Thursday, February 28, 2008

We traveled back to Colombo today, taking the shorter inland route that passed through a mountainous area. During the nearly six-hour trip, we observed an elephant walking down the road with its owner. Although modern equipment is primarily used for working purposes these days, there are still some Sri Lankans who prefer to use elephants.

We entered the city just as the schools were letting out for the day, and the traffic was like nothing I’d ever seen. Most of the roads are narrow with just one lane on each side. But, cars, tuk tuks (which are small, covered three-wheeled vehicles with a driver and room for passengers) and pedestrians skillfully maneuvered around each other in a chaotic and unorganized manner. Somehow this system seems to work – and with no obvious road rage. There is definitely a rhythm to the horn honking. Here, it is not a gesture of anger, as it is in the United States. Instead it is a way of warning, thanking and/or informing other drivers. It’s interesting, but at times unnerving to be a passenger in one of these cars!

The military presence is evident throughout the country. At one point, we passed what appeared to be a military base, but it was actually, a well-guarded water filtration plant. Security there was especially tight since threats to poison the water had been made by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group.

We met with our staff in Colombo for a bit and enjoyed a tea party, a regular ritual that’s served daily during mid-morning and mid-afternoon along with a variety of cakes and fresh fruits. I was told if you simply order tea, you will get tea with milk. If you don’t want milk, you should ask for “plain tea.”

We passed many tea plantations on our way to Colombo. Tea was first introduced to Sri Lanka in 1867 by a Scotsman, James Taylor, when he planted the first tea field near Kandy. Now tea is among the main agricultural outputs as well as one of the country’s top exports.

The popularity of tea was undoubtedly encouraged by the long presence of the British, who came to Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known for a long time, in the late 1700s. The country, which adopted the name Sri Lanka in 1972, was granted its independence in 1948. Sri Lanka recently celebrated its independence day, and many cars still proudly display the national flag on the front.

The final meeting with our CCF staff gave Anne an opportunity to present her impressions of the country and the programs CCF is conducting in Sri Lanka. Anne highlighted specific programs, including the school drop-out program and the Child Advisory Team initiative. Anne also pointed out the impressive protective web formed by the community and government supporting the well-being of children in Sri Lanka.

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