Friday February 22, 2019

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Fridays are interesting around these parts.  They are typically the days that the local schools have their field trips so we were inundated with running, giggling kids ranging in ages from 6 – 16.  Surprisingly enough the younger kids did a much better job at being turtle conservancy visitors usually abiding the rules which most especially includes no touching the turtles.  Older kids would be told not to touch and then surreptitiously reaching another finger into the tank in hopes of copping a turtle feel.  Both Sara and Fanny had to raise their voices on more than one occasion and by the end of our morning shift I think everyone was more exhausted from playing the role of chaperone than when we had cleaned tanks.

Fortunately, Friday afternoons we have off to get a head start on the weekend to explore the island or just simply relax.  Lorna’s time with the project was coming to a close so we opted to eat a quick bite for lunch and then head over to the sand bar just up the beach to have a few beers and enjoy an hour or two catching up with our new friend.  The fishermen who also operate the bar were very happy to see us and were quick to pour the drinks and bring us some appetizers.  Sara and I taught Lorna and Joeri the intricacies of playing Hearts which they both caught on to quickly.  Meanwhile the kids got to play in the surf and sand.

We headed back in around 3 and said our goodbyes to Lorna (and Fanny who was going with her for the weekend) and then made plans for dinner.  The kids did some playing in the pool and then after a quick clean up we made our way to the neighboring town.  Sara had found a restaurant that was well rated and right on the beach.  The only problem as it turns out was that our Tuk Tuk drivers did not exactly know where it was located.  We had agreed upon a price for the ride and they drove us into the next town.  However, a quick check of Google Maps revealed that they had gone too far.  A u-turn later and a quick stop for the driver to ask some directions and we were off again.  We found the location and sat down for a nice and relaxing meal.

Nothing quite like enjoying some good food and conversation with a sea breeze gently caressing you.  We definitely found the fruits of our labor this evening.   After a long week of getting dirty, sweaty, and tired we enjoyed basking in the beauty of God’s Earth.

Tuesday February 19, 2019

“You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forever more.”  Psalm 16:11

img_5285
Prasantha presents Luci with her Sri Lankan birthday cake

A fitting reading for the day’s events to be sure.  We truly saw the path of life play out in front of us this morning though to be sure the “pleasure” was tough to find at first.  Today was marked first and foremost to us by the celebration, or more to the point, the recognition of Lucia’s 6th birthday.  Since we first discussed our plans for this trip and the locations Luci has been a constant reminder of where we would be on February 19th, right here in Sri Lanka working with baby sea turtles.

After our usual continental meal of bread, jams, and tea we started out for the arduous trek of 50 feet across the road to the sanctuary.  As was the case yesterday, we were not entirely sure what the day had in store for us, only that, according to Lorna and Fanny, we would be doing the unceremonious task of cleaning out old turtle nests.  We were advised in advance of booking this project that there would be jobs that would leave us smelling particularly foul and feeling especially gross.  This was that job.

Cleaning an old nest means excavating the dryish sand and slowly digging down to the depths of the where the eggs had been placed previously.  Assuming the nest has hatched we would expect to encounter old, leathery eggs devoid of their previous occupants but ripe with the sweet aroma of rottenness.  It also meant that we might encounter an egg or two or more that had not hatched and would therefore still hold its now 45+ day old contents.  A 45 day old egg that has been baking in 85 degree sand and is re-exposed to free flowing oxygen is, to say the least, awful.  After burying the new eggs brought in by the local fishermen, we begun our task to clean the old nests.

A group of volunteers hunched over several deepening and widening holes is a sight to be seen, especially as the excavation brings them closer to the treasure of old eggs.  More than one of us gagged at the scent though I, having had my hand at field dressing deer, knew well enough to breath through my mouth or take breaths out of the hole upwind before digging deeper.  As we proceeded from nest to nest the task got no easier until Sara discovered something amazing.  Buried several inches below the sand surface she encountered movement.  Unsure at first she dug gently around and realized she had come across a baby sea turtle, an apparent straggler who had not yet dug her way out of the sandy nest.  Sara gently excavated the turtle’s face and then watched in amazement as the turtle wiggled and worked her way out of the sand and to the surface. What an amazing and unexpected gift, Luci would spend her birthday literally with a baby turtle.  She seemed quite content to share her birthday this way, but the fun was truly just beginning.  As it turns out, this baby turtle was merely the lead digger in what turned out to be a few dozen hatchlings.  We managed to secure a video of the wigglers working their way to the surface as the kids squealed with delight.  The unexpected treasure trove of turtles yielded a mad dash to and from the nesting area to the holding tanks as we carefully made sure that all turtles were accounted for and not stepped on by hurried and excited feet. Check out the video on my Instagram page.

959
Sara has a turtle head poking out!

As we finished off our cleaning duties the less than pleasant aroma seemed to subside, or at least became less perceptible, as the excitement and appreciation of witnessing the miracle of birth overwhelmed us.  The rest of our morning was spent cleaning up and doing some beach cleaning as well then off to lunch and our afternoon program.  The plan was to eat and then get cleaned up to do some teaching to the local school children at the Buddhist temple up the road.  Sara and I gathered our kids together and asked Lorna to join along so she could guide us in what she had taught previously.  When we arrived we found that we would not be in the temple this day but rather teaching on the front porch of someone’s house.  We also met the five boys who would be learning with us.  While their skills ranged from total beginner to novice, we found their energy and eagerness to be uplifting.  We practiced some new vocabulary and played a few games and then returned home to the conservancy.  Following another release of baby turtles we retreated to the volunteer house where we sat down for a nice meal, and a nice treat.  Prasantha (Dudley’s lovely wife) had made a special stop to pick up a birthday cake for Luci.  Lucia was thrilled to get the special comfort from home.

While there were no presents in the traditional sense, I think Luci was pretty happy with how her birthday went this year.  She truly got to spend it the way she had envisioned for over 12 months, playing with baby sea turtles.  This was the greatest present, an experience unlike any she had ever had and may not get to have ever again.  God’s gift to her today showed her the path of life in a literal sense of course, but also figuratively.  The path is one of love, new experiences, and an overwhelming sense of joy in the Lord’s presence that leaves you prancing through sand ever mindful of God’s precious turtles scampering below.  For mom and dad, another lesson was evident.  It is with God’s call and encouragement that we were even here.  Thus it is in His presence that we experienced this joyous day of new birth and a reminder of our daughter’s.  With all of our hearts we are thankful for this joy that God brought to us this day.

Monday February 18, 2019

Hebrews 13:5-6 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Today was our first day working with these beautiful turtles. Here at the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project there are 2 main types of turtles that are brought into the hatchery, Green Turtles and Olive Ridley Turtles. I learned a lot about these animals today, as well as how this conservation project works, though I suspect I will learn more over the next two weeks. We have talked with the kids and their schoolwork during our time here is to learn as much as they can about the turtles and the project as a whole. Part of our volunteer assignment is to lead tours and teach English to some of the local kids, in addition to the daily operations and upkeep of the project. Today was both a tank cleaning day and a day for us to teach English to the kids.

I am sure there are people who are wondering about the turtles kept at the sanctuary. The project keeps 12 turtles in their care. They have 6 Hawksbill turtles, which are very endangered, 1 Loggerhead turtle, 1 Olive Ridley, and 4 Green Turtles. These turtles, with the exception of the Loggerhead, will all be released around 5 years of age. The project keeps these turtles for the purpose of education and research. The 4 year old Loggerhead turtle is the only permanent resident because she is blind (she is missing her left eye and is blind in her right eye-both due to a birth defect).

The volunteer schedule is pretty set, which is nice to have a routine for the day. We start our work at 8:30 am, usually with burying any new turtle eggs that are brought in from the local fisherman. (This project has been able to work out a relationship with the local fisherman to buy the eggs they collect each night, as these were previously sold in the markets for food.) We dig a hole in the hatchery sand about 65 cm deep with a bigger bottom (imagine a fish bowl), we drop in 50-100 eggs and then cover with sand, just as the mamma turtle does; the incubation period is about 45 days. In addition to burying the eggs, we also have to clean out nests that have hatched, which means we dig the hole again and remove all the hatched eggs shells, eggs that didn’t hatch, and watch any remaining turtle scamper out of their nest. This process can be quite smelly! By the time we finish with this, we are completely covered in sand from head to toe, not to mention drenched in sweat.

Since Monday is tank cleaning day, after taking care of the hatchery, we get to clean the tanks. The sanctuary doesn’t use any chemicals or additives to the water in the tanks; it is brought in directly from the ocean. This means that algae grows quick, which is why we have to drain and scrub them frequently. This proved to be very tiring work, even with 5 adult volunteers scrubbing away at the algae covered tanks, it took us all morning and some of the afternoon to clean the 9 tanks. But there is always a silver lining. In the wild the turtles take advantage of “cleaning stations” where other animals will clean the algae off their shells and fins, but we don’t have that here, so we have to do it. I imagine that every tank cleaning day we are going to have to moderate the “I want to clean the turtle” argument between our kids! We sprinkle the turtle with some sand and gently take the brush to his/her shell, then massage their flippers with sand until they are sparkling clean!

Since the tank cleaning took up all of the morning and part of the afternoon, we had a late lunch and then found out that we weren’t teaching today because of the holiday, Perahera Festival. Dudley arranged for all of us to take a bus to Colombo to see the parade and all of the festivities.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with friendly people, but holy cow it is humid and hot here, and this is the cool season! We rode the no a/c bus to Colombo and by the time we got there I was drenched. But even me, who doesn’t care for the heat, was enjoying myself. I was so excited to experience this festival and parade. The parade was long, but so fun. They had traditional dancers and performers in traditional garb, then the elephants came. While it was really cool to see these huge creatures walking through the streets of Colombo, it was so sad to see the marks on their legs where the chains to control and restrain them had rubbed them raw. The kids noticed the same thing and their excitement was quickly dissipated too. Our desire to see elephants was now a more specific desire to see elephants in the wild, when they weren’t chained at their feet. I completely understand why they had their feet restrained during this event. You have a street lined with people and performers in front and behind the elephants; there definitely needs to be an element of control. The thing that bothered me was these elephants showed that this was not a rare occasion to have chains on their legs, but rather a regular occurrence.

This scripture passage kind of made me laugh a bit. When we got here yesterday we were informed that there was no hot water, I thought that this was going to be a problem, specifically for our kids during shower time. I heard a little complaining before they started showering last night, but that quickly faded as they realized that the cold water actually felt really good in this stifling heat and humidity. I never heard another word out of the kids about the water being too cold, probably because they realized how good it felt to have a cold shower after a long day of being so hot. Yet again, God not only takes care of us, but He always provides us with enough.

Saturday January 26, 2019

Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Vacation started today. Everyone slept in until 9:00 am, which I think we all enjoyed. We quickly got dressed and headed downstairs for the flag raising ceremony for Republic Day and then off to breakfast. The kids got to enjoy the pancakes and waffles they have been craving and missing. We walked around the hotel, I took a nap, Jeff worked out, and then I sat in the steam room for about 20 minutes hoping it would help my cough (it didn’t, but it still felt nice). We ended up having a late lunch in hopes that we could just do a light snack for dinner and the hotel was nice enough to give us a really late check-out so we only ended up sitting in the lobby for about an hour before our car arrived to take us to the airport.

The kids were so excited to be headed for Singapore, but not so thrilled that it was another overnight flight. Though we were holding onto a small surprise, we were flying Singapore airlines on an double decker airplane and we had seats upstairs–they were thrilled. We got to the airport with no problem, got checked-in and found out that I had to meet with a customs agent before going through security. This seemed to really concern the children, though I am not sure why. Everything worked out just fine and we continued on our way.

As we were walking through the Duty Free shops to the gate, we came across a luggage store where he was able to find a bag for all of our electronics that will not make him want to cry. Since we left the states he has been using my old college shoulder bag. This was a good bag, but it was not designed for heavy loads and it was constantly digging into his shoulder. His new bag is a backpack and much more conducive to traveling. The guys at the luggage shop also seemed pretty thrilled to get a new bag, since we left behind his old one after swapping everything into the new one.

I grabbed a quick muffin and drink for everyone and we boarded the double decker plane bound for Singapore. While at the luggage store we grabbed eye masks for all 3 kids and that may have been one of our best investments! All three kids slept for most of the flight, despite the cabin lights being on for most of it!

Goodbye India…Our new Banbasa family has changed us forever. You will forever hold a piece of my heart and I will be back as often as possible. To all at The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, we miss you already and thank you for welcoming us into your family. We will see you soon, but until then know that we connected forever.

Friday January 25, 2019

Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.

Even though goodbyes are becoming part of our life now, they don’t get any easier. We got up early and showered (actually I took a bucket shower because there was no water pressure), got the kids up and ready, finished the last bit of packing, and headed downstairs for our last breakfast on the mission. Clifton led a wonderful prayer and all these goodbyes brought tears to my eyes and overwhelmed my heart with a mixture of joy and sadness. Anjali was able to hand out her friendship bracelets we made last night and we all were bombarded with hugs and friendship bracelets from everyone.

The mission kids had school today and I am so grateful they did because I don’t know how we would have ever gotten out of there. They all leave for school at 7:45, right when our car pulled up. We did the final goodbye hugs and the older kids headed off to school. The little ones were still there because they don’t start until 9:00, so I was finally able to capture Ruhani’s infectious laugh on video. Check it out on my Instagram page @sarassimplelife. As we drove away from our home over the last 2 months, we were comforted by letters and cards made by the kids. It was such a wonderful gift from them and we read some during our drive.

After a group prayer we piled in the car before the tears could begin and we were off of our 375 km/12 hour trip to Delhi. This drive was similar to every other drive we have done in India, complete with crazy driving and weird traffic situations. At one point, as we neared the suburbs of Delhi we encountered some construction in which we went from 3 designated lanes (which actually means 5-6 lanes of cars) down to one designated lane (which meant 2-3 lanes of cars). This experience was so crazy. I have never felt so trapped while in a car as I did then. I don’t think we were even able to open the car doors to get out, not that we would, but there were cars and motorbikes everywhere!

But we finally made it to our hotel near the airport. We checked in and dropped our luggage off in the room before heading to dinner. The food here was good, but everything we ate reminded us of our Banbasa home we just left. Nothing tasted nearly as good,probably because we were really missing the company.j

I was really not feeling well at all, the air quality here in Delhi was worse than in Banbasa and I was extremely grateful that Aunty Rosie was kind enough to give me a couple masks to wear; they helped a ton. Pretty much after dinner I headed to bed. We had a long day ahead of us, since our flight was not until 9:45 pm tomorrow night. But I will say that we made the right decision to drive to Delhi today rather than tomorrow on Republic Day. The hotel was crazy busy and so were the roads, tomorrow would be so much worse.

Thursday January 24, 2019

Romans 15:1 We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Packing, packing, and more packing along with some last minute laundry and a few final projects that got finished up. I have been attached to Priscilla any time she gets near the kitchen because I am desperate to extract any cooking knowledge out of her! Clifton and his DTour clients got in last night, so we got a small bit of time with them before we all go our separate ways tomorrow.

These final goodbyes are so difficult and even though we’ve done this already several times, it doesn’t seem to get any easier, but it is almost more difficult. I think we are able to connect with people faster because we know we only have a short period of time and I am just heartbroken that we have to say goodbye tomorrow after breakfast. This week Jeff and I have been getting up in the morning to help with breakfast and our kids each took one day this week to also help (I couldn’t do Tuesday and Wednesday because I was not up for it-my asthma and cough is getting worse by the day and I am struggling just to walk up the stairs. I have never experienced this much difficulty breathing with just a cold.)

Jeff and I were able to help Clifton out with his DTour meeting this morning. After hearing all about the plans for their next 8 days on motorbikes into the Himalayas both Jeff and I have an urge to take up riding so we can join another one of his tours. This won’t happen right away because we will need to have a fair amount of experience on a motorcycle before we could do something like this, but I am totally game and think this could be an adventure of a lifetime! If you already ride and are up for a challenging but thrilling ride into the mountains of northern India, check out the DTour website.

I was able to sneak away with a few cookies for a Uncle Malcom and Aunty Sonia. It was so nice to see them again and they promised to come by this evening to say goodbye to all of us because they would not likely see us in the morning before we left.

For tonight’s dinner I didn’t leave Priscilla’s side and also got to try my hand at chutney making again, this time I didn’t over blend it and it turned out amazing. Priscilla was kind enough to make my favorite dinner here, vegetable subji with chipati and chutney!

Just before we started eating, Sonia and Malcom came over and we got all our kids to say our goodbye to these wonderful people. Sonia’s hugs are the best and I am going to miss them. It is just one more reason to come back again soon.

This whoever week we have been receiving multiple cards and friendship bracelets from the kids here and Anjali really wanted to make some for her new friends. She was still up making these bracelets when we got back from dinner and was going to be up all night finishing these if she didn’t get some help. So she and I watched 50 First Dates and made more friendship bracelets than I care to know. We finished the last one about 5 minutes before the movie ended. Thankfully there would be plenty of time to rest and nap during the long car ride to Delhi tomorrow morning.

I did our last bit of packing and took Priscilla, Cathy, and Nancy some items that didn’t make the cut and headed off to bed.

Wednesday January 23, 2019

Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

The mission kids were off school again today, actually they were off yesterday too, because of the rain up north in the mountains. For whatever the reason, Banbasa is part of the same district as Champawat which is way up in the hills. I can understand that schools would close up there when it rains because there would be no way for the kids to get to and from school with possible landslides and dangerous roads, but why the schools here are closed I have no idea, though the kids here are not complaining.

Anjali got up this morning to help with breakfast and she did great. It is amazing what a little extra sleep will do for a girl!

Today the girls and I made some chocolate chip cookies (several weeks ago Priscilla was able to track down some chocolate chips in Khatima). My kids were super excited and I was surprised that the cookies turned out pretty awesome given the fact that we were missing brown sugar and the white sugar we have here is not the same refined sugar we get back home but rather sugar crystals. However, Aunty Rosie had purchased a hand mixer which made creaming the butter for the cookies a much easier task. The cookies were a hit at 4:00 tea time and we finished just in time for the power to get turned off for the afternoon.

Lucia has been gone just about every afternoon and evening having dinner and playing with Ellie, Eugene and Filly’s daughter. Ellie is 17 and she and Lucia have become quite the pair. According to Filly, Ellie makes Lucia dinner and they sit and eat and talk and laugh together.

We’ve had another good day with Anjali so I am feeling a little more hopeful that getting her more sleep was at least a part of the solution.

On a totally different subject, Cathy was so sweet and bought Lucia an early birthday gift…this beautiful dress. Lucia loved it and didn’t want to take it off. Thank you Cathy!