Sri Lanka

Remembering in December

My wandering field life passed the ten-year mark earlier this year. That’s ten years of finding my way into a new work environment and getting to know new colleagues once a year or so. In a more mundane way, it’s ten years worth of photo files to keep up-to-date and to try to remember to share on my blog. A cousin (thanks, Juliette!) noticed that the entries from my earliest days had lost their photos: mine was a rather early blog, and the ways of uploading photos have changed since then.  (Many of those earliest posts appear frankly so embarrassingly shallow to me now that I’m tempted to simply wave my editorial wand and have done with them…but thus far my sense for historical accuracy is controlling that temptation…) If my continued research succeeds, many of those photos will be directly restored onto the blog as I find their originals in backup hard drives and other obscure locations: ah, new year’s resolutions before the old year has even wrapped up!

In the meantime, I’m uncovering little treasures that never made it up here, while fondly remembering where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I was recently saddened to learn that Nancy Schrom Dye, former president of Oberlin College, had passed this year. During my years of active alumni-association work I greatly appreciated her contributions to my alma mater – so I was proud to join some other colleagues in taking her for an end-of-year meal which, the digital date stamp tells me, occurred in Beijing on December 31, in 2005. Up above are also a few rediscovered December 2005 Beijing-area shots which somehow didn’t get posted at the time. (Posting photos was more challenging in those early days…)

Just below are some previously-unposted 2015 shots: early-morning moonset at my home here in Haiti; me with my brother and a colleague when I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon University earlier this year; and some shots from the lovely Frick House & museum in Pittsburgh, from the same visit. And since this put me in the mood, I’ve wandered through the many countries & continents, family meals & trips & assignments on four continents that have filled the years between these two sets of photos so very fully. Assembling them’s been fun for me so I hope viewing them is fun for you too :-).

This time last year? In December 2014, I returned from Sierra Leone & later went with great friends to enjoy the Ai WeiWei exhibit on Alcatraz Island (more photos from that one in the original post….though that particular set of great friends – you know who you are! – are remarkably camera-resistant):

Where’d I spend 2013? Living in PNG, participating in meetings in Amsterdam & dive trips in Australia, then celebrating the holidays with Steve & Mom in New Zealand:

I began 2012 in the US (where I visited Washington, DC in cherry-blossom season), turned 50 in the company of Howard & Gene at Kakadu National Park in Australia, and finished the year in PNG:

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2011 was mostly Mweso, a little Lamu, a little London and a year-end back home seeing Frank Lloyd Wright homes of Pennsylvania with family:

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2010…wow, what a year. Just seeing all the continents and countries where I spent time (actually meaningful time, with friends and family and work) makes my head spin even now. The photos evoked so much for me that I just couldn’t narrow it down to three or four…so I’m giving you a lot from 2010, a mix of Manipur (start of year) and Mweso (end of year), with a sprinkling of Sweden, Berlin, Paris & California in between:

House, Valley, Hills on Hike - Pre-Monsoon Season

I entered 2009 in Tahiti, yes it’s true: during the year I took off from work to help Mom with her house, I dedicated two months to exploring Australia (and watching the Australian Open!) and New Zealand, flying in via Tahiti with a few nights in Papeete, just because I could. The year ended, of course, in Manipur and included a great trip to see excellent sites of Rajasthan with Howard & Gene:

Ngauruhoe Summit View of Lakes & Clouds

2008 started in Nigeria, and ended in Tahiti…with a lot of good work in Nigeria, a short assignment for the earthquake in China, visits in Germany with my exchange family friends there….and a good deal of time in and around NYC (Mom, aunt Judy & I enjoyed a harbor trip past Ellis Island where our own immigrant ancestors entered the country, and also a trip to our favorite sculpture park up th Husdon)…with a side trip for some hiking in Sequoia and other California adventures:
Rivers-Abia Border Boats & River

2007…I began the year based in Colombo but spend the new year’s period with Mom & Steve at  Angkor Wat, returned to Colombo to finish out an assignment, headed on for training in Paris where I also got celebrate Mom’s 71st birthday…back to the US to reorganize my life after my first two years in the field, and then off for a new assignment in Nigeria. At the time it felt big. Now it’s all fond memories:

…which will bring us back to year two of this current phase of life’s great adventure, the lovely year 2006. From Beijing & Yunnan in China, to Polonnaruwa & Sigiriya in Sri Lanka (where I was based at year’s end), with family time on Cumberland Island (Mom’s 70th birthday dinner!) and in Germany in between. With a special souvenir from Seoul, where I had the opportunity to work a bit with the young ladies pictured with their daffodils. In a small-world twist, I had dinner with one of those two young ladies just a few nights ago in Port au Prince, which she visits sometimes in her current work with the CDC. So much small world, so little time for it all. Happy end of 2015, and many good hopes for a 2016 of more peace and health to everyone, everywhere.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

A slice of village, and capital city, life in Sri Lanka: the bicycle-riding fresh-fish salesmen who sing out what they’re selling in Sinhala, then put a little cutting board on the street, chop off the head, then give you the portion you want. In this, taken just a block away from our office, I partcicularly like the cats waiting eagerly to grab any fresh fish they can escape with!

Four more Ella images, including one that shows you the roadwork being done to repair the washed out roads. As Toby said when I told him the Haputale trip was being canceled because of work: “Haputale is landsliding right now, so maybe it’s for the best.” In the end I escaped after all, and opted for Ella since the roads are more intact there, so less construction noise and dust.


SMW, SLT still comes to you from lovely Sri Lanka, down here surrounded by the Indian Ocean. My life, and my e-mails, have been too full of reality and news, or the lack thereof, for the past few months…so I’m gonna take a pass and tell you nothing more than that I’m still here, and will be until this blog tells you something different. Whenever that might be, I still can’t say. So sorry.

And yeah, lots more people have died here since last I wrote, the peace talks in Geneva don’t seem to have gone very far, and all kinds of other fine things you can read about by doing a few web searches for news items about Sri Lanka. (And yes, I still encourage you to do so: it’s good for us citizens of the planet to be aware of what’s happening on it.) But why, I ask, would you want me to tell you about all that depressing stuff when I can do a show and tell instead about my summer vacation, oops, I mean the beautiful and impressive things to be seen in Sigiriya, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa and Kandy?These are the magnificent water gardens at the base on the western side of the rock, the main entrance. It’s very impressive to walk up to the rock through these gardens.

You guessed it, you’re about to get a brief history of Sri Lanka. A very brief history, not to worry. The Veddah, SL’s ur-inhabitants, can be thought of as perhaps comparable to America’s ur-inhabitants: pushed out, killed and/or greatly reduced in number by later arrivals. There are some Veddah still remaining, but they’re not a demographic, political or cultural force. Sri Lankan culture as we know it today began being formed by immigrants from Northern India, who arrived most likely some time around the 6th Century BC. Sinhalese legend says the son of a north Indian king was exiled for some crime, and put in a boat with 700 men – the idea seems to have been “you can’t really kill the son of the king, but you can send him off to the open ocean and let him die there.” Legend says he landed in Sri Lanka on the same day the Buddha achieved enlightenment, over on the mainland.

Lion Staircase @ Sigiriya

Greatly telescoping, by around the 4th Century BC or so, a significant civilization had sprung up around Anuradhapura, where he and his descendants are said to have settled. Sri Lanka has three major historical capitals of which everyone talks. Anuradhapura reigned for more than a thousand years; when the south-Indian Chola dynasty conquered Anuradhapura in the late 10th Century AD, they established their new capital at Polonnaruwa, to better watch for opposition from other Sinhalese kingdoms and bases of power further south. Though Sri Lanka’s earlier-arriving north-Indian inhabitants and the later arrivals from south India got along reasonably well for several hundred years, it seems that by the late 5th Century, when an ousted Anuradhapura royal prince returned with south Indian mercenaries to retake his throne, those with hindsight can see the beginnings of many centuries of conflict between the Sinhalese and various populations originating in south India. Polonnaruwa was retaken by the Sinhalese fairly soon, and ruled as the major Sinhalese kingdom on the Island (pretty much no one ever ruled the whole island until the British took Kandy in 1815) for more than 200 years. After that, Sinhalese power moved south and west, and before long Europeans powers started taking their turns trying to profit from the island’s riches (in order, the Portuguese, the Dutch then the British).

These huge lion’s paws are all that remains of a massive 5th-century stone lion through which one entered the highest precinct of Sigiriya. Only the bottom-most stairs, between the paws, remain; after that you continue now up through footholds hammered into the rock. Given how massive the paws are, it’s intriguing to picture how it would have looked and felt to have had the whole lion there, leading you right up to the summit itself.

Ministry of Coconut Development

This is it, folks! My colleague, Thoshanka, doesn’t understand why I think it’s fabulous that Sri Lanka has a Ministry of Coconut Development. It’s the most natural thing in the world to her. And consider how abundant this natural resource is, here: it really does make sense. I think what tickles me is that it’s its own ministry – it doesn’t just fit in under something broader, like, say, Agriculture.