized cribs. Some appeared to have suffered only physical deformities or permanent injuries and were otherwise capable of anything, though because they'd likely been denied an education or abandoned by their parents, this was home. Others were more severely impacted and treated in ways similar to how they'd have been treated in the 19th century in the US. My eyes filled with tears at some sights that I'd prefer to forget but know that I won't and shouldn't. So much potential lost. These are the people that we see in the hallways in nearly every American school today. Who, with special programs, are able to lead lives of substance. Rosiee explained that the Sri Lankan government pays 50 rupees per day per "inmate". That's roughly 30 cents.
As an educator though, it's so important to remember that "our" way isn't perfect and isn't possible everywhere. I try to see that the ultimate impact of such a short volunteer stint isn't about me giving of myself to better another place. Instead, it's about going with an open heart and mind, willing to see the difficult things and also find the beauty in the things that are different. The change doesn't happen because of us, but to us.
After lunch (more rice and curry), Rosiee took a few of us to a jewelry shop. I had read of Sri Lanka's famed gems and simply needed to see for myself. Well...I may or may not have blown my budget when I fell in love with a gorgeous moonstone and sapphire ring. Oops.
Feeling a bit rejuvenated, we spent the afternoon at a local girls' orphanage. Walking in, the energy was contagious. We sat at tables amongst the girls as the more quiet wrote notes in small notebooks that we passed back and forth to allow them to practice English. Others wandered about, confidently asking on sing-song Sinhala-laced English, "And you-ah name?" "And where ah you from?"
Once again, as in Tanzania, my name proves difficult to pronounce.
But, the laughter and joy in the girls as they chattered in Sinahala and giggled when we couldn't understand a question or request made my heart full. We all laughed. Without warning, I felt hands in my hair. All of the volunteers with long hair were quickly given braids and adorned with clips (mine has some sort of Strawberry Shortcake character). A small bracelet was fastened around my wrist by a shy girl with bright eyes. A tiny sprite of maybe four or five in a red and black plaid dress with a broken back zipper placed a bit of blue clay in my palm. I molded it into a tiny cat. She laughed and ran around, showing others until her excitement squished it and she was back for repairs. We wrote and said the alphabet and she adjusted the clip in my hair a few times, skipping from side to side.
I'm fairly certain that I'd like to bring her home.
When time came for us to depart, all of the girls grabbed hands and followed us outside, standing and waving, yelling "Goot byeeee!" As we walked down the hill followed by a semi-stray dog who apparently spotted me as a sucker a mile away.
It didn't cool down much last night, and my sleep suffered. So, today's cleaning of elephant beds, especially now that the novelty has worn off, was really stinky. Which brings me to my next plight: how to get the stink of elephant dung off of your hands.
It's kind of impossible.
I wore gloves. I washed with just water (generally the only option). I washed with Wet Ones. Twice. I washed with hand sanitizer. No dice.
So, I had a tuk tuk take me to Food City. Now this was interesting. Imagine having twenty people watch you grocery shop in a place where you can read nothing and are suddenly immensely grateful for the great American branding machine (and free trade). I really wanted peanut butter. Or anything with protein in it, really. I ended up with some sort of yogurt, a Twix bar, some bottle water, what I hope is laundry detergent, and a small container of hand soap (attempt #4 at getting my hands to smell a tad less like elephant shit).
It worked. Well, it worked in the sense that for a few minutes my hands smelled like "Sea Scent" elephant shit. Then it just faded back to elephant shit. On the bright side, it made me less focused on peanut butter.
Tomorrow's Friday. I'm planning on leaving early with a hired driver to take me four hours north to Dambulla, where I'll tour ancient Buddhist temple caves. I may be joined by another volunteer, which would be nice. Then, I'll head to Sigirya, an ancient fortress built on top of a giant rock outcrop. On Sunday, I'll have my first adventure on the public bus system. This is where smelling like elephant poo may come in handy.
Afternoon means elephant bath time. Podi Raja was a tad feisty on Tuesday when we bathed him and the mahouts have separated him, thinking that he's nearing musth. So, we gave Loku Raja and Queenie a good scrubbing. It's important when bathing an elephant to ensure that one splashes said elephant with lots of water frequently. And as is inevitable on a hot day when bathing an elephant, a water fight with a mahout on one side, three volunteers on the other, and a giant tusker elephant in the middle ensued.
Check that one off the bucket list.