Friday, July 29, 2011

REBUILDING SRI LANKA

Aerial Photo from Digital Globe/Getty Images
Some of the flood waters from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami traveled up to 2 miles inland. Elephants, monkeys, and dogs alike ran to higher ground. People marveled at the fact that very few animals were found dead. Somehow these animals sensed the disaster right before it happened. They were able to avoid the devastation that destroyed thousands of human lives, buildings and natural habitats. With a magnitude of 9.0, it is not surprising that this catastrophic event also rearranged the coastline.

Monitor Lizard Photograph by Guy Dobson
In an effort to rebuild the coast, the government of Sri Lanka facilitated the planting of several mangrove forests. Mangroves are tropical evergreens that have stilt-like intertwining aerial roots. Once regarded as a development "wasteland", these mangroves now serve as a bio-shield for its inhabitants. This includes the magnificent array of colorful birds, broad-snouted crocodiles, and water monitor lizards that I saw during a mangrove-lagoon boat tour.
Photo from Rebuilding Sri Lanka
The on-going restoration of Sri Lanka has not been a small feat. The country has undergone a violent sifting both from he 2004 tsunami and the 26 year-long civil war (ended 2009). And yet, the people that I met seemed to maintain a sense of true hope. Humanitarian groups like Rebuilding Sri Lanka have helped to make this happen. RSL routinely provides educational, medical and building supplies, in addition to general support. RSL empowers people by helping them get on their feet and earn their own living. Unemployed carpenters, mechanics, boat repair men, seamstresses and many others have been able to secure jobs through their livlihood program. School children have also benefitted from Rebuilding Sri Lanka's provision of uniforms, shoes, books, and basic nutrition.
Habitat for Humanity
One other notable rebuilding group is Habitat for Humanity. They coordinate "global village trips" that utilize the volunteer efforts of people from all over the world. The large-hearted volunteers willingly take care of their own expenses, fly into the country and then help construct two-room core houses so displaced families can have a real home.

Friday, July 22, 2011

SRI LANKA

Photograph by Hash Milhan
Sri Lankan etiquette says that if you have the chance to offer something to a monk, elderly person or other exalted person, offer it with both hands. It's a gesture symbolic of honor and respect. This little travel tip also gave me a small insight into the kind of people Sri Lankans tend to be in general. From my various hosts, to the people that I met along the way, I sensed a kind of open-handed...open-hearted presence.
Photograph by HG Mukhopadhyay
One of my hosts offered me a unique distilled spirit called arrack. Arrack is made from the fermented sap of the coconut flower. It is a Sri Lankan specialty drink that has a dark amber tint and a brandy-like aroma. When I tasted it, I was reminded of scotch without the smokiness. It has a slightly sweet profile with a delicate coconut background. The distilling process is sometimes handled with a traditional pot still or with a modern patent still. One local distiller, W.M. Mendis, had their patent still imported from France. The Mendis still is the same kind of machinery that some congnac makers use when making their famous brandy.

When I learned about the process of making arrack, I also came across many other ways the Sri Lankan people use the coconut. This video illustrates the ingenuity of the Sri Lankan people and what they can do with the humble coconut.

Monday, July 18, 2011

THE BEST LIGHT SHOW ON EARTH

Photo by Marco Egeter
Two essential things are needed to view the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) - clear skies and darkness. It also helps if you're in the right place at the right time. The best place to see the Northern Lights is in the high northern latitudes - usually during the wintertime. I recently flew to Sri Lanka for a special event. The pilot took a circular route to Europe while bringing us very close to the Arctic Circle. And, without any special planning on my part, I hapen to hit all the marks to see one of the most speectacular natural displays of beauty I've ever seen.

Photo by Joar Andre
It was about 2 am when I awoke to a plane filled with passengers uttering oohs and ahhs. Wondering what was going on, I looked around and then peered outside my window. To my amazement, I saw an amazing display of the Northern Lights. The luminous arches of blueish-green rays danced outside my window for the better part of an hour.

The Aurora Borealis is a phenomena I've only seen in photos and perhaps one or two planetarium shows. In person, the lights are haunting and surreal. Seeing them from a bird's eye view also added to the splendor of the entire show. It's no wonder why mythological legends exist about the lights. One of my favorite myths comes from the Algonquin Indians who believed that after the Great Creator finished making earth he ventured to the North Pole. He will often build a brilliant fire in the sky to remind those he created of his everlasting love.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

HIGHLIGHTS from the 2011 GETTYSBURG FESTIVAL

Infusing a historic town like Gettysburg with a steady stream of artists, music, theater, and cuisine is no small task - especially if it's carried out for 10 days. But the folks who ran this year's Gettysburg Festival handled it with tremendous fervor and finesse.

Karen Hendricks, who is the Festival's marketing director, said, "On the surface, the 2011 Gettysburg Festival offerings lived up to the festival's mission to provide access to the arts to inspire, entertain and educate the public. But time after time, 2011 Festival events became more meaningful, thanks to the people involved - volunteers, attendees, or the performers/artists themselves." Karen couldn't be more right on. I am grateful to the incredible staff who pulled off another successful celebration. They helped to generate enough excitement so that we saw double the attendance at several events.

I have so enjoyed taking on the challenging role of the culinary director. I look forward to seeing what is on next year's Gettysburg Festival plate.