It’s raining in Nuwara Eliya, most evenings and nights; bone-chilling, pre-monsoon stretches of wet that an expat friends compares to Scotland. After pleasant, light-filled mornings, storm clouds gather in the afternoons, but different from the breezy, faraway storms of March. Sri Lanka’s April showers are vast, gray things that filter the ridge lines into gray-green panoramas, one behind the other.
After a week in Hikkaduwa, the PALM office buzzes as intensely as it did before the annual report deadline and Tamil New Yearâ€™s holiday a few weeks ago. Iâ€™d thought things would mellow after sending out the 200-page document. I was wrong. Not only is PALM one of the hardest-working NGOs Iâ€™ve seen (possibly to a fault), but Iâ€™m trying to finish all my assigned projects before we depart next week: this includes launching two websites, designing a brochure, conducting writing workshops, etc. These activities fill long, wet days, so I am only too glad when Pushpa invites me to teach at several tea plantation communities.
In two months, this is only my second day in the field. Instead of weeks at a time in the backcountry (as Iâ€™ve experienced with other jobs), I spend most days on the computer; kind of a lame way to travel. But then I remember the satisfaction of solving problems, many little obstacles within bigger, important challenges; problems to be solved, skills to be learned, tangible results. This is the stuff of a successful volunteer assignment. For me.
Things are different with Tayâ€™s health education work for PALM, which has proved much more, um, elusive, than my well-defined list of projects.
Finally though, she gets to teach. The classes are about pregnancy and reproductive health, subjects which, as a labor and delivery nurse, doula, and African midwife trainer, are her passions. Sex ed is virtually non-existent in Sri Lanka, so her students are eager for information, especially in her first session with all of PALM’s community health promoters. Six classes are planned; Tay expects half of them to be cancelled but is grateful and excited for what remains (they are, she knows, preparing her for the next gig in Ghana).
As for me, Pushpa wants me to talk about waste management and water source protection to two Community-Based Organizations which have recently completed drinking water projects (CBOs are the building block of PALMâ€™s grassroots development approach) . These are subjects I taught in the Peace Corps, seven years ago. I assume the information is still there in my head. It is, and despite a long day in the back of Tilakâ€™s blue truck, and being two hours late for my second session, it goes well and we return to Top Pass at 9 p.m.
Besides my one day in the field teaching enviro topics on Earth Day, our last two weeks in Nuwara Eliya is office time, punctuated by a couple of lovely walks in the surrounding piney woods, and also by Sabahâ€™s curry, which sings even louder as we approach our departure.
One night, Sabah puts on his best kitchen whites: sarong and jacket spotless, body erect and serious as he serves yet another vegetable-garlic-egg soup special. We lavish each dish with praise in between mouthfuls, fingers dripping with coconut and chili-infused gravy, reds and browns and always the yellow dahl and rice and shredded vegetable sambors. In two months, we do not eat dinner out in Nuwara Eliya town once, because of Sabahâ€™s cooking.
I’ve mentioned his meals before, and can’t resist doing so again. They are fresh and healthy and spicy and enormous and almost always contain organic veggies from our frontyard.
Happy Earth Day.