Thursday, August 31, 2006

Practising Pratipaksha bhavanam

YOGA: According to yogic philosophy, the Sanskrit phrase pratipaksha bhavanam (focusing on the positive) and visualizing a state of peace helps to overcome negativity. It is important to recognize this negativity and then respond with positive thoughts in order to improve society and ourselves.

The existence of negativity in our daily lives is a reality we must face. As the Buddha teaches-life is suffering. Buddhist and yogic philosophy also teach us that facing the root of our disturbances and further educating ourselves we can overcome himsa (violence or negativity) towards others and ourselves with positive ways.

I was delighted to receive so many responses to my article on Sexual Harassment from August 17th-both in writing and in person. While the majority of the replies published in last week's paper were in support of addressing the problem of harassment, I noticed several responses emphasizing pessimism instead of hope to overcome this societal challenge.

One woman criticized Sri Lanka for its "vulgarity" -even commenting that men should go to prostitutes instead of sexually harassing other women. First of all, I think it is simplistic to state that Sri Lankan society is a vulgar one. Instead, it must be acknowledged that this is a problem concerning individuals who lack the education of dignified conduct and respectful behavior towards women.

Second, I believe the suggestion for men to seek prostitutes as an alternative only perpetuates mistreatment towards women. The presence of prostitution is a genuine problem (in Sri Lanka and around the world).

The world not only exploits young women through poverty, abuse and lack of opportunities - they are forced into having few options other than succumbing to such a desperate and unfortunate lifestyle. Another male reader criticized women for wearing revealing clothing (thereby inviting perpetrators to harass them).

This hypothesis was proven wrong by a fellow reader who explained her endurance of sexual harassment-in spite of covering 90% of her body with clothing. Clearly, the clothing women wear is not the problem here.

Finally, it is unreasonable and unproductive to blame any woman who experiences harassment-regardless of whom she is and what she is wearing. Women should be able to wear what they please without fearing harassment-or for that matter-being judged. While Sri Lanka is a society that values women dressing modestly, individuals who choose to wear what they want should not have to suffer mistreatment or disrespect.

Sexual harassment will not end by criticizing Sri Lanka through negative generalizations or blaming men and women for their conduct. While harassment is a universal problem, education for all and support from women and men of all generations will improve society.

Rather than focus on the negative behaviour, I believe it is important to practice pratipaksha bhavanam-emphasizing the positive in order to overcome the negative. I invite my readers to do the same - tiken tika, little by little-in order to encourage positive change and promote harmony.

Ruah is a New Yorker who is doing her post graduate in Sustainable Development in Sri Lanka.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The need for changes in behaviour and lifestyles

Traditions: I am always impressed when I witness signs of respect toward older generations of Sri Lankans. The traditional bowing and touching and elder’s feet; addressing elders as an older family member regardless of whether they are related or not, the number of households that take elderly parents and grandparents into their homes - all are widespread and remarkable traditions.

In my opinion, while this respect is incredibly admirable and worthwhile, I wonder whether elders could use their influence to show respect to younger generations. By listening to youngsters’ knowledge and trying to understand their way of life could elders encourage communities of young people to make a contribution to “sustainable development” in the villages and cities of Sri Lanka?

In my conversations with both villagers and Colombo city-dwellers, I have heard from all generations that Sri Lankan society is slowly adapting to the times, but not without challenges, especially opposition from older generations.

I once interviewed a group of women, ranging between 19 and 50 years old from several villages. These women had just sat through a seminar on how to deal with social challenges in their daily family lives.

All admitted to learning new and important information that they would like to use at home. For example, they learned strategies for how to resolve disagreements with their family members and information on health care in the household.

Yet when asked if they would share knowledge they had learned with their family members or neighbours, they agreed unanimously that sharing and even using the information would not be very successful. The group explained to me that people who are used to a certain way of doing things tend to judge those who do things differently.

The 19-year-old in the group, who is pursuing her university degree, conveyed to us her experience of her parents forbidding her to be friends with males in her class. At first, her parents approved and trusted their daughter to pursue genuine (and innocent) friendships. The young woman had trustworthy friends, both males and females, as a result.

Eventually, neighbours began to judge and create rumours about this young woman and her family because of her friendship with young men in her class.

This made it difficult for the family members to conduct their daily lives and ultimately
influenced the parents - who otherwise approved of their daughter’s behaviour - to impose protection of their daughter by controlling her life and choosing whom she should spend time with.

The young woman told me that educating people to think for themselves was a good thing. Still, she asked, “How is it possible to make change if only a few do it at a time and it results in always being judged - or reverting to how things were done in the first place”

The women of the group all agreed that this situation was unfair. They also established that in
today’s society change cannot happen from within a community because people fear their neighbours will judge them as different - and associating with neighbours is an integral part of daily life.

Alternatively, they said if someone takes a stand within a community against what is accepted as the norm within the culture others who do not recognize the purpose of the stance in the first place may think it is simply invalid or assume that the information is meant for specific people in a community - and is potentially insulting to them.

“Change and sharing information must happen from people outside the community,” I was told by the group.

They explained how they enjoyed having educational classes available on ANY topic and how they hoped to have more in the future. They appreciated in particular the topic of managing their daily interactions within the household. Yet, I wondered whether it was sustainable for outsiders to tell a community how to handle life.

Once the seminar is over, then who will pass on the information? Shouldn’t knowledge come from within a community? Will members of a community accept ideas that deviate from what has been done in the past?

UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) has declared a plan for “Education for All” as part of the Millennium Development Goals that lays out six goals to achieve by 2015. In the third goal, UNESCO raises the importance of “Promoting Learning and Skills for Young People and Adults.”

This goal reminds us that “education is about giving people the opportunity to develop their potential, their personality and their strengths. This does not merely mean learning new knowledge, but also developing abilities to make the most of life.” Creating opportunities for people within a community must include a willingness to accept new information and change.
This group of women - along with their fellow community members - want opportunities and choices in their lives. They hope to gain more knowledge through education and to have the freedom to share what they know with their family and neighbours - without fear of being judged for having ideas that are different from the traditional way of life.

UNESCO’s report on “Educating for a Sustainable Future” highlights that achieving the goal of sustainable development will depend on a transformation of ethical values through adapting traditional ways of life in order to bring people within a society together and achieve their potential for development.

The document declares that means for sustainability in a society requires “changes in behaviour and lifestyles, changes which will need to be motivated by a shift in values and rooted in the cultural and moral precepts upon which behaviour is predicated.”

The women with whom I met - and others like them - have the potential to make real changes happen. In order for socio-economic sustainable development to take place, UNESCO also calls for governments to “recognize and actively advocate for the transformational role of education in realizing human potential...”

My impression is that in Sri Lanka, while educational programs are essential, support for communities reaching their potential will burgeon once a mutual respect from all generations overcomes judging others who try to do things differently.

In order for change to take place, young generations will have to face the challenge of standing up for what they believe in, while older generations will have to invite youths to think for themselves whether they like them or not - learn to accept the new ideas and ways of life that might come up.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Feedback on Article on Sexual Harassment

Well done Ruah
I was born in Sri Lanka and lived a good part of life there and right now I am living in an European country. But I read Daily News every day on the web and this particular article on Sexual Harassment - aney epa karanda on Sri Lanka through Ruah's eyes caught my attention.
I commend this young lady's guts and would like to congratulate and thank her from the bottom of my heart for having written this article about sexual harassment, which I am sure is the main crisis that most of Sri Lankan women are facing. At the same time I am so ashamed of the vulgar and stupid behaviour of our fellow Sri Lankan men.

All what Ruah wrote in her article was true. So many rape and murder cases occur on a daily basis and nobody seems to be bothered of any of these violent acts. Either they are scared to raise their voice or they just think that it's none of their businesses. It's really a disgrace to our country.

I now live in a well advanced country and men respect women and I am so glad that I am out of Sri Lanka. When I was there and when I used to travel by buses. I have experienced this many a time and sometimes have cried inside the buses. Men just think that we are some sex objects.
My question is that, when so many women prostitutes are in Sri Lanka, why are they coming behind us? I won't accept the reason that it's because of the way we dress or act. No it's not the reason. I always dress modestly and my dresses cover 90% of my body and I have never ever encouraged a man in any way. But still I get to hear some unbearable vulgar comments and even touching.

I was so frustrated when I was in Sri Lanka mainly because of this reason. But now I am very happy that I got out of that vulgar society.

But I cannot be selfish or just keep quiet when my fellow Sri Lankan sisters are going through this trauma on a daily basis. I think all the women who are being harassed by men should stand up for their rights. Otherwise, this is going to continue.

I hope the women's organizations and social service authorities will get together and discuss about a criteria to minimise sexual harassment.

Dear readers, please don't be selfish. This can happen to your own daughters, sisters even your wife. So please take a stand and try to stop this crime. Yes it is a crime.

A lady who has come from New York, cannot even do her studies and research without facing sexual harassment which has made her write an article in the newspapers. Isn't this a shame and a disgrace to our country? Once again Ruah I am very proud of you and I am so glad that you brought this subject to light. Hats off to you.


Sexual Harassment

One could understand the anger and irritation of Ruah when she was subjected to sexual harassment. It's more suprising to note if this could happen to an educated western lady in Sri Lanka what can happen to those women who are naturally shy and timid. I totally agree with Ruah in her observation that in Sri Lanka objection to sexual harassment is given only a lip service and many women travelling in the buses and working in offices find it extremely uncomfortable with this situation.

However I would like to point that this grave situation is a consequence of total moral denegration, corruption and lack of respect for the rule of law within the entire society. It's not a problem on its own.

Why I say this is because I have come across many instence of sexual harassment of young girls and even boys in buses and various other public places by both men and women of all ages. I could even recall similar experiences in my school days.

Another very ugly thing to notice especially in our public buses is that some men and women behave in such despicable manner and still others will dare say anything. Sometimes these acts are committed by lovers and some times very strangely by two unknwon parties who would have just come to known each other inside the bus. Public silence is a norm in all these
occassions probably by the fear that next time when one of them do something like that they do not want to be criticised or probably he/she does not want to open the mouth and get into trouble in an atmosphere where the society does not have time to address even greater problems like corruption and murder.

If you open your eyes and see one has to accept that these are harsh realities in a society in which a whole generation has grown up amids violence and frustration. Unless we address the bigger problems,problems like sexual harassment are going to go down the public opinion as 'trivial'.

Fazly Muhammed

Sexual harassment: aney epa karanda

The above article in the Daily News gives one side of the story. The other side is the provocative way in which girls dress these days with tight fitting pants/ skirts/ Tshirts/ blouses prominently displaying their assets which will tempt even a saint.

Why do girls have to dress like this and ignite the dormant passion in man? Wouldn't there be much less harassment if girls dressed decently?

Damien Perera

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sexual Harrassment: Aney Epa Karanda

SEXUAL HARASSMENT: Living in Sri Lanka over the past eight months, I have encountered many instances of sexual harassment. I have heard stories from women of all generations, and from many countries. I have witnessed first-hand women getting harassed.

I have been sexually harassed myself. Based on this experience, I believe sexual harassment is a major issue, one that needs to be addressed by Sri Lankan society in order to affect change. Sexual harassment is an unfortunate reality that persists throughout different societies regardless of country.

There is a big difference between my experiences in the US, Europe and Africa and my experiences in Sri Lanka. In this country, I get the sense that the topic is not one to speak of in the open and there seem to be few support systems available for women who experience harassment.

In fact, I hesitate to write on this topic based on my experience of bringing up the subject in the past and receiving uncomfortable reactions. My impression is that society in general does not wish to accept that such behaviour occurs and therefore assumes instances of harassment are an anomaly of daily life - or have been provoked by the women who experience them.

As a woman from a major American city, I am familiar with being approached by strangers who exhibit inappropriate behaviour in public - men in particular.

However, a man who approaches a woman with sexual comments in my hometown of New York City is looked down upon if onlookers notice the behaviour. Friends here have told me that Sri Lankans also reject and oppose sexual harassment. Their contention, however, has not always been my experience.

I encountered sexual harassment during my first days in Colombo. As I walked down the street, young men approached me while I was still trying to learn the layout of the city. These men would make sexual comments, come close to me and even walk alongside me even though I asked them to leave me alone.

Similarly, on the bus, I often experienced men coming very close to either me or women next to me, touching any woman or young girl they could get close to on body parts not meant to be touched in public.

To my knowledge, onlookers at the time did not discourage the behaviour, nor were they willing to take a stand against such behaviour in public. Still, though, I must admit that I have heard stories from older, educated Sri Lankan women who have scolded men for their actions, asking them sharply if they would act that way towards women in their family.

Personally, I always move away or give a strong look to the perpetrator to let him know that I am aware of his behaviour and that he had better stop. Usually, that works at least momentarily. However, I believe that if society disapproved of this behaviour more openly as whole, men would not commit it in the first place.

The most significant experience I had was while at a homecoming (a ceremony and party after a wedding) several months ago.

A young naval officer was clearly respected by the guests and seemed to be a decent and polite man at first. Guests were drinking alcohol, and as the evening passed the naval officer became drunk along with other men at the event.

At one point noticed that he was inappropriately touching young girls at the party 'by accident' yet the girls just pretended that nothing happened, looking very embarrassed. Later, I was dancing with the young girls at the wedding, all of them my junior by at least a decade.

I felt the men were looking at me from the other side of the dance floor and noticed that only a few mostly married women were dancing. Deciding to not let the stares and only few women present deter me from enjoying time with the young girls, I stayed in a corner to dance with them.

The naval officer approached me and told me he wanted to dance with me. I politely declined, but this only angered him. He grabbed my arm and pulled me to the center of the dance floor. I was telling him to stop more firmly this time, mama baninawa... epa... ati... mama alanawa epa...Kamathie neheh. He only responded by coming closer to my face and saying, mama oyata kamathie. I tried to let go, but he was quite stronger than me.

I saw others watching, but no one said or did anything. Finally, I thought of the respect shave for the family and elders in this country and asked, oyage wayasa keeyida? How old are you? He was only three years my junior, just enough to say, mama oyage akka - oyage aka EPA kiyawa... epa! "I am your big sister - big sister said no... stop!" Miraculously, he laughed, told me "alright," hari, hari and let me go.

His behaviour upset me, but most of all I was disappointed that no one watching had intervened. I had the sense that even if observers disapproved, no one had wanted to be that person to stand up to him, a naval officer in the family.

The next day, I told the story to a Sri Lankan friend and he advised me to explain his to my host family that I did not want him to touch me - that I was not happy with the officer's behaviour. I was surprised by this reaction. I had thought that telling the young man and trying to get away from him had been a clear enough statement.

My Sri Lankan friend suggested that if I did not explain my intentions explicitly to my host family, they may think it was my fault - or that I did something to ask for that behaviour. This was shocking to me: How could it have been I who wanted his advances?

After much consideration, I decided to tell them. I called the mother and father - which then brought the attention of my host sisters - and explained that the wedding and the homecoming were really nice, I did not like it when the naval officer touched me and did not let me go.

They were surprised, which left me equally surprised. They assumed that he was not serious and I should not worry, but I explained the story from my perspective. I included that this young man should not just be feeling badly about his behaviour towards me, but he should not act that way towards ANY woman he encounters.

I was not sure of the outcome of communicating this, but I felt it was the right thing to do. My host father got on the phone to call the young man's family and had him apologise. I do not know if this had an impact, but at least I know that my family is aware of my disapproval of his behaviour - especially my two nangies (younger sisters) who will likely encounter similar experiences in the future.

Soon after this I spoke with a well-educated and well-respected woman community leader in a neighbouring village, who told me that when counselling young women of the community, she frequently heard stories of harassment. She even shared her own personal experiences (and those of her classmates) when she was younger.

There are five main reasons that women do not come forward with stories of sexual harassment. First, people often doubt whether women are telling the truth or think that they are only asking for attention. Second, people are rude towards women who bring sexual harassment into the public's attention.

Third, women can be too shy or embarrassed to share their stories. Fourth, women fear that if they expose men's behaviour their safety would be at risk. Fifth, women are afraid of bringing attention to themselves and risking a damaged reputation.

Considering these factors that hinder women's self-esteem and status, it is no wonder that women do not come forward and share their experiences. A study of women workers by Swarna Jayaweera, reveals one impact of gender inequality where 73 per cent of the women studied preferred to be reborn as men, 15 percent as men or women and only 10 per-cent as women. Among the men, 90 per cent wished to be reborn as men and 8.5 per cent as women."

Sexual harassment is indeed present in all societies and persists as a daily problem for women of all nations. Those who experience it are not coming forward with stories for various reasons, leaving a false impression that it is not a problem in society. I believe that in order to address this issue, the taboo of the topic should be broken through awareness and acceptance of women's personal stories amongst women, men and children through social support systems. Women of Sri Lanka - citizens, expatriates and visitors - let your voices and stories be heard.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lankan Style of Accepting the Circumstances

EMBASSY: I arrived at the Indian Embassy at 9.30 a.m. in the heat of the morning sun, and joined the long line of visitors waiting in the queue. I had plans to visit friends in India and had set aside the morning to apply for a visa.

Once inside the air-conditioned embassy building, I realised that hundreds of others were there that morning with the same agenda. I surveyed my surroundings and saw children playing freely and people closing in on one another, vying to reach the next stage of a complicated visa process.

As I waited, I thought about being in public spaces in New York, in Senegal and here in Sri Lanka. This was part of life in a major city, and one of many times I had waited in long lines or been in a tightly-squeezed crowd to the point of losing mobility.

When living in my hometown New York, I always commuted on the "subway", the underground train system, alongside millions of other students and workers. I always left my house at a precise time in order to avoid the large rush-hour crowds.

If I was ever late, I would inevitably end up sandwiched between people on the platform. Trust and communication between people on the train was limited.

Passengers held onto their belongings for dear life and women hoped and prayed that they would be surrounded by other women and not men with wandering eyes or hands.
While living as a student and later as a high school teacher in Senegal, West Africa, the buses were equally crowded.

However, a different mentality existed there and I could feel a stronger sense of trust among riders. Passengers exchanged friendly words as bus fare was passed from hand to hand until it reached the fare collector. Parents would even entrust their children to laps of strangers on the bus - hence creating more space for an already crowded situation!

Occasionally, men would get too close for comfort for me or for other women. However, if a woman ever called out an unwelcome advance, other passengers would promptly and loudly, scold the interloper.

As in Senegal, I have observed Sri Lankans display a great level of trust and level of acceptance amongst people in public spaces. Taking the bus back and forth to a village in Kalutura District, I am always shocked to witness so many people crowding into one bus not including those hanging from the outside!

While the bus sways from side to side, I lift my heels to catch my balance and usually find my feet competing with others for floor space that seems to have disappeared.

I was impressed at the courtesy of those with seats and the trust displayed by those people who hold onto bags of those who are standing - something that would never happen in New York.
As I think about these experiences on the bus, I realize Sri Lankans display a deep level of trust toward each other, especially with respect to their children. Whether in a bank, a hospital, bus or embassy, I have seen children playing together far from their parents, much farther than most New York parents would ever dream of letting their children wander on their own.

The cry of a young boy in his father's arms brought me back to my surroundings at the embassy. I thought the room was beginning to lose any sense of order as people became restless in the fourth hour of waiting. Children crying and yelling along with adult discussions increased in volume as did the number of bodies in the room.

Reading my book, Lessons of the Lotus by the Sri Lankan Buddhist Monk, Bhante Y. Wimala, became impossible as the crowd drew in closer around me.

The last words I could read seemed relevant: "At the time of a crisis, self-acceptance enables us to relax, let go, and flow with the current rather than fight in panic.... It [self-acceptance] will easily give rise to forgiveness, love and compassion, making life more peaceful for you. This peace will then radiate to others."

I encouraged myself to follow the words of the wise man and accept what was going on. I attempted to accept the situation and think of myself as a peaceful being. I conversed with others around me and enjoyed practising new Sinhala vocabulary words.

Then a miracle occurred: Somehow I was next! I stepped up to the woman behind the counter and smiled - only to have her announce a lunch break and instructions to all in the room to return in an hour. The crowd sighed in unison and people dispersed to corners of the room to wait for the workers to return.

I spoke with two Sri Lankan men next to me, a father with his children and his colleague. They explained the three parts of their theory on why crowds ("HERE") are different from those in other places.

First, the men explained, people in their country are not overly concerned with privacy; rather space is shared collectively.

Secondly, there is a general feeling of safety around, hence the comfort of handing someone your bag to hold or letting your children play far from you.

Lastly, they explained, Sri Lankans do not emphasize doing things in a particularly ordered way,
so people are willing to go with the flow.

I let them know how I appreciated the friendly atmosphere. I noticed that those waiting were particularly accepting of the circumstances and not angry with the embassy workers.

I wondered if they felt that this peaceful approach was common throughout Sri Lanka. They thought it was indeed a part of a shared culture that transcended boundaries of differences throughout the country.

Another passage from Wilma's text crossed my mind and I smiled at the notion: "Extending compassionate love to those who may have caused us pain, the one to gain the greatest benefit-inner peace-is you."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Sunday Stroll in the City of Colombo

LEISURE: The day started with an early-morning text message from my nangie, "Ruah akka, kohomada? Apita oya matakai." I rolled over in bed and text my little host sister back that I was doing fine and I was thinking of her and the family, too.

The relative lack of noise outside my Dematagoda flat reminded me that it was Irida (Sunday). I looked at the silky blue sky and thought of what I would do on a day like today in my hometown, New York City: a Sunday stroll.

I had a free day and with my usual busy schedule, this was not something I had done before in Colombo. Other than on Galle Face Green and Independence Square, was this a common Sunday pastime for local residents? I thought I would try it out and see.

But first, yoga. I stared out the window while practising my morning sequence of asanas.
Forty minutes later, I sat crossed-legged on my yoga mat for my daily morning meditation using the Transcendental Meditation technique I learned years ago. I concentrated on my mantra and wondered what the day would bring.

Travelling southwest towards Town Hall in the shade of my purple umbrella, I remembered a website about yoga classes in Colombo.

I flagged a three-wheeler and took it to Global Fitness Centre on Jawatta Avenue in Cinnamon Gardens.

I hoped to meet the lawyer turned yoga teacher I had read about. As a yoga teacher and graduate student myself, I felt I may relate to her and even make a new friend.

The teacher was not in town, but I was given a tour of the gym with modern equipment and A/C rooms including the well-lit yoga studio. I took a copy of the schedule and pencilled-in a yoga class to attend later in the week.

The sweet smell of rambutan fruit sold at roadside stands was irresistible all along the quiet and shady Reid Avenue. I bought a few to crack open and enjoyed the savory taste as I continued walking.

As I approached a junction, I noticed Laksala, the government handicraft store. I followed along the entryway lined with wood sculptures and flanked by two long reflecting pools.
Inside, the scent of leather and wood was soothing as I explored the aisles lined with beautifully crafted works (I purchased a small wooden Buddha).

Stepping back into the warmth of the day, I ventured back onto Bauddhaloka Mawatha, and not too long after, sought refuge from the heat in a small boutique clothing shop, Wild Flower.

They had lovely shoes, bags, jewellery and some interesting clothes, too. I spotted a pair of pinstriped men's trousers and was reminded of a conversation I had with my older brother on an internet phone call.

He had recently bought a new pair of trousers at Banana Republic, a well-known American store, which happened to have been made in Sri Lanka.

In the store, I reached for the pants to inspect the label and, to my surprise, saw they were from... Banana Republic, only the price was literally ten times less than what my brother paid in New York!

Continuing west, I reached Duplication Road and turned north. I walked several streets up and saw the Queens Cafe and Cricket Club.

I turned down Queens Road and found myself in front of the elegant Gallery Cafe. I walked through the parking lot to a charming entry way with a reflecting pool filled with large fish, and purple and yellow flowers, the whole scene soaked in sun peaking through the partially exposed roof.

I then perused the gift shop noting some similar items as the other craft stores at a somewhat higher cost. I decided to do something very typical of "New Yorkers": Eat by myself! I entered the impressive dining area and was seated in a booth.

I ordered the special, tuna steak with salsa verde, aubergine, tomato and mozzarella. It was not typical Sri Lankan food, but was extremely tasty nonetheless.

The room began to fill with locals, filling about 15 of the 120 or so tables. To my right, two Sri Lankan-looking women in their 20s sat down to eat and spoke in American accents about the wedding they were apparently visiting Sri Lanka for.

I chatted with a group of pilots and flight attendants for Etihad Airways at the next table about different flight paths and their plans for the limited 24 hours they had in Colombo.
Around 3 pm, I ventured back onto Duplication Road and visited Fashion Bug, and then Beverly Street.

The bags and shoes of Beverly Street were so magnificent - I am sure that if the store was transplanted to a busy street in New York, it would be sold out in a matter of hours.

Although the store was quite filled with people, the street was practically empty, as it had been most of the day. This allowed for three-wheelers speeding down the road to do U-turns to get next to me.

They wanted to be sure that when I didn't respond to their solicitous honking I indeed did not want a ride. They seemed shocked when I responded each time with "Isthuthi, mata epa. Mama awidinawa." "No thank you, I'm walking."

I continued walking towards Dharmapala Mawatha to turn east with hopes of making it to Odel's Juicebar. I couldn't resist stopping at Paradise Road.

This shop and cafe is a larger version of the Gallery Cafe store filled with a plethora of crafts and art. While the prices are on the high end for Sri Lanka, they were a fraction of what they would be in New York or other western cities.

Though my legs were beginning to feel somewhat numb, I was determined to make it down the road. Odel's Juicebar was crowded as I enjoyed a refreshing carrot and mango juice for 100 rupees.

I smiled and waved at the group of Etihad employees I had seen earlier. I also chatted with a classmate I ran into while getting juice, who had just spent the day at the museum with friends.
Soon, though, I excused myself to start the walk home. I only made it down a third of the way of Ward Place before I finally agreed to take one of the many three-wheelers honking and flagging me down.

I arrived at my front door and heard my roommate welcome me home as I walked in. I could see on the dining room table a pink envelope covered colourfully with the familiar words, "Ruah Akka." My 15-year-old host sister had sent a letter with a classmate who had come to Colombo!
I opened it to see drawings of flowers, stars and hearts surrounding Sinhala text. As best as I could, given my limited knowledge of the Sinhala alphabet, I examined the letter and envisioned her writing it all with a smile.

I noted to myself to ask for help from Manjula, my trusted classmate, friend and Sarvodaya worker.

I washed off the soot that covered my tired feet and returned to my yoga mat, where my day had begun. I opened my windows to listen to the sound of Buddhist priests saying the pirith prayers over loudspeakers of the pansala adjacent to my flat.

I watched the sky turn to hues of grey as I sat cross-legged with my spine upright. My mind slowly settled as thoughts of the day and streets yet to be explored came and went.