The five-hour drive from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya (pronounced, more or less, â€œNor-REL-iyaâ€) takes us a mile-and-a-quarter above the Indian Ocean, a rise accompanied by a delicious drop in temperature. It is a swerving, unnerving, rough-road journey that, eventually, delivers us back to tea country.
After a quick stop by the Palm Foundation office (â€œParticipatory & Action Learning Methodologies,â€ where weâ€™ll be working for the next two months), our driver, Lal, takes us across the valley, through town, and up again to our accommodations in Toppass. It is a simple guesthouse with a broad, sublime view of Nuwara Eliya below and the protected forest above. The Palm Foundation owns the land and plans on using the guesthouse to generate much needed revenue. It is a simple, cozy, boxy affair; our room is clean, has a great desk with a view, and three fleece blankets and hot water â€œgeyzerâ€ ensure we wonâ€™t go cold.
The view from our front-yard organic cabbage patch:
Our five housemates are all employees and volunteers for Palm; allow me to introduce them:
Saman is Palmâ€™s Team Leader and co-founder, and has been with the organization since its formation 15 years ago. He commutes nearly three hours each Monday morning from his home and family in Kandy. Saman was trained in engineering, but ended up in the non-profit sector and now oversees some 90 Palm activists. His passionsâ€”in addition to community developmentâ€”are biodynamic farming, creating life-size sculpture out of car putty (one piece is displayed in front of the Catholic Church, although he is a devout Buddhist), and visiting his family on weekends.
Sabah, the Toppass caretaker, is also our cook and general worrying mother figure. He is from a village a few hours away and gets to see his family every couple of weeks. Sabah kindly offers to customize our Sri Lankan menu, which he has specially toned down (spicy-wise, anyway) for Lasloâ€™s delicate palate, and we tell him he can crank it back up when they leave. Once, after we request protein in our breakfast, meaning eggs, he serves up a selection of soybeans, chickpeas, and a pair of chicken sausages, in a beautiful presentation atop lettuce and tomato.
Laslo and Noelle are fellow volun-touring globe-trotters who, between the two of them, have worked, studied, and lived abroad in Japan, Pakistan, Benin, and the Northern Canadian Territories. They are on their way back home to Canada after two years abroad in Brisbane, where Noelle just earned a Mastersâ€™ in â€œPeace and Conflict Resolution.â€ We are lucky to overlap with them for a week, to help ease our transition. Laslo has been working for the last few weeks on creating a new website for Palm, one of the projects with which I am charged; he has technical skills that I do not, so we are putting our heads together until they leave next week and I take over on the content. They live across the dining room, where we all gather for our daily board.
There are a few other housemates as well: Susil occasionally crashes upstairs, as do other Palm folks, and the opportunities for sitcom-style zaniness haven’t been this good since the Bengal Bunch, during our last AJWS assignment in India.