Experience #24 - Sri Lanka

Now we are finally in Asia and started in a majorly Buddhist country, Sri Lanka. I remembered all the principles I’ve learned in a retreat in Nepal that made me see Buddhism as the religion which look after the common good the most. These memories came up while walking by the streets and seeing how people smile more to you, comparing to the last countries we’ve been to. It’s a cultural personality, just like I felt in Nepal and Thailand, with also a Buddhist majority. It might not be only due to the religion, but I believe it’s the biggest influence.

Calm down that I’m not despising neither complaining about maltreatment in the other countries, but thinking about civility wherever in the planet, do you believe it’s more pleasant to live among smiles or serious faces?

The country is a small island just southwards India and people look like, physically, the neighbours. For the far off Brazilians is difficult to differentiate, but not for them of course. The country was in a sad ethnic conflict for twenty six years, which came to an end only in 2009, when the military won the Tamil rebels. The important is that today they are in peace and we didn’t feel any hostility, actually in contrary to that, a lot of love.

One of the teachings of the Buddhism that I like very much is the pure motivation. If your action, whatever it is, is moved by a goodwill reason it will only attract positive energy. It’s worth thinking for a second when you are about to decide something. What is also valid for lies. As an example, to tell a thief that you don’t have money while he tries to rob you seems quite fair, doesn’t it?

That human instinct of right or wrong also gets in here. It looks supernatural and, disregarding the exceptions, most times the right is obviously clear, but the mental pollutions interferes the decision, like selfish, hurry, shame, greed, etc.

Many of the values that are elementary like respect and honesty are not in line with the society today for many reasons, but the main one is fear. Afraid of having no money, being homeless, suffering from hunger and losing friends. These fears, as comprehensible as they are, dominate our decisions and confuse our priorities of choice among all other values.

Among many, for me, a fundamental principle is to know how to valorise, appreciate and thank who we are and what we have access to. In fact, this is the topic of this text. I started to write it sitting in a bus heading to the countryside of Sri Lanka, where even sitting smashed between two beings, (one was Gabi, at least) sweaty by a heat that warms the soul with no air conditioner, I’m in peace and thankful.

I kept thinking if I didn’t really got nuts, once for all, but I think I can explain myself.

Firstly that despite the challenges I’m here because I want and I’ve decided upon my freewill. The more we can feel ourselves as being someone else the more we can learn and I truly believe in its pure motivation. Another important relativity is that in this same situation described in the bus, there are around twenty people standing up. So imagine that regular city bus of São Paulo packed riding for five nonstop hours in a mountain range road. Seriously. Therefore I’m really thankful for being seated the whole trip.

Another reason for my gratitude is that I have no idea why these people are travelling, where they are going to and what they will do. But just for the fact that I can get to the hostel, have a warm shower, sit at a table and order whatever I want to eat with the air conditioner working, makes me feel quite grateful.

Did I convince you?

The point is not that everyone needs to suffer to learn this, but to share how relatively simple situations can mean a lot in a common day. Argument concluded.

In Sri Lanka we tried to do volunteer in an organization with a different focus, animals, and nothing funnier than the delicate elephants. When we got in contact we were shocked with one detail, take care of them and stay in a house in the jungle would cost 220 american dollars per day per couple. We haven’t paid even half of that in any accommodation until now and we were intrigued about it… As mistakes happen, we tried to clarify with the person responsible if there was any misunderstanding, but he kindly explained us that it was right and that collection imposed to the volunteers is responsible for the major part of the organization financial sustainability.

Gabi and I talked about this situation for a few days to remind this modern vision of “international-premium-volunteer-tourism” that emerged years ago. We’ve even researched a few options when we started planning the trip and of course we’ve aborted.

This doesn’t dishonour the organization’s trustworthiness and the mission they accomplish, yet the non-profit format and volunteer concept get quite loose, in my opinion.

Firstly, that any social organization which has the goal of realizing a work that the society cannot do, due to government inability or citizen complicity, has by definition to fight against the “love inequality”. Not necessarily the social inequality neither the financial, it’s more like a disharmony of attention and care that people, animals and nature have suffered from, as we forgot what really matters during the evolution. I’ve thought a lot about how to explain this point without being miscomprehended, I hope I can.

In this equality subject, demanding someone to pay a very high value to work for free beyond contradictory is selective, as it means that they just accept the hand on from someone that has enough money to pay for it. Worth highlighting that this is in Sri Lanka, where the cost of living is one of the lowest in the world…

The most inconsistent part is the volunteering, among many definitions, means to work spontaneously with no obligation or comeback expected, by freewill. Therefore, beyond requiring this divine own will, expect a high financial contribution seems to me very odd.

Of course that from the learning part and the moments with the elephants it can be fair to charge a value. But it has to be fair. Even because it shouldn’t be an easy work and everything has a price today. But to maintain the current format at least the name should be fair, like “luxury tourism with animal experiences”. The idea is not to make fun of it, in fact I’ve mentioned this to the responsible while explaining that we, as potential volunteers, wouldn’t participate in the project for disagreeing with the format and reminded that there are numerous ways of fund raising and human creativity is unlimited.

As a proof that it became a market opportunity, one of the arguments was that they established a lower price comparing to projects in Thailand. What means that there is even a price strategy vs. global competition in the sector of “international-premium-volunteer-tourism”. Again, I don’t doubt their good will, but I don’t agree.

My last argument is that if it’s a way to look after funding from wealthy volunteers willing to donate more, ok, it could actually be a nice way to redistribute income. But, I’m afraid it could become more like a price point and brand equity that may drive them into the malefic addictions of capitalism, such as wanting to create ways to convince more people that their service is better. The famous marketing… In the episode discussed there was no flexibility in price at all, not even telling about the Think Twice Brasil and our intention to publish about them. Especially because we intended to go in the following day, for when the probability of another paying volunteer to show up was practically zero.

We were embarrassed and disappointed after years learning about volunteering and months living intensively this way of life.

It’s a shame that the vision of free market economy and the opportunism are contaminating even the goodwill organizations. We need to breath again and be careful with ourselves and with what comes up to our mind without even noticing.

I loved to revive the Buddhism and know a new culture that’s now in peace. I tried to calculate how long will it take for this same peace to be valid for all the countries. Then I remembered that until we don’t get rid of proud, honour and the intentional ignorance, it’s not going to happen…

Let’s keep on trying and wait for the divine consciousness before the time to reconstruct is over. Hopefully!