Monday, February 29, 2016

Heading to Bibile: Week Three

Winding roads through the mountainous heart of Sri Lanka brought us up into majestic scenery, and down through 18 hairpin curves.  (known here as elbows)

Stopped for fresh fruit - local farm to table at its best. Refreshing stop to stretch our legs and enjoy a new taste experience of wood apple juice with milk.. tastes like a milk shake flavored with really good apple sauce.

One of the benefits of Layasing knowing every Methodist minister in Sri Lanka - is arranging to park on the church grounds in the city of Kandy where parking is at a premium.

Heavy rains cleared for Friday's all day eye clinic at Bibile, checking 130 people including villagers, agricultural workers,  school children, police officers, retired military, a Buddhist monk, and a witch doctor. (Yes the practice of going to a village witch doctor for cures,  potions and spells is still a very real part of life).
Saturday we drove to Mahiyanganaya. Morning service with about 18 new Believers a house church.  This is what pioneering a church looks like in Sri Lanka. After a delicious lunch prepared by the church ladies,  the eye clinic saw 63 people and gave out 53 pair of glasses. Light dinner of hoppers  (egg and plain) and we called it a night.

Sunday Morning we were served  breakfast at the mission house. A Sri Lankan specialty of milk rice with your choice of chili sauce, or sweetened with  a coconut honey mixture (made from coconut syrup and coconut meat).

The Church grounds have  room to grow pepper (shown green immature, plus ripened and dried)  when ready, they climb bamboo poles to harvest the pepper berries.  Also papaya, banana, and a fruit that when dry, the flesh becomes fluffy and is used as cotton to stuff pillows.

Our weekend literally winds down with a 6+ hour return trip to our home base in Moratuwa.  Stay tuned for a report on our final week's adventure.  Thank you cannot begin to express our appreciation for your love, prayers and support ~ Pat

If you are wondering what Cyndy is doing back in Montana, visit her photo blog at .

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

And Then There Were Two

As you continue to follow our journey here,  you will quickly notice that you are hearing  a different voice.
After two wonderfully busy, productive, adventurous weeks - Cyndy left this tropical paradise to return home to the snow covered mountains of Montana. 
She will be posting about the amazing Sri Lankan food, as well as a few thoughts on debriefing and returning to life at home.
Gary and I have the honor to continue serving in SL for another 2 weeks.
Part of the week, we are based in Moratuwa,  along the shore of the Indian Ocean, and this week enjoyed the beauty of the full moon just before dawn. Yesterday included an early morning walk around the neighborhood.  Banana stalk missing it's blossom - probably picked to make banana blossom curry.
Each full moon is a national holiday (Poya) in Sri Lanka, providing many workers with time a day off for family time.
During Monday's eye clinic, it was a joy to see the local Sri Lanka team smoothly running the clinic as they have without us during the past 1.5 years.  The running joke is that we have ' infected' them with the eye glass 'bug'.
Our goal has always been that people would not depend  on us.  But that we would be able to leave tools and resources that would support and strengthen the work they have been doing for so many years in their homeland.
Evening meeting at Adara Sevana where hungry hearts gather to worship the Lord, hear the teaching from the Word of God,  and receive prayer.
Note the multi purpose of this room .... meeting hall, class room and garage.  Land is used to its maximum capacity, and dedicated garage space would be a great luxury
It's Thursday evening. We just finished the 6+ hour drive across Sri Lanka, to Biblie in the Monaragala District, where we will hold eye clinics and services this weekend.
Thank you from the depths of our hearts for you continued love, prayers and support ~ Pat

Homeward: Safely Arrived In Missoula, Montana

Finally arrived home just after 9 PM Tuesday evening, with no further travel excitement - yay! Got a decent most-of-a-night's sleep (thanks for the extra melatonin, sis!) and enjoyed a quiet day at home to re-acclimate, unpack, and square away a couple small loads of laundry. Everything feels slightly odd - the experience of being busily away in a whole other culture and suddenly being back seems a little unreal - perhaps akin to Dorothy artiving back in Kansas. Plus, the comparative quiet and the colder weather are a distinct contrast. I will actually have to wear socks and closed shoes tomorrow - the horror!
But physically I feel well, aside from an unexpected floaty, dizzy sensation throughout the day. I barely managed to resist the pull of an afternoon nap, so I should sleep easy tonight and be ready for work in the morning.

But now, it's time for another spot of tea, personally imported from the historic  Mackwoods Estate.
The Lemon Puffs are irresistible enough to be one of the few items I brought home for myself - er, I mean, to share with Tom. They're two exquisitely flaky butter crackers, slightly salted, and married with a light, not-too-sweet lemon icing. Yum!

On that lovely note I'll sign off. Cheerio! - Cyndy

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Homeward: Tokyo, Japan, To Denver, Colorado, USA

Hooray for empty seats to sleep in and an engaging flight crew to entertain during a delay in Tokyo! And hooray for the Dreamliner, which pressurizes at 6,000 feet - significantly lower than most flights - which is apparently easier on the human body and thus should shorten my recovery back to Mountain time!

Clear skies coming into Denver, and a balmy 42 degrees F on the ground!
(Striking and massive historic photos along the walkways.)

Finally made it thru three rounds of US Customs/ Securiy. The queues were longer than Disneyworld, and not quite the same promise of fun at the end. 

A mechanical technicality sent us back to the gate in Tokyo Narita airport, thus departure ended up being 3 hours later, Thus, I miss my originally scheduled final flight home to Missoula, Montana.
BUT the good news is there's a 6:51 PM flight today to Missoula, and I'm on it! For this we are thankful, especially as flights to Missoula are of a rather limited selection.

In the meantime, enjoying my last travel meal - New Belgium Pub's house chili and roasted veggies, with bonus fresh fried potato chips - perfect! 

Now, for me, it's home again, home again, jiggety jig! 
Pat, Gary, and I will all be posting from here on out -  boots-on-the-ground updates from them and backward glances from me. Thanks for taking the time to step into our adventure!- Cyndy

Monday, February 22, 2016

Homeward: Bangkok, Thailand, to Tokyo, Japan

First off, from the Sri Lanka home front, the brief word from Pat is that they served 38 people at Monday's eye clinic at Adara Sevana, the school in Moratuwa. What a wonderful impact and relationship building opportunity in the local neighbourhood! (Even the resident pug puppy is excited! No, really - that's an excited face - you'll have to trust me on this.)

All went well for my afternoon and overnight in Bangkok - well, overnight meaning another 3:20 AM wake up for a 7 AM ish flight. (Sadly, growing up in the '80s has propelled into my head the snippet of song lyric, "one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble...". Another childhood moment courtesy of my older brother's radio station choices.)

The Thong Ta Resort hotel was a lovely, calming place to rest for the duration. And their staff has some serious folding skills to create towel ninjas!  I was also heartened to see evidence of a fruitful local Gideon's group in the well-thumbed bedside New Testament. 

Venturing outside the hotel grounds, I got a massage to help work out a few travel kinks, 

and ate some smashing noodle and wonton soups from a street vendor, with a little help ordering from a very kind local customer sitting near the cart. Later, I managed to order all by myself - with much pointing and gestures on both sides off the conversation! - the second bowl for takeaway, which included some of the duck you see hanging from the cart window. Very tender and yum! And in case anyone is fretting, yes, it was safe; I had Gary's assurance. The takeaway packaging process was interesting, partly because it was done in about 20 seconds: broth ladeled into a plastic bag then secured with an elastic; wontons, noodles, greens, and duck portioned out in a plastic bowl then flipped into waxed paper, folded up and secured with a second elastic; all popped in a thin plastic bag atop a styrofoam bowl, plus chopsticks and seasoning pack - presto! 

After the charming chaos of Sri Lanka, Bangkok seemed almost a tad pale in comparison. The orderly traffic flow, all staying within the correct lines, felt almost a waste of good driving space. 

However, taking a bit of a walk, I definitely noticed Bangkok has its own slightly calmer charms, including this lovely businesswoman (another new Facebook friend IF I were on Facebook), who sold to me some Thai snacks to take home for Tom, my husband. She lives outside of the city and works as a middleman, coming into Bangkok weekly to sell traditional snacks that others have made and packaged, carrying the basketed pole across her shoulders. Here's hoping, for Tom's sake, that the packaging is official enough to make it thru customs in Denver. 

I'd hoped for a longer walk in Bangkok, since the front desk assured me the neighborhood was very safe, but air quality was not the best to be trekking about. I  can understand why many local people wore basic filter masks over their nose and mouth. But since it was far less intense than the forest fire pollution we've had in Montana, I still ventured a short stroll. 

It's rather fascinating to think that I left Bangkok at 7:10 AM Tuesday morning, and will arrive home in Montana at 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, since at my departure time it was just 5:10 PM in Montana - on Monday evening.

I've just arrived at Tokyo Narita Airport - hooray! - so can fire off this post.

Now for the trek the gate for my last connecting flight, to Denver, Colorado, USA. More to come once I clear customs there! - Cyndy

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Homeward : Columbo To Bangkok

And I'm off! Safely and successfully thru security - although I did get asked to open my carryon bag. It was slightly amusing trying to explain the pump up neck contraption (medically advised due to on-going auto accident recuperation). Thank you Dr. S.!

I'll admit, I did get a little teary on take-off, watching the buildings and landscape of Sri Lanka grow smaller. But that's because I'm a bit of a sap. Of course, I will miss Pat and Gary - I especially cherish any time I can get with my sisters. But I will also miss the gracious and inspiring new friends of Sri Lanka; I'm very grateful for the opportunity to work alongside and amongst them in very straightforward and useful activities. It's been a very satisfying two weeks. 

I'm definitely a fan of Sri Lankan Air. Seriously, three delectable main dish choices for a 3 hour flight?! After a bit of agonizing, I decided on the milk rice, chicken curry, and seeni sambal. Is this not just too perfect?! (I remembered this time to take off the lid before the photo. And yes, that is a little pack of real silverware. All this just for the hoi polloi like me! Crazy.)

Food aside, the airline staff are astonishingly polite. Case in point:  the security check guard actually zipped my suitcase back up, after replacing my weird little neck thing.
And I'm guessing I won't see this considerate little sign in any western airline restroom. (Sorry, Pat - I couldn't resist.)

Well, it's hello Bangkok for me. Just waiting for luggage at carousel 17 - I paid attention this time to the announcement. (Note to self: moving luggage carousel track in peripheral vision, while typing on cell, produces the same kind of 'vertigo' as when the car next to you at the stop light moves.)

Just snagged my bag and am off to customs and then the lovely hotel. There will be more to come - from dual sources! TTFN! - Cyndy

Moratuwa Once Again: Sunday In Sri Lanka

The seeming whirlwind of the past couple days has brought us 'home' to our hotel in Moratuwa, with its close up views of oceans and trains - two of my favourite things (after raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens).

The staff may have shuddered upon seeing me again.: 'There's the lady who's clueless about the call button...' Sadly, my button pushing incident on the ANA flight in didn't prepare me for the arrangement of switches at our Moratuwa hotel. Our first night here I doggedly clicked away until I hit the right switch to turn off the bedside lamps. Belatedly, I realized that the fourth square didn't actually click - because it's a BUTTON. With a very faint outline of a bell on it. Oops. Another great opportunity to offer profuse apologies. 

Pat and Gary will be based here the first half of the next couple weeks, but I leave tomorrow at 4 AM from our hotel. Well, we all leave at 4 AM, since Pat and Gary are kindly coming to see me off. Partly because they want to avert anything similar to me getting on the wrong shuttle  to the wrong baggage claim at the Vegas airport. But mostly because they love me. It's a bit unbelievable that two weeks have already zipped past. But they were active and fruitful weeks.

Since I have to take a melatonin tab and go to bed soon, I'll keep it brief tonite. But I'll post more about the last few days (and one whole foodie post - I heard Kathy is waiting for that one!) while I'm journeying home, alone, since I'll have plenty of time by myself (insert sappy crying emoticon here). Odds are more realistic that I'll have additional interesting conversations with total strangers like the young Buddhist monk next to me on the flight into Colombo. (If I were on Facebook, he'd already be my friend.) 

I will miss Pat and Gary; the time together has been amazing. And I can't think of a more delightful last morning than one spent with our extended church family. We left the bird sanctuary bungalow just after 6:30 this morning, driving a couple hours through miles and miles of switchbacks and terraced tea estates to join in the 8:30ish service at the Methodist church in Dunsinane.

This happened to be Communion Sunday.  Before the adults come up to receive the sacraments, all the children came forward and each were given a candy - what a wonderful way to be included and to learn that the life found  in Christ is sweet. 

Worship was rousingly rhythmic and fully engaged. And, again, we were privileged to pray for people after Gary's rousing and relevantly illustrated sermon, which was as rousingly interpreted by Reverend Richard, who travelled with us from Nuwara Eliya. To do this, he had to ride the bus for over two hours to get home, and Sumi, his lovely wife, covered the preaching at their own church. We were blessed time and again by this kind of selfless generosity through many people. 

After service and a short cup of tea, we looked in briefly as Reverend Richard greeted the students gathered in the classroom adjacent to the church sanctuary. On Sundays, the church hosts classes for the children of tea plantation workers, taught by an English teacher who drives in from his main school location (& he just happens to be Buddhist). We were sent on our way by smiles and friendly waves.t

It's off to beddy-bye for us. Oo - but not until after we eat this lovely watalappam (very special Sri Lankan custard that reminds me all at once of the most amazing bread pudding, pecan pie, rice pudding and flan) just delivered - and lovingly  prepared by - the indefatigable Deepthi!

More to come over the next travel days! - Cyndy

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Friday Eye Clinic: Grama Niladari, Sri Lanka

Sorry - I've gotten a day behind with posting due to a combination of fickle wifi and busy, long days.

Friday morning, we woke to glorious sights and sounds at our bird sanctuary lodgings near Nuwara Eliya, with an added bonus of tea in the upper viewing room, followed by breakfast with new friends from a UK ministry group.

Friday's eye clinic was held at the senior centre in Grama Niladari.  When we arrived, 15 or so people were waiting outside - because the inside room was packed with 50 to 60 more, all standing up, patiently awaiting the start time, knowing that more waiting was to come. 

From the very start, I found myself overwhelmed at the abundance of thankfulness in the room, several times even to tears. The senior group president greeted us warmly on behalf of their community, stating how glad they were for us to come and hold the clinic in their building. For so many of the people at the different clinics, the eyeglasses we present are the first they've ever owned: it's delightfully rewarding to see spontaneous smiles as the world suddenly comes into focus. The light in their faces is a vivid reminder of how much we take for granted, and also of how what seem to be simple kindnesses from our view can literally change someone's life. 

This is a rampant vegetable growing region - leeks, carrots, cabbages, potatoes, etc., flourishing in fields of perfectly uniform raised beds, with more terraced in anywhere there is space. Perhaps since vegetables are plenteous local staples, overall health of eyes was very good, especially compared to other areas with less produce available. 

Though the majority of today's group was mainly Buddhist, many asked for additional prayer for needs other than compromised eyesight, clearly stating that they believe Jesus can help them. It's amazing how showing love through meeting a present need can open hearts to trust for other very real but unseen needs. 

Mid-morning tea and short eats were served to us; my Western mind finds it a bit of a conundrum to eat in front of people who are still waiting, but knowing It is an honour to receive such gracious hospitality. (Somehow, though, I managed to try one of everything ... savoury samosas are very helpful toward mental adjustment.) After the clinic, we were invited to the home next door to join several local community leaders for a late lunch. I'm trying not to overuse the word 'gracious', but this is part and parcel of all the Sri Lankan people we've met, so it's a bit of a challenge.

In all, 69 people's eyes were examined, and 59 pairs of eyeglasses were given away today. 

Saturday is another clinic day at a different location, so please check in tomorrow - there is more to come. - Cyndy

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Driving To Nurawa Eliya

Our Thursday travels started early and lasted past dark. Granted, this included a couple stops for tea and short eats (Sri Lankan slang for tasty snacks that aren't quite a meal). From seaside Moratuwa to the highest point in the tea growing country near  Nurawa Eliya, we gained 5700 feet in elevation. Scroll down to 'hop on the bus'!

Morning commuter traffic at 6:30 AM, heading to Columbo

Breakfast just down the street from the optometrist shop and school where Deepthi is attending classes. (Yes, that is sort of a hot dog with the lettuce leaf. If you order sausages here, you'll most likely get a frankfurter.)

Stopping just before Yakkala for tomorrow's breakfast pineapples - and takeaway bags of fresh cut pineapple chunks that smelled aMAZing, with overtones of coconut. The best kind of fast food!

Roadside scenes through multiple towns graced with rhythmic names: Thihariya, Nittambuwa, Warakapola, Mawanella, Pilimatalawa, Gelioya, Weligalla. They merge together, similar to how Southern California's communities are laced together along the main highways. Well, similar in a rather broad sense...

Fascinating contrasts abound - brick and palm construction next to glass and steel, one-table snack shops cheek-to-jowl with mini supermarkets, brand new cars alongside well-worn bicycles, women in traditional saris chatting on smartphones. 

Shops large and small - mostly VERY small - sell pretty much everything you could think of, and more. (Note the hardware store selling sinks, etc. - Home Depot, eat your heart out!)

Billboards everywhere - Lady Bird Johnson would have been inspired to another clean-up campaign. 

Oddly enough, all the shrines were out the side opposite my window seat, in case you'd heard there are a few of these in Sri Lanka. I also shied away from overt people pictures, erring on the respectful side. 

All of this driving (which, by the way - you should sit down for this - is without seatbelts) functions for me as a kind of condensed cultural immersion school. Thus, by the time we arrive in a village, I have some sense of context of the daily world of the people we're serving. I am so loving being fully present in every portion of this trip. 

The entire drive was a vivid, bountiful  visual feast; I hope you enjoy this small representation. - Cyndy