Hello again, Sri Lanka! I’ve been here almost a month and have neglected this blog for the one Jesse and I share (check it out here). But here I am, and this afternoon – as I sit on a breezy porch on a tea estate in the south of the country and reflect on the past week I spent many hours north in hill country – I want to write about tea.
Tea means being in Sri Lanka again. It’s been months since I’ve had proper tea, and other than England, I’ve never traveled some place where I’ve had it more. And Sri Lanka part deux is pretty incredible. So far, it’s been full of tuk-tuk rides and beautiful views, head bobs and eating with my fingers, an international conference and a rewarding week teaching English to young students, new adventures shared with a very special someone, and, of course, myriad cups of the good stuff.
Tea means conversation. Sitting with Jesse and Chamindha last Sunday afternoon, we talked about ecotourism, camera accessories, and what Jesse and I had planned for our upcoming week of teaching at Seetha Eliya, a small rural school on the outskirts of Nuwara Eliya (Sri Lanka’s gorgeous hill country – see below). Our Periclean Scholars class visited this school back in January, but we weren’t able to spend much time here. Jesse and I were asked to return while we were in the country and spend a week engaging with the students – grades 1 through 11 – in English and teaching lessons. The week turned out to be one of the most rewarding of my life – more on that in the next post!
Tea means waking up, and it means rest. Jesse and I enjoyed about four cups of tea a day while in Nuwara Eliya, beginning with cups of milk tea brought to our room every morning by Chamindha’s incredibly gracious mother. We had tea at Seethaya Eliya during the “interval” (break between classes), again when we got home from school, and again before dinner (which we usually ate around 9 p.m.). And once or twice we drank it late at night when we stayed up jotting down notes for lesson plans, eating chocolate crackers, and getting warm and cozy under many layers of clothes.
Tea cultivates funny little cultural exchanges, like Jesse and I practicing Sinhala words with Chamindha: Big brother. Delicious food. Friend. Or, Chamindha telling us his thoughts on prices in the U.S.: “I have decided that in the U.S., the smaller a thing is, the more expensive it is.” Or, Chamindha telling me his thoughts on me: “You are always excited, Natalie. You are always excited, that is why you fell down in Homagama.” (Referring to my last night in Sri Lanka last January, when, thirty minutes before we Periclean Scholars were to leave for the airport, I ran into a ditch I didn’t see and ended up with my arm in a sling and a semester of physical therapy.)
Tea means warmth. Mornings and nights in Nuwara Eliya are pretty darn cold, and without any form of heat except for the kitchen stove fire used for cooking, we had to layer up in the house. No hot water meant we avoided bathing seeing as it’s not all that fun to strip down when it’s cold enough to see your breath. On Thursday night, though – after more than a couple of days without washing – I had a brilliant idea. I asked Chamindha’s mother – by motioning me scooping water onto my body and rubbing my arms because of the cold – for a pot of boiling water that I could take with me into the bathroom. She got a fire going and gave me the water, and I spent twenty glorious minutes mixing boiling water with the tap’s ice cold water to give myself a thorough, luxurious, bucket shower. (Maybe the strongest Laura Ingalls Wilder moment I’ve had to date.) While I was shampooing, I had one of those moments that I got so used to experiencing in Ghana: being so pleased with the smallest things. It felt so good being back in that mentality, one that I try hard to cultivate back in the U.S. But it’s not until you really “go without” that you realize the difference that things like a hot shower can make – and how to see the greatness is such seemingly small things.
Of course, there is such a thing as too much tea. And in that case, throw on a jacket, head out into the brisk Nuwara Eliya air, and take a walk around the lake until you find a nice spot where you can put your feet up and debrief your day of teaching over a nice, cold, Sri Lankan beer. :)