The way things work in Sri Lanka

Thursday, 28 April 2016
I went to Kandy, Sri Lanka to give a lecture at the U.S. Embassy's American Corner about using social media to promote social issues (that was the requested topic and because of my research on social media and teaching experiences, I was excited to do it).
Kandy is 68 miles east of Colombo (110 kilometers) and due to the narrow, winding roads, heavy traffic, and pedestrians, three wheelers, busses, tractor-trailer trucks, wild dogs, the odd cow, etc. it takes about 3.5 to 4 hours to get there by car. There are trains but they are less reliable and rarely have air conditioning.
Photo from: secretlanka.com

We arrived over the weekend and stayed at the Kandy House. James didn't stay the whole time and I was able to conduct research, write, build my presentation, practice, and attempt to make contacts with a few journalists. The PRIMARY reason I was in Kandy was to do the lecture so my entire time there was planned around the important task of getting to the location early, setting up, and being cool, calm, and collected for the lecture. A nice thought...
My photo of The Kandy House (my hotel) at dusk

The evening before the lecture, I spoke with the manager of the hotel (the hotel is not a hotel - it more of a guest house, so think Bed and Breakfast rather than hotel) again, and confirmed that a driver would pick me up at 2:00 p.m. the following day for a 3:00 p.m. lecture at the library. We even spoke about which library, etc. I had estimated 15-20 minutes to get there but being early is always a good thing.

At 1:45 p.m. the next day, I was ready. My computer was charged, I'd emailed the presentation to myself as a backup, and was watching for the car. Let's do this! The driver did not arrive at 2:00 p.m. Now, I've been here for two months so I know if the person is not already there at the appointed time, there is likely a "miscommunication." I called the front office. A woman said no problem, she would call the driver. My heart beat slowed a bit. A few minutes later a staff member arrived holding a phone. He gave it to me, motioning that I should take the call. "Hello? Hello?" I was getting frustrated. The man on the other end said, "Madam, I'm the driver that brought you to Kandy from Colombo. I am not there today." They had called THE driver not a driver who was supposed to just pick me up for the library. Clearly, no one understood what was going on and the manager that I'd confirmed with was not there.

It was now 2:15 p.m. Luckily the staff member holding the phone understood enough English to know that I needed to go to the library. He asked me to wait. I suggested he call a tuk tuk. (I'll arrive sweaty, hair on end, and with running makeup but at least I'd get there on time!) He did not like that suggestion and went to talk with two other staff member that were gathering to watch. LOL!

He came back 10 minutes later and - no problem. A driver was on the way! Okay, 2:25 p.m. I can still get there - plenty of time. Five minutes later another knock at my door. "Sorry, Madam but the driver is stuck in a big traffic jam. He will be another 20 minutes." Oh My Goodness! I said okay and thanked him for his help. What could I do?

Long story short, the driver shows up at 10 til 3:00 p.m. and takes the scenic route so I can see the lake at the center of Kandy. !?!? He believes he is being helpful to me and kind. I am late and there is no way to communicate this to him without seeming rude. I have to take deep breaths, try to relax my shoulders, and stay calm. In that moment I said to myself, "I'll get there when I get there" and tried to watch for rare birds.
Photo of Kandy Lake by viplankatours.com

I arrived 10 minutes late and about 25 people were there waiting for me. They were actually ON TIME because a Westerner was doing the presentation (we are known to be punctual)! Sri Lankan time is LATE. Role reversal. Haha! It went well but I was so embarrassed. The manager of the hotel apologized but I could never figure out if someone forgot to book my ride, if the ride didn't show up, if my request was thought of as more of a suggestion, or some bizarre combination of all three.
Photo of D. S. Senanayake Memorial Public Library from panoramio.com

Also, as of today, I have had four journalists cancel meetings with me at the last second. I'm sure it is a cultural thing (and also they are doing my a favor with their own time) but I wish I knew how to play the game the right way. As soon as I figure it out, I fear, it will be time to head back. 

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