Changing habits

They say one of the most stressful things about traveling or moving is that all of your routines are disrupted. What was once done without thinking, now must be concentrated on. A small example follows.

Our current understanding is that we will not be able to drink tap water in Kandy. We had a short term experience with this during our five days in Cambodia two and a half years ago. But we were not cooking for ourselves and we drank bottled water or other beverages (without ice) and were not much inconvenienced. We are accepting and expecting that the extended time abroad and the prospect of preparing our own meals will lead to more work and inconvenience on this score. On the other hand, we hold out hope of being surprised, as we were in Bangkok. Our hotel had been built with a second plumbing system that supplied potable water to a tap in our room.

Recently I was reading aloud Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje to Kris. This is a very well written story by one of Sri Lanka’s most famous authors writing in English. It is a disturbing, fictional, story about the horrors of civil war but an excellent mystery nonetheless. There is a scene in the story where the protagonists visit a brilliant but blind archeologist who has retired to live out his days in an obscure ancient site. He is taken care of by a family member, a young woman. During the protagonists visit, which spans one night, the young woman prepares to shave the blind man, starting by boiling water.

A small light goes on in my mind. If the tap water has microbes in it, then you probably do not want to use a razor to shave unless you first purify the water because shaving with a razor has a high probability of creating an open wound. Wanting to keep such tasks to a minimum, I researched online and then purchased locally a battery powered (devices with motors need more than just transformers to make them work properly with Sri Lanka’s 220V electrical system) electric shaver, a Braun PocketGo 370. It cost only $14. I have been using it for two weeks now and it seems to work like a charm.

This is one of the first, if small, habit changes I’ve made for this trip. As long as I can remember, I have shaved with a disposable razor. Now I know that I have been shaving longer than disposable razors have existed, but, for the life of me, I can not recall what I used before I used disposable razors. I am pretty sure that it was not an electric shaver. I have a vague recollection of a stainless steel, replaceable blade shaver, the kind where you twist the handle to open, clam shell style, the chamber where the razor blade resided so you could swap the blade out. But this may be an early memory of my fascination with my father’s razor when I was a “little shaver.” The point is that it has been a long time since I had explicitly thought about shaving.

As I said, my new electric shaver works pretty well, but I find I am having great difficulty changing one aspect of my morning toilette. Electric shavers work best if the whiskers are dry, so one should shave first when using an electric shaver. Whereas, razors work best if the whiskers are softened up first, so it is best to shave after showering. But, excluding the first morning with the electric razor when I was actively thinking about it, I have not been able to remember to shave first! Fortunately, the electric shaver does at least an adequate job though I do forget.



Malaria update

We have been operating under the assumption that since malaria is endemic to Sri Lanka, we would be on a daily dose of an anti-malarial drug. We inquired of the Health Unit Medical Officer of the US Embassy in Sri Lanka about the availability of certain anti-malarial drugs (since the doctor at the Richland County Health Department’s Clinic will not write a prescription to cover the entire year). We were told that malaria is only endemic in the regions of Sri Lanka controlled by the LTTE. Since we will not be going to those regions, we will not need to take daily anti-malarial medication.

That news is a relief to our budget. We will still need to be super vigilant about avoiding mosquito bites because of the other diseases they carry. But this information added another, unexpected, layer to my understanding of the tragedy faced by the innocent civilian inhabitants of the Vanni.



Wow. We seem to be experiencing a low point right now. We feel like our lives have never been so shaken. Our current plan calls for us to abandon our home in about one month and set out on an around the world trip. Yet at this point, we have no itinerary, no tickets, no visas. We have done a pretty good job of studying Sri Lanka, but we now have the opportunity to see so much more and have not prepared in the same way to take advantage of this possibility. Our heads are swimming with potentialities and yet worries about costs. Thanks to the American people and Kenyon College we have been given this wonderful gift, but it is almost overwhelming.

I had not anticipated this anxiety. Have we unknowingly become rootbound? Have our lives become so routinized that our bodies are reacting physically to the impending upheavals? We have scoffed at people who have described us as “brave” for what we are about to embark on. Are they more right than we knew? And, if so, are we brave enough to carry this through? And if we do, will we be better for having done it? Or just poorer?


Recommended reading

In the orientation materials that were sent to us, there are a number of quotes taken from a book entitled Excursions and Explorations: Cultural Encounters Between Sri Lanka and the United States edited by Tissa Jayatilaka published by the United States – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission in Colombo in 2002. I was able to obtain a copy from (though it appeared to be the last one available).

The book is a series of vignettes written by Sri Lankans about their experiences in the United States or by Americans about their experiences in Sri Lanka. This has been the best book so far to prepare us for our visit. The personal stories are delightful. They range from serious and academic to hilarious. I read “The Road to Miami” by Sinharaja Tammita-Delgoda aloud to Kris. Or at least I tried to. I had a hard time speaking while laughing and a hard time seeing through the tears of my laughter. The book was doubly effective in teaching about cultural differences by enabling one to not only read the reactions of Americans to Sri Lanka, but the reactions of Sri Lankans to our own country.

Having met and gotten to know Frank and Kathleen Peiris and other members of their family, I already was confident that I would be pleased to meet more Sri Lankans, but this book confirmed that feeling. And the descriptions of Sri Lanka’s people, parks, and ancient heritage further sharpened my desire to get started on our trip.


The name game

In writing the last post, I realized that I had a problem. By authoring a blog, I am voluntarily giving up some of my privacy, but in a way that I control, or imagine I control. On the other hand, when I write about my interactions with someone else, I am giving away some of their privacy in a way that they have no control over. So, what to do?

In the last post, I used a pair of letters that might or might not be the person in question’s initials. I am going to go with this imperfect system for now to restore to my “interactees” some level of privacy.

What do you think? What would you do?


A sad day – Molly moves to her new home

Today is a bit of a sad day for us. Molly is our cat. We have lived with her for about 15 years now and she was a mature cat when we adopted her from the Knox County Cat Shelter. So we are pretty sure she is at least 18 years old.  We knew we could not take her with us to Sri Lanka and so looked for a kind person to adopt her. Molly’s angel appeared in the form of MM from Kris’ church. We decided that it was too much to ask someone to care for Molly for a year and then ask for her back after Molly had worked her way into their heart. So we all agreed that this was a permanent adoption and that MM was now Molly’s owner.

We moved Molly to her new home this morning. Molly started to explore and settle in rather quickly. She was delighted to discover a robin’s nest within 7 feet of a screened door. Molly has always been both curious and sociable. We once boarded her and her former housemate, Sasha, on one of our visits to the West Coast. Sasha never did adjust and was miserable the entire time, mewling pitiously and continually.  Sasha was so miserable that the cat boarder called us on the coast to see what could be done. Molly, on the other hand, slept with the boarders in their bed on the first night and loved playing with their puppy the entire time we were gone!

So it seems this time. We had to drop by MM’s later in the afternoon to drop off an item we had forgotten to bring and Molly was calmly snoozing on a chair in the living room. By now MM has fed Molly and her last concern about the move will be assuaged.

We will see if we fare as well. She was such a cheerful presence in our lives. She greeted us at the back door when we came home and at the kitchen door when we came down for breakfast. She had a delightful little dance that let us know not to forget that it was time for her breakfast and dinner. She had intelligent eyes that reassured us, that when we talked to her, she understood perfectly. She helped keep our blood-pressure under control by forcing us to sit still while she used our laps as warm sleeping spots. She loved TV. Not to watch it herself, but to use us as warm cushions while we watched. She was just a wonderful presence in our house and it will seem less of a home without her. Coming home in the evening will not be the same for quite a long time.