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The View from Dambulla Temple: Marie (Left), Amy (Middle) & Vicky (Right)

So, this is goodbye…I couldn’t resist a final blog to capture the amazing time I have had in Sri Lanka. My only complaint is how fast time has flown by…and, let’s be honest, the mosquito bites (it’s NEVER good when a gal has lots of men staring at her legs in horrified fascination. Lol).

The voluntary work I have done here has been really spiritually fulfilling and I will be so sad to return to hum-drum life in the UK. It feels like there has been so much more than to this experience than just the elephants – although that is not to downplay their absolute brilliance! It’s just that as well as working with the ellies (bye Lakshmi!), you get to do so much more. For those looking to enhance their CV, this placement ticks so many boxes. You get involved in animal care, gardening (I’ve learnt that the potassium from coconuts is good for the soil, thanks to Mr Karu), charity administration (e.g. blogging!) and teaching. The latter has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time here. I have loved meeting the children and trying teaching for the first time. I was really touched by our final teaching session on Wednesday when the children prepared a surprise party in advance of our arrival! They provided us with copious amounts of rambutan (a delicious fruit), chocolate biscuits, nutty sweets and orange drinks. They then presented me with a fake rose bouquet (made themselves) and a hand-written card – I nearly cried (in fact I did when on my own later on).

I won’t spoil the mystery of the tourist attractions in Sri Lanka by saying too much about my experiences of them as I think, for those of you coming here, it is so much better you find out for yourselves. I have loved the Buddhist culture over here, and visiting both Dambulla Temple and the Temple of the Tooth have provided much-needed food for the soul. I would heartily recommend paying a visit to both! The former had quite a peaceful air, as well as many monkeys and a family who seemed to take quite a shine to me and appeared to want me to adopt their daughter! The Temple of the Tooth had a more powerful energy and really confirmed to me that I want to find out more about becoming a Buddhist when I return home. I love how the story of Buddha’s tooth is told through a series of beautiful pictures with a explanatory script underneath each one. There is an entire room at the Temple of the Tooth which contains these pictures and involves you walking in a circle to discover the tooth’s journey to the Temple. Of course, a circle represents unity and completion, so perhaps it is meaningful that you have to walk in such a way to unravel the whole story of Buddha’s tooth.

While in Sri Lanka, me and the other volunteers did a combined weekend of seeing Dambulla Temple and Sigiriya – Lion’s Rock! To quote Wikipedia, Sigiriya is “an ancient rock fortress and palace ruin situated in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures.” Personally, I loved the amazing cave paintings at Sigiriya, and I’m still struggling to get my head around how something so artistically brilliant can have been done in such a random spot! It makes you think how strange the world is and how much wisdom those who went before us had and how they have somehow tried to pass it on to us through the only means they had at their disposal at the time – cave art! Amy reminded me of a classic Marie-ism, when I said upon looking at Sigiriya, “Well, it’s just one big crystal really, isn’t it?” Lol. I love my crystals and, if you believe what you read, they carry important stories from past civilisations. So, with this in mind, I really believe Sigiriya, the Ancient City, contains meaningful messages within its very structure and, if you listen hard enough, you might hear something very magical!

The only other place of consequence which must surely get a mention is Adam’s Peak! This monster of a mountain is amongst one of the top three things you must do in Sri Lanka, according to the guide book. Adam’s Peak, otherwise known as “butterfly” mountain is a sacred place of pilgrimage, especially for Hindus and Buddhists, with the latter believing that the footprint mark near the summit is the left foot of the Buddha, left behind as he strode away. I am almost speechless on the matter of whether to recommend this attraction or not! Lol. I am SO happy I climbed it because it helped to prove a lot to me about what I am capable of. When I felt like I was about to die half-way up and could go no further, the fact that I was able to pause for breath, say a prayer, and continue to the top has helped me to see if I can do this, then I CAN DO ANYTHING! As someone who has never really done any serious exercise in their life, climbing 7359 feet, 5,850 steps up and the same down again, is just the most remarkable achievement! However, I’m glad I seen the grave stone on the steps on the way down rather than on the way up! Lol. The cherry-on-the-top of Adam’s Peak is meant to be the breath-taking sunset. However, we discovered that our off-peak ascent meant that we were only greeted with fog upon reaching the top. I was obviously disappointed but consoled myself with the thought of seeing Buddha’s foot. However, that seemed to have gone missing along with the sunset…I had to laugh…I guess it’s like they say, life is about the journey, not the destination.

And butterflies represent transformation, so I would like to think that climbing the “butterfly mountain” was a transformative experience which has taught me that nothing is impossible and mind over matter really can work. As I climbed the steps in the darkness, I really did change because I realised that, in the future, when I think I can’t do something or handle whatever unpleasantness life is throwing at me, I’ll remember those steps…and how nothing is insurmountable!

So, all that remains to say, is farewell to MEF – animals and humans alike. The volunteers are leaving en masse today – we said goodbye this morning to our French friends, Jennifer, Xavier, Christophe, Michael and Guillaume…next to go was Amy…and I’ll be leaving in the early hours of tomorrow morning…:(

If anyone does read this and have any questions they would like to ask me, feel free to drop me an e-mail at maried23@hotmail.com.

Marie Dunnion

14 August 2010

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