Week Without Walls – Jaffna Narratives


This Week Without Walls (WWW), a week organized by our school and teachers for students to leave the classroom for a week, I chose to go to Jaffna, in the north of Sri Lanka. The civil war only ended recently in 2009, but its interesting to think about how much has changed since 6 years ago. We were given preliminary readings which I spent a lot  of time reading because I knew very little about what happened.

I remember when I gave news of moving to Sri Lanka, my old teacher had told me it has a rich and interesting history. I never thought to explore what she meant. The trip was packed with a lot of activities and required a lot of thinking and reflection, so these readings and knowledge helped me in forming some ideas and a better understanding of Jaffna and its history. The whole trip allowed us to think about the history of Sri Lanka and of Jaffna in particular.

Day 1:
Flying to Jaffna, Bus Rides, My First Hindu Temple, SOS Village
Day 2: Buddhist Temples, Hindu Temples, Ferry Rides, Jaffna Fort, Good Ice-Cream

Day 3: Early Morning Temple, Jaffna Public Library, Temple Carver, SOS Village Revisted
Day 4: Goodbye Jaffna, Hello Mannar, Sunsets on the Beach, Bonfires

Temple Visits & the Temple Carver
Before this I had never experienced going into a temple, and there were certain conventions that I had to adjust to but they were very easy to comply with. It was important during this time to be considerate of other’s cultures and consider my actions in these temples and generally around Jaffna with what I say. I had tremendous respect for not only the dedication taken to maintain these temples but also the dedication towards their faith as well. I found a lot of solace and a lot of beauty in the way the temples were constructed, and the variety in which the temples came despite being all in the same region; each had something distinct or unique to it, whether it be in the architecture of the exterior, or the architecture of the interior, or the way they depicted the stories.

Visiting the temple carver, who worked on many statues for the temples, also enlightened me on the perspective of pursuing what you like and pursuing it with passion and dedication. I admired how he was proud of his work and how he proudly carried this tradition on. It was interesting to see how his daughter was now involved in the same work but with the involvement of technology. I like the idea that art is ever-changing.

Reliving My Childhood
Playing with the children in the SOS Village in Jaffna was one of the most memorable experiences. We visited twice. Out of everything it made me happy to contribute to their childhood by spending time playing and naturally talking to them, whilst also making memories for the both us and them. I think I thought it’d be difficult – mostly because I wouldn’t know what to say. Turns out there was no need for words and overcoming language barriers is easy. They really tried to explain to us, in English if they could, or if they couldn’t they’d find Adams (one of the guys who works there and looks after them) to explain it to us.  In the end, I focused on having fun and playing with them and getting to know them through those activities. There were a group of older girls who I played games with a lot, through netball, though I’m not sure I know how to play netball still:

They taught us other games, chasing games, dodgeball, everything – and even though some games had singing involved in another language, it was easy to pick up on the rules because of how friendly they were. There was no way you couldn’t love them all. It was nice to see how each of them had a different personality, but they came together and worked together so well. Even in the older girls group, there was a girl who took charge so easily of the games and organized everyone so well and with confidence!

There was another younger girl that was so happy with the jumprope we gave and it made her happy every little jump she could do. I want to encourage people and this small thing made me realize that. Like everyone else, I didn’t want to leave, and it was the saddest moment to leave both times we had visits. The visit taught me a lot of things, even if it didn’t teach me netball. I learned a lot about compassion and just fun! I never see service as something tedious. I hope our school will continue to support these children through future visits and sponsoring, with their education, with their hobbies, etc. because they really deserve it. They are a big family who welcomed us in for those two days and I am so grateful.

Ferry Ride & Jaffna Reconstructed
On the 2nd day, we took a visit to Nagadipa by ferry. I love traveling by boat, I just like to close my eyes and relax on boat rides. The place was interesting to look at in terms of history, religion, and even politicization of the place. We learned about the visit of Buddha to solve the dispute between the two kings who fought for a throne, one on the north and one in the south of Sri Lanka which was interesting to think about. We left flowers at the Buddhist temple area and there was one building in particular which had a large Buddha statue where the ceilings and walls were filled with murals depicting the history of Nagadipa. Beneath these murals were also caricatures of previous leaders of Sri Lanka. On the other side there was the Hindu temple, which was bright and colorful and was dedicated to Parvati. There was some ritual being held which we watched and it was a very different experience to several minutes before at the Buddhist temple.

Mrs. Lenk mentioned many times the way in which Jaffna is being reconstructed and the way that affects the people there. One thing that stuck with me is the idea that there was so much reconstruction and it is such a beautiful place, but underneath it all a lot of problems still remain. In the nature, through the palmyras for example, there were still remnants of the past. The Jaffna Fort was strikingly beautiful, with a very rich history, and it was being reconstructed and finally it was opened to the public to see for the first time in a long time. That was another unforgettable experience to walk through it during sunset. A lot of things may remain unknown. I liked that we got a broad range of history during the trip. I love visiting places but what I love more is visiting a place and understanding that place more than what is on the outside. While we were visiting the victory monument, the memorial, the water tank, it was insightful and useful to consider the use of language in each and every and how it was changing just due to the location, moving further down south away from Jaffna.

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The visit to the Jaffna Public Library solidified all my thoughts and appreciation for learning. Their mission statement included becoming life-long learners. I prefer convenience but there is something about the library and its history that all the efforts they go through to maintain it seem worth it, like watching them bind newspapers and books, seeing the archives, and seeing the microfilms. There is something about the silence of that library and the presence of people  which made it calming to walk through.  I wished I could spend time looking through the place after the tour but I still enjoyed the lady’s tour and how much she loved the library. I’m glad she was willing to share it with us.

The whole of the last day was dedicated to going back to Colombo from Mannar.


beautiful sunset at Mannar

Thank you Shloak & Mrs. Lenk for sharing your photos, credited where due! Thank you Mrs. Lenk and Mr. Lambert-Knott for organizing and allowing us to see Jaffna through multiple perspectives, I think we all learned something new because you actively talked with us throughout. Best and last WWW for all of us ♡



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