For my fieldwork research this summer, I went to Sri Lanka, a precious island country in the Indian Ocean for which I have much respect. After reviewing my diaries and photo library, I have finally decided to write about the people in Sri Lanka and their life. The main reasons for me to write about them are, firstly, that every story from the people there contributed to explanations and interpretation of my research results, and, more importantly, that these reflections may depict the rich reality of people’s lives in Sri Lanka.
Local bus in Karapitiya Town, Galle District
I am very conscious about how important it is to know about and work with local people in fieldwork research. Knowing more about people makes it easier to understand local situation and customs. Working closely with local people also helps to eliminate cultural and language barriers. People helped me so much in the field site, and in so many ways, that I will always be grateful.
On the highway to Dankotuwa town, Puttalam District
My preparation for the fieldwork helped me to know about the people there. I went to Sri Lanka equipped with what I read from various literature and videos. I learned some Sinhalese expressions which are commonly used in Sri Lanka. I learned the religious history and culture of the island, and I was very curious about how these had influenced Sri Lankan people’s way of life. I even dyed my red hair back to black before departure, because I guessed people there would prefer everything natural. All these preparations have helped me to acquire some preliminary knowledge of the local people and get ready for life in Sri Lanka, so I wasn’t feeling very surprised at the cultural differences I came across there. These preparations also let me be open-minded enough to accept and think about the discrepancies between assumptions and realities.
Typical Sri Lanka Curry and Rice Set
I worked very closely with my local partners. In addition to assisting with administrative things, transportation, and accommodations, my local partners also took me to local schools, hospitals, maternal health clinics, and various health offices and villages. From these experiences, I gained first-hand knowledge about local educational and health care resources and the real situations of people’s lives there. What I cared about were not just the “data” I need to collect but also the real situation there and what I could do to benefit those people through this fieldwork research. Therefore, I took every opportunity to talk with Sri Lankan people, including professors, health officers, physicians, patients in the clinics, landlord families, restaurant runners, guardians, and plenty of friends I met during my journeys.
Staff in Dankotuwa Health Office
Local Hindu Temple in Chilaw
While most Sri Lankan people believe in Buddhism, several other religious beliefs, including Hinduism, Catholicism, Islam, and Christianity, are respected in this island. One old man told me the Buddhist history in Anuradhapura, an ancient city in central northern Sri Lanka. After that I met two Sri Lankan friends in Dambulla city, where the Golden Temple is located. I climbed the mountain before dawn, then I prayed with these two friends in the Golden temple. I wasn’t seeking for personal advice from the statue, though; instead, when I sat down in front of the Buddha statue, I was praying for people who are suffering from disasters, diseases, relationships, and emotions. When I finished praying, I looked at the two friends. They were so peaceful and compassionate. They told me they came from Colombo City to Dambulla City to visit the Golden Temple every month. Another told me that he would listen to the broadcast of the “luck prediction” early every morning and pray for every brand-new day. I stayed with a Catholic family in Dankotuwa, a town where I stayed two weeks and met so many good friends. They like fresh flowers, and the mother of the family treated me like her sibling.
Local customs for coming customers – dipping water before meal
Sri Lankan people pay uniquely sensitive attention to nature, life, and the people around them. They show a tremendous awe toward nature. In the Horton Plains national park, I came across a Sri Lankan boy dissuading a foreign tourist from smoking by telling him how precious the forest is and why he should not have smoked there. I was so impressed by his serious look and what he said to the tourist. Sri Lankan people also have extraordinarily respect for life. I ate meals using my right hand as they do, because I appreciate their belief that using the hand to sense the temperature and mixture of food helps them to enjoy the food better. I also adapted myself to their way of walking in the room using bare feet. I gradually realized how the damp cold after the rain, as well as the burning sunlight, helped with sensations of skin and inside. Sri Lankan people are also very attentive to people around them, and usually don’t avoid eye contact with others, even strangers on the street. They pay attention to people’s expressions, feelings, personalities, and experiences. Finally, they care for the people around them, so the community is tightly connected and everyone is supported by one another.
Jungle beach in Galle District
All of these memories and stories are just a small part of my fieldwork. I would end this blog with what I learned from the Sri Lankan people about the fruit seed shown in the next photo. My Sri Lankan friend told me to taste this vitamin-rich seed because it is unlike any other mildly sweet fruit. It tastes bitter first, then it turns sour, and then the taste seems to fade away; but, if you then drink plain water, it tastes slightly sweet. If I had just swallowed it, this amazing fruit seed would have only contributed to my satiety. Everything fascinating deserves more sensitivity, patience, and reflection from us to truly enjoy it. This piece of philosophy from Sri Lankan life is simple, and it is embedded and reflected in every process of life.
Fruit seed gathered from Puttalam District Health Office