(Re)claiming Spaces

Some wise friends of mine, as well as what I’ve learned through my cultural anthropology courses, have told me to listen and observe my surroundings first and foremost. This simple task of taking a moment to take a new setting in, to be aware of all of my senses, even when things don’t quite make sense to me yet, is powerful.

I often find myself getting very excited about going into a new experience or meeting new people that I can literally talk a mile a minute. Although it’s entertaining to watch a puppy chase its own tail in circles – hint hint, I’m the pup, – it’d be a much happier and less dizzy puppy if it was able to remember what was going on around it.

Lately, I’ve been trying to take a step back. I’m a natural questioner, who can go a little bit overboard with my interrogations questions. But, what I’ve been able to learn a lot from listening and observing first. For instance, if two people are speaking in a (perceived) heated manner in a language you don’t fully understand, you may jump to conclusions and/or try and figure out the situation. However, maybe they were just speaking in a passionate tone, and not arguing at all. I’ve learned that this is the case most of the time! This stepping back has also helped me with my work. I’ve learned not to bring a laundry list of endless questions to understand a particular process or system – cus ain’t nobody got (all the) time for me. I’ve learned to simplify, prioritise and ultimately trust my instincts.

*insert good transition here because I can’t think of one*

Something else that I want to talk about is in light of the current global #16Days of activism againist gender based violence (GBV). In case you don’t already know, #16Days brings attention to GBV, calling for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls everywhere. It’s a campaign that highlights pressing GBV issues and provides a platform to connect decision makers, NGOs, activists, and individuals in communities around the world to work together to eliminate GBV. As much as GBV is a huge, and frankly disheartening global epidemic with

1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. (WHO, 2016),

I do have some positives stories to share because we need to continue to have hope that we can make this statistic something of the past. These stories relate to the title of today’s blog.

As a young women, I’ve been warned countless times to be cautious of dangers in the world that lie outside the comfort of my home or protection of my friends and family. In particular, if I’m using transit or exploring nature. Perhaps it’s the staggering number of stories that make headlines about harassments in transit and in isolated places, fear of the unknown, and/or they’re speaking from personal experience. I know that the concern comes from a good place.

After a lifetime of hearing this, whether you want to or not, you do worry for yourself and fellow sisters because it becomes second nature. These spaces become a minefield and that you need to navigate cautiously (or else). They don’t always feel accessible or belonging to you, even though they are a public good or space that’s supposed to be shared by all.

But some days, the minefield shifts. In those moments, even briefly, you walk and move through these spaces without hesitation. There are two instances in particular that relate to each of these spaces that I’ve felt a sense of reclamation.

Firstly, transit. Early last month, my workplace packed several buses with women entrepreneurs to travel hours away from their homes to spend the day celebrating their successes, faith and one another. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. But seeing how happy they were, even though were on a packed and none air conditioned bus, dancing hours away to their favourite tunes – and they somehow managed to drag me and my uncoordinated feet up to groove along – this was such an empowering moment and sight. They were so free and easy going on a vehicle that the most are likely to have faced some sort of harassment in their lifetime.

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Me with staff members from my organization after a very, very long bus ride

Secondly, nature. In any touristy guidebook you’ll pick up about Sri Lanka, or speaking to locals, everyone will tell you that you must climb Adam’s Peak aka Sri Pada if you have the chance. I learned that the season typically starts in December and lasts well into the spring time. However, after some conversations and research, I learned that it’s not always ideal to go during season with more foot traffic, difficulties in even reaching the top due to the sheer number of people, etc. Although the benefits include enjoying the shops and stops along your journey up and having a well lit pathway. For me, I just wanted to experience the hike and climb itself, and thrill of starting it in the middle of the night. Two other friends and I made plans to hike on a long weekend in November, about a month before seasons starts. I didn’t make any public announcements about my plans, but as the date got closer, word had spread in office about the plans. This was met with a lot of worried reactions. Many of my second Sri Lankan moms tried to convince me not to go – there were animals, it would be dark and cold, I could get hurt – the list of reasons why not were endless. And these repeated words kept playing in my head that I almost changed my mind – the key word being almost. I was too excited and stubborn and wanted to prove everyone wrong. That yes, there are dangers out there in nature, but no, I’ll be okay. So I went on with the plans. While I was climbing, it was even how dark it was or fear of the unknown that had me worried. I was worried that I wouldn’t reach the top because of my own mental and physical exhaustion – only four hours of sleep and a few hours climb? Challenge accepted! Luckily, I kept my spirits up and made it up in time for sunrise, despite the real and perceived minefields.

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Sunrise views from the top of Adam’s Peak

So yeah, I hope you enjoyed reading about those two stories. When I’m having a particularly rough day or unpleasant encounter, I remind myself of them.

As usual, here are some (very long overdue) photos for your viewing pleasure:

Some photos of plants and soil while I was in the field – workshop for women entrepreneurs to make their own compost and how to grow the best plants for the market.  

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Playing Assistant Director for the day! Do I look profesh with a piece of paper in hand? 

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I was missing all sorts of food so I travelled far for yummy tacos and Vietnamese food. Hello pho, I’ve missed thee. 

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Celebrating International Volunteer Day with fellow WUSC Uniterra interns! Our awesome sending organization brought us together for an evening to hang out. 

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The preschoolers (that we share buildings with) ended their year with a concert! Here I am, being thrown in at the last minute to hand out graduating gifts and certificates to some of the kiddos. Although we didn’t chat often – language barriers – she was my fave with her BIG SMILES that lit up my day always. 

 

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Riding the train here for the first time was exciting. You can literally stick your head out of the window and doorways. Eeeks!

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Did I mention that I did a mini Adam’s Peak before the actual one on the same weekend? Could this have also explained partly why I was SO TIRED?!  But the misty views were SO WORTH IT. 

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Ella was a beautiful place to visit! Views from a restaurant I had breakfast at and drink I ordered. 

Some photos from Nuwara Eliya – Hansa Coffee shop (left) and a spot we found for breakfast (right) that had an interesting layout and yummy and super spicy food! It was a connivence store and restaurant all in one.  

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In the home stretch of the climb up Adam’s Peak, we came across this gem. A stall that sold some snacks and hot tea. The person in charge gave climbers good news – from this point on, we were only 30 minutes to the top. Amazing! 

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Selfie at the top of Adam’s Peak. It was 5:30 am and we were probably the most energetic people up there – before we crashed on the way down.   

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Feels at the top.

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Bryan is getting bigger each and every day and more aware of his surroundings including big sis. He loves it when I play with this stuffed turtle toy I bought here.  #LittleBro😍

That’s it for now. Until next time, xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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