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Sketches of life

I feel so behind in my updates… They are all bottled up inside, waiting to be poured out onto paper. I don’t know where to begin. Do I tell you about the Sinhala New Year celebrations? Or the little boy with whom I spent a good 20 minutes exchanging funny faces? Or the family who lives on the street corner? Or updates from Ma-Sevana? This email will be a bit of a sketch, painting small images of important moments over my last two weeks.

Sketch 1. I walk down Galle Road with a friend. We had just finished dinner. In the heart of Colombo I am used to passing beggars, generally small children who are hungry or adults who have some sort of disability. My heart always sinks when I see a new problem. Legs so swollen and lumpy they are as big around as watermelons, attached to a body that is malnourished and wasting away. Massive bumps and oozing sores. Missing limbs are quite common too. At first I gave money. Then I realized that my few rupees would not help these individuals to build capacity in any sense and would be better spent in one lump sum, invested in one individual to develop a meaningful life that can support and uplift those in their sphere of influence as well. Upon this realization I began to avert my eyes. But, I realized that in doing so I was neglecting their humanity. Everyone deserves a smile. I now look and smile, even though it comes at the price of additional begging. In some ways I have become numb to it. But, on this night with my friend on Galle Road, I saw an image that I wont forget.

A happy child with a surprisingly round belly prances excitedly on the street corner, watching as his mother sets out his bed for the night: a small sheet of cardboard. He looks well fed, happy, so content with life. His mother has just enough cardboard for him. She smooths it out carefully. He will sleep there, under the stars, next to the cars. She will sleep there too, next to him, her arm stretching gracefully over him, rubbing his back as he falls asleep. She will sleep on the sidewalk. There is not enough cardboard for them both. Yet, as I walk by, they both smile. They don’t ask for money. They are happy. Content. Life is simple but sufficient. I am so overwhelmed in emotion. It hits me when I am about a block further that I want to give them something. But I didn’t turn around. Part of me thought I should, part of me thought I shouldn’t. I was happy and sad at the same time, a deep emotion that made my heart feel a little heavy but also brought about an appreciation for the simplicity and beauty of love and family. I wont forget them.

Sketch 2. There is a row of 15 or so boys in front of me. They are crouched over, ready to sprint towards the buns. A string about waste high stretches across the road about 20 feet in front of them. Dangling from the string, about knee high, are 15 buns- one for each boy. The boys’ hands are tied behind their backs. The objective is to finish their bun first. They must run to the buns, crouch over and try to eat the bun in front of them as it swings bag and forth and hits them in the face, no hand to steady the string. The whistle blows and the small boys run and slide to their knees. They all have different techniques for stuffing their faces. A whole crown gathers around and laughs. One boy finishes. Another and another. The last one has a bun that has fallen off the string. He is sitting on his knees, crouched over, eating the bun off the ground. The crowd cheers him on. He is almost finished. Done. The game is over. Just one of many for the New Year…

Sketch 3. Yohan sticks out his tongue. He is about 3 years old, the beautiful son of Arjuna, one of the girls I work with. I stick out my tongue back. He nearly falls over laughing and does it again. Then he starts making other faces– stretching out his cheeks, pulling on his ears, and closing one eye. I keep mirroring him. Then it my turn. I too make faces and he does his best to copy them, often attempting unsuccessfully and laughing at himself. Then I blow a kiss and he looks surprised and runs behind his mom, peering out slowly and giggling. I have embarrassed him. Our game continues for at least 15 minutes until my cheeks are sore from all the different faces. Exercise for your face. Yohan is precious. He runs over and squeezes my legs and lifts his arms up and jumps up and down. He wants to be held. I pick him up and spin him around and he clings to me. He wont let me put him down. I held him all morning. Every time I come now he runs to the gate. “Alia Miss! Alia Miss!” That’s what the girls call me and that’s what he calls me too. I often wish I could scoop him up and bring him home. I know that by the time Arjuna is 18 and can give him up for adoption, he will be much too old to be adopted in Sri Lanka. He has a tough road in front of him but such a joyous spirit.

Sketch 4. Ma-Sevana is boisterous. They are acting more like children than ever. A few girls snuck out at night last week to meet some local boys who had been painting their building earlier that week. They exchanged conversation across the fence before the matron caught them. The matron was horrified but I found the situation slightly amusing. They are teenage girls who never get to see boys. Their security is obviously of tremendous importance. But, I couldn’t help but smile to myself at the thought of Roshenara, an incredibly sweet and reserved girl who came at 11 and now just turned 15, sneaking out at 10:30 after the matrons had gone to bed to do something a little rebellious. In some ways, this episode that had all of Sarvodaya concerned made me happy. The girls are alive, alive in flesh and spirit.

Class this week was loud and alive too. The girl’s couldn’t get enough of the beading. Nirmali, a tiny girl, was especially excited by the long necklaces we are making that can be wrapped around up to 3 times. She held up her finished product eye level and it stretched all the way down to the floor. She giggled. It was as long as her! Other’s laughed too.

Things are busier than ever. I am working hard to wrap up my time here. The moments are blurring together with an occasional snapshop captured poignantly between those that have passed. And they will keep coming. It’s going to be hard to leave the family I have found here. There have been many special moments…. So many special moments… Thought I’d let you in on a few.

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