• Tara B. Vasi

Day 8 Sri Lanka (57): VERA LEAVES, Temple, Bad luck Kitty

I wake up just early enough to take puppy out, make a cup of coffee and throw on my white. Man, does it feel awkward to be in head to toe white. I barely get out of my bedroom before I see a dirt stain. This is a reason why monks/religious people wear white, to be supremely aware of where they sit and what they touch to make sure the white stays pristine for as long as possible. I need to work on my Spacial awareness.

We load up in the van and speed to the railway station. We are not late but the odometer gets up to 100 mph. I brought coffee to go in a plastic bottle like a dummy and have to wrap my dress around the bottom so I don’t burn my hand.

We get to the train station and Vera becomes a bit frantic. Chamara is buying her ticket when the train at the station starts to move. She runs to get on the train, but she doesn’t have the ticket, and the train isn’t the right train! What are you doing?? We ask. If she tries to get off without a ticket, she will be fined $100, and that’s not even the right train. We sort it out with her over many text messages as we drive to the next train station to give her the ticket. There is a huge language barrier and much confusion. She ends up getting another ticket and onto the correct train to Colombo.

We drive to the temple, the largest and most popular in the area. On the way we stop for a fruit platter, and a few bunches of flowers. Chamara tells me not to smell the flowers because it is bad luck. It would be the same as eating on of the bananas on the fruit platter before offering it the gods. I am extremely interested in buddhism. There are many many people there, despite the rain. Men, women, children, all wearing white, (For the most part) carrying flowers, fruit, and other offerings. There are a few white people, but mainly locals. I see one blended family, a white woman and her Sri Lankan husband and their three children. I think it’s so beautiful. The energy all around me is powerful.

The first of the month is the most important day to pray and Chamara tells me we will have to arrive extra extra early January 1st because its not only the start of the month, but the start of the year and the crowds are almost triple.

We park and walk up the hill to the temple and the large buddha statue at the center. Chamara hold the fruit platter covered in a silk fabric and I hold the flowers and an umbrella. We take our shoes off outside the temple and don’t wear them for the rest of the visit.

Chamara pops the flowers off the stems and tells me to use both hands when I place the flower on the table as an offering. I somehow forget on my walk to the statue, but the second time around I use both hands and apologize and bow to the gods with my hands at heart center. We walk around and pray to each statue of the many gods they respect. We pass by a monk and Chamara crouches down and bows at his feet. In the main temple, we cue up to have a private prayer with the chief monk. We take the fruit offering and kneel down before him. He blesses us and ties a cotton strand around our right wrist. He places powder on my third eye center, one in white and one in pink.

We enter the place where we offer fire and there are many stray dogs curled up taking in the heat. We pour coconut oil in a small bowl and dip the wick in. We use the nearest flame to light our strands and continue lighting until all of our 10 strands are lit. We pray. Chamara repeats the same prayer and because I don’t really know what I am doing, when I pray, I say “Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu,” which in my consciousness translates to, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may my thoughts words and actions somehow contribute to the happiness and freedom for all.” Though some people may interpret the invocation differently.

When we visit Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, I can’t help but get a little choked up. I bow and say “Thank you”. Chamara gives me rupees to place before him.

We don’t leave our fruit platter, but instead take it with us when we leave.

We stop by a bakery and buy six loaves of bread. Chamara wants to introduce me to Kumati, the 18 year old Sri Lankan female elephant that we will be working with during the Elephant Project. She is massive. She sees our van pull up and immediately perks up. When she sees the bag of bread in my hand she walks right out of the pool and towards me. It was a little frightening at first!

We place the entire loaf of bread right into her mouth one after another. I tell her to chew, but I am pretty sure she just swallows them mostly whole! Chamara explains to me why she has chains around her neck and ankle, because at first I am a little caught off guard about this, but now I can understand a bit more that it is not inflicting pain on her in any way. The way that I can explain it is that the chains around her neck are exquivelant to a dog collar and the the chain from her neck to her foot is like a leash. Human safety is the number 1 priority. Each elephant has its special handler, and the handlers do not hurt the sacred elephant in any way. Kumati belongs to the temple and the temple is government owned.

After we feed her the bread, her handler walks her down the street to the temple. No one ever rides Kumati and she is never chained to a pole. When she is not at the temple she is roaming free in the grass.

The other elephant, who is Thai, is a different story. He is an aggressive male in heat. He is chained up so he does not hurt anyone. We will only be working with Kumati because of her sweet docile nature. Elephants can live to 100 years old, so she is considered pretty young.

We head out and stop at one of Chamara’s friends restaurants for a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast. We are served something similar to a crepe made with egg and crushed pepper flakes and egg rolls. I forget the specific name. After breakfast we head back to the villa.

My task this week is to create a welcome presentation. I spend the majority of the day working and writing my blog. Now that the first of the month is here, we have internet back. Praise the lord.

I break for my yoga practice around 3pm. I continue to work on breath awareness first, posture second. I keep my eyes open to start so that I can see all the beauty around me. Its been a week since I arrived in Sri Lanka, and today there’s been a big shift, and I am starting to feel more at home.

The temple and elephant visit was really remarkable. I want to research Buddhism more.

Chamara and I go out for dinner at a restaurant on a lake called Pier 88. On the way, we discuss the Stray Dog project in depth and ways that I can help.

At dinner, I order Chicken Curry with a side of vegetable au gratin, which means smothers in velveta cheese. Ive been wanting cheese and well, I got cheese. Loads of it. I only ate 1/3 of my mean and wanted to take it home to eat tomorrow, but Chamara said they don’t really do that kind of thing, so I cried a little watching the server take it away. Chamara orders seafood fried rice and the portion is enough to feed a family of five.

On the way home, a white cat jumps in front of the van. I do not see it but I can hear it go underneath the car. I gasp and so does Chamara. I ask if it was a dog. He turns around to see if the cat is ok. A few men from the nearby store get out to check on the car too. They pick him up and move him to the side of the road. The cat is severely injured. One of the men tried to give him some water. I see Chamara try to give him CPR, but its a lost cause. The cat dies. Chamara is incredibly upset that he accidentally hit a cat, but also because this is really bad luck in the buddhism culture, a culture that has the utmost respect for animals. Also, the day before Chamara put his shirt on inside out which is also bad luck, and he is wondering what is going on and says he has to be really careful this week, because bad luck comes in threes. He gives the men some money to bury the cat. He blesses the wheels of the van Before we get going again and drives home extremely cautiously in the event the van itself now has attracted bad karma.

We get home and I feed some banana to baby, and enjoy a little Nutella and banana myself. Chamara calls a healer to come to the house the following day to heal the van and to energetically rid himself of that third stroke of bad fortune. He says the healer can cleanse me too, and even give me a reading of the future. I am excited to experience this in the morning and Hear what the healer has to say.


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