I had the privilege of video chatting with a good friend the other day, the first time we’ve really talked since August. Our long conversation, made longer by dodgy internet connections, covered everything that’s happened in the weeks since we last saw each other, mostly, of course, focusing on our personal adjustments to life abroad, our mandates, and being alone. I learned a lot about how I’m feeling about life because she asked me questions other people haven’t and I said things out loud that I haven’t said before. I did an okay job of preparing myself to be here, but there’s one thing that completely knocked me off balance, that I really didn’t see coming.
I didn’t expect to be bored.
I have had some incredible adventures in the past six weeks. I’ve had experiences that I never thought possible, and I wouldn’t give up being here. I know I’ll continue to experience incredible things over the next 6.5 months… on the weekends. Five days a week, I’m in a really beautiful city, but I don’t have anyone to share it with. I sit in my room, I watch a lot of movies, I read a lot of books. My friends are between 3 to 10 hours away from me, and we’re doing our best to see each other as often as we can, but it’s really hard. I spent the last few years in Waterloo surrounded by my very best friends. There was always something to do and someone to do it with, and here there just isn’t. If I’m going to be okay, and I’m determined to be, I have to learn how to do things on my own, a thing I’ve never really been good at.
This past week or so especially has been difficult for quite a few people really important to me, and I felt much farther away from my loved ones than usual. I didn’t sleep well, didn’t eat well, and then spent my first weekend alone since I got here. Being in a not-super head space and then spending two days with nothing to do and nobody to talk to can be catastrophic, and so I did everything I could to make sure I stayed healthy. So, I took myself on dates.
Friday night, I packed up my iPad and my flashlight and went to a cool restaurant downtown called The Pub. They serve good Western food on an awesome second-storey patio right on the main street, so it’s a very popular spot for tourists. I ordered a spaghetti and sat on the patio for a couple hours, reading Harry Potter on the iPad (the flashlight was for walking down poorly-lit hills in the dark – I’ve fallen into a couple of ditches). I thought I might make some friends, with all the tourists and expats around, but I didn’t. That was okay, I just read my book in the warm night and savoured everything about where I was. Life felt pretty surreal on that patio.
Saturday, I slept in for the first time in weeks, had avocado toast for breakfast, and took my time getting ready. I even put makeup on, which I usually don’t bother with because it’ll all be gone within hours (it’s hot here, and I sweat a lot). Saturday was poya, a full moon celebration. Everything is closed, and many people spend the day praying. I spent the afternoon with my new landlord, discussing rent and drinking Sri Lankan tea (sweet and milky). Then it rained, hard. Monsoon season is definitely coming.
On Sunday I went shoe shopping, but I hate shopping (especially alone), so I just let myself get lost downtown, and ended up in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, the most religiously significant site in Sri Lanka. In an ornate gold case, behind beautiful teak doors, is Buddha’s tooth. The doors open briefly three times a day, but I unfortunately wasn’t there at the right time this time. After a tour of the temple, I found myself at a Kandyan dance concert. I don’t know enough about the dance to know if the performers were good, but I could tell they loved performing with each other, and I was beaming the whole time. I could see the little faces they made to each other when they made a mistake, which reminded me so much of sitting in high school band next to my best friend and making the same faces at our conductor when people played wrong notes. I felt nostalgic and warm. Being at the temple gave me a sense of peace and I felt a lot like everything was going to be okay. Because it is, just sometimes I forget that.
Besides profound personal experiences, I’ve had some exciting things happen at work, too. Tuesday found me in Colombo at a conscious consumerism exhibition, where I made about 350 new friends in the school groups that were wandering around with me, and was inspired to do some really cool things with my office to reduce our waste production and overall environmental impact. I’m excited to work with the women at WDC and implement some of these strategies together! I’ve also started volunteering with an English class, a group of about 20 young people who are training to become English teachers. I’m obviously not a teacher, but it seems like my role there will be to sit and have conversations, giving them a chance to practice their conversation skills. Today was my first day of that, and it was awkward and we felt unprepared to talk to each other, but I liked them and I think they liked me, and I’ve been asked to come back. That’s got to be a good sign.
This is the adventure of a lifetime, but 8 months of thrills would be exhausting so I’m breaking it up with some days of reading books and watching movies. Five days a week, I’m alone. I’m learning how to be okay with that, and I’m finding things to do to detract from loneliness. There are going to be times when this is extra challenging, times when it’s not, and times where I let myself wallow in it. It’s all okay. Everything is okay.
I still love having people to talk to, though. Call me sometime,
Because I had a boring week, I don’t have many photos to share with you. Here are the few (obviously high quality) photos I got!