So I’ve arrived stateside after an unbelievable trip and thought I’d share one more post about my last week in Sri Lanka.
Sunday we rolled down south to see Sugumaran, a dairy farmer and VisionFund client located in Maskeliya. Maskeliya is a little town located in the southern Central Province tea plantations area. It’s a hazy mountainous region dominated by hills lined with neat little rows of tea plants. It’s breathtaking. And the Ceylon tea is darn good – I drank it like water in that cold rainy weather.
But it’s not as idyllic as appearances might indicate, as the area is very poor. Some tea pickers believe they’re living out karma for sins of a past life. I don’t hold that perspective, but it gives insight in to how they view their circumstances.
Sugumaran beams. He reminds me of an early cinema star. At 45 years old, he’s got the mustache, and the classic smile of a Sri Lankan Clark Gable. And the man works really hard. I was tipped off to this at our first meeting. I asked him when we should come by the next morning to start filming. He suggested 4:30 am – that’s when he’s up to milk the cows.
Above is an old movie poster hanging in Sugumaran’s shop. Reminds me of him.
Two of Sugumaran’s three kids on their way to school.
Sugumaran’s mother cooking while holding her grandchild.
A little more about that eventful first meeting – after about an hour or so into our chat, Sugumaran’s 70 year old mother came racing into the living room exclaiming something in Tamil. Sugumaran’s face lit up with glee. One of his nine cows was about to make 10. Dianne and Megali ran with the family to the cowshed. I raced to the truck to grab my camera equipment. All I could hear was one loud moooo, and then plop. Apparently the little bugger just popped right out, feet first. There was one cow, then in an instant two – like those little wooden Russian dolls. You’d have to ask Dianne and Megali for an in depth analysis. Although a bit shocked and slightly traumatized, they told me that it was a wonderful thing – seemed so natural. Makes you think about the circle of life and all that I guess.
Amidst all the excitement with the newborn calf, I caught a first glimpse of something in Sugumaran. He displayed a deep joy and reverence for that calf. In our subsequent days together, he revealed not only his profound love for his family, but also for cows, dogs and all living things.
Like, they’ve got two bird’s nests right there in the living room. Birds zipping in and out of the house don’t seem to bother anyone. His two dogs, which were initially strays, have little stray dog friends. So while shooting, there were always three or four happy little doggies running in and out of the place.
Sugumaran didn’t seem to mind this little leech that latched on to him while cutting grass for his cows.
When we talk about ‘heart,’ we sometimes talk about two seemingly distinct things. Like ‘have a heart’ as in compassion and, ‘heart’ as in that hard-working, fighting spirit. After spending a few days with Sugumaran and hearing his story, I’m not so sure they don’t mean the same thing. Because I came away with a predominant thought: he’s got heart.
Speaking of stray dogs, they’re EVERYWHERE in Sri Lanka. Any road I traveled down in both the cities and rural areas, I’d see a stray dog or two every 50 or 100 yards. It’s uncanny. They just trot around either on their own or in little groups of two or three. It’s hard to know what to make of them. They’re not vicious; they’re actually really polite like well behaved pets. And from what I’ve been told, that’s sort of how they’re regarded – they’re like communal pets. Megali said that if animal control tries to take one away, people in that dog’s community protest. They’ve been given names, food, love, and a place in the communities.
Apparently there are about two million stray dogs in the small country that’s only the size of West Virgina. One reason there are so many is because Buddhists and Hindus believe it’s wrong to neuter animals and to put them down, so most vets won’t perform either procedure. They really seem to have a deep respect for the sanctity of all forms of life. Seeing this attitude has been inspiring to me; it’s given me cause for reflection about the way I see animals.
Megali cofounded and co-runs what sounds like a fantastic charity in which stray dogs are posted to facebook and can be adopted. It’s called Adopt A Dog In Sri Lanka. They’ve been doing it for just a few years and have already helped 800 dogs find homes! Check out their facebook page to see the great work they’re doing if you get a chance:
So what’s next? I’ll be spending about three weeks holed up working on the post-production with the goal of having something by mid-July. Be sure to check back around then for updates on the video.
Peace and Love,