Today I am 23. It is not a monumental age in our culture – I can't suddenly vote or buy intoxicants, and paying a reasonable price for a rental car is still years away. But this birthday seems significant to me. I have at last broken out of the incubating cocoon of undergraduate life. I am exploring a new country. I am working, and getting paid for it (a novel experience in my service career!). I am hunting for my first apartment. I am finding my feet.
Me and my housemates out for birthday dinner.
Very appropriately I think, I have spent my birthday finalizing this transition to semi-adulthood. I attended a presentation about development in Colombo at my internship, had a meeting about a paper I am co-authoring, and met with my supervisor at the University of Colombo to discuss my teaching schedule. It is a day full of gifts. My teaching schedule, as it turns out, is very light. I am teaching one class 4 hours a week to students about to graduate from the faculty of sciences. I will get to teach the fun things: practicing speaking and presentations and writing for jobs. It is a good use of a native speaker, as many students will work for international companies or apply for graduate schools abroad.
An outdoor hallway at the Faculty of Science
It also leaves me a tremendous amount of free time. I knew my schedule would be light, but leaving the office I felt I should pinch myself: only 4 hours teaching a week?! One of the great gifts of Fulbright Sri Lanka is that we get free reign of our time, and are encouraged to expand our engagement with Sri Lanka beyond our teaching. So I have begun an informal internship with a think tank called the Center for Poverty Analysis, or CEPA.
CEPA researches questions which fascinate me – has economic development in Sri Lanka benefited the poor, and if so how? What is the relationship between environmental degradation and poverty? How can post war reconciliation be combined with economic redevelopment? My first project is to co-author a paper on forced displacement of the urban poor. Once this project is done I'll write blogs and news articles summarizing their research. This work, too, is a gift. I am in Sri Lanka officially as a teacher, but I have always thought of myself as coming here to learn. This partnership will ensure that I do! For more information about CEPA, check out their website: cepa.lk/home.html
So grateful today for everything that I have. Learning – from how to find the best curry I've ever had in tiny grungy concrete storefronts, to the politics of economic development in Colombo. Friends – the amazing and fascinating people exploring this country on Fulbright with me. Beauty – the deep greens and vibrant sunsets of Sri Lanka. Freedom – these luxurious days as we learn Sinhala and settle in to Colombo.
It is a happy birthday indeed.
The beautiful beach near Colombo.
This is unedited - around sunset the sky is really that color.