June 05, 2017 Culture

The Trip That Changed My Life: Part One

On this particular evening, almost one year ago, I spoke with Dr. Karl Wald, founder of Mr. Ellie Pooh, via cell phone. He, along with my brother (also named Carl) were trying to talk some reason into me, as I was very close to foregoing our trip altogether to a very intriguing destination. My brother Carl and I were scheduled to fly to Sri Lanka from New York approximately one week from that call.

Approaching Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress
Approaching Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortressphoto by Jenny Foreman

A few days prior, just at the beginning of Sri Lanka’s monsoon season, there had been a very horrific mudslide: a whole village within 30 miles of our destination was devastatingly buried. Watching the images of search and rescue teams, along with helicopter views of ongoing flooding, made my heart break for the people of the region. Even though tragedies like this can happen anywhere, the reality of traveling halfway across the world to a Third World country started to set in my mind.

Jenny and Viraj standing atop Sigiriya
Jenny and Viraj standing atop Sigiriya
For someone like myself, the director and teacher of a small Christian preschool, who was definitely not a seasoned traveler, the prospect of the trip was both thrilling and frightening.

I remember the phone call from ‘Karl and Carl’ vividly as I stood watching my then 13-year-old son Aiden’s baseball game. As I walked away from the aluminum bleachers nestled in the small town Nebraska soil, I listened intently to what Dr.Karl Wald had to say. As the founder of the New York-based company Mr.Ellie Pooh, Dr.Karl had made the journey to Sri Lanka many times. He said that to a first-time visitor, the trip would be amazing.

View of tropical landscape, Sigiriya
View of tropical landscape, Sigiriyaphoto by Jenny Foreman

Karl informed me that the people of Sri Lanka are known for their friendliness and outstanding, almost over-the-top hospitality — that I would meet incredible people and the trip would change my life. Dr. Karl and our contacts in Colombo assured us that the area we were visiting was not affected by the natural disaster and we were safe to visit. In fact, the people of the Mr. Ellie Pooh factory, for which we were scheduled to take photographs of, were very much anticipating our arrival.

An artisan demonstrates the batik tapestry process
An artisan demonstrates the batik tapestry processphoto by Jenny Foreman

His words did awaken the excitement that had been building in me previously, as I had been researching all of the magnificent images of the beautiful and exotic country. I still didn’t quite believe that it would change my life, per se, but I knew that it was time to put any apprehension aside.

One week later, my brother and I journeyed to the island of Sri Lanka, located in the Indian Ocean, off the southern coast of India. I was correct that it was an experience of a lifetime; we saw the most beautiful and breathtaking landscapes that can be imagined. The gently rolling hills filled with lush vegetation and beautiful tropical trees were a sight to behold.

A rainbow appears above the trees in Kegalle
A rainbow appears above the trees in Kegallephoto by Jenny Foreman

We went on two elephant safaris, observing families of wild elephants in their native grasslands. We rode in the back of a jeep at dusk with the wind blowing through our hair as wild elephants walked alongside the road with other vehicles. We made friends and acquaintances along the way.

An elephant cools off in the river
Up close and personal with a wild elephantphoto by Jenny Foreman

We had meaningful discussions about religion, culture, and the modern world. We witnessed the beautiful, spiritual culture of meditation, compassion, and acceptance. The people of Sri Lanka are some of the kindest, gentlest people that I personally have ever met and I think about them often.

A roadside vendor near Kegalle
A roadside vendor near Kegallephoto by Jenny Foreman

Thank you to the kind people of Sri Lanka who, indeed, changed my life.

While this article was being written, Sri Lanka received heavy rainfall in its southern and western regions, causing flash floods and landslides affecting nearly 700,000 and displacing over 65,000 people. More than 200 deaths have been reported and nearly 100 people remain missing. Our thoughts are with those affected by this recent disaster.