Meet Afra, and Your Life May Change

When Courtney and I decided to sponsor a child after I was asked on this trip to Sri Lanka, I opened the World Vision website and asked Courtney to choose a child. She flicked through a couple pictures of boys, and then a girl popped up. A Muslim girl. And a girl the same age as my youngest child — in fact, exactly one week older than him.

Her name is Afra, and I got to meet her today.

And today is her birthday!

Afra with Sunglasses

The birthday girl!

Something that we didn’t know, but I discovered upon meeting Afra and her family, is that she’s disabled.

When she was three, Afra was playing with the neighbor children in her village. A truck driver coming down the road swerved playfully at a friend he saw. But he didn’t see Afra. She was pinned up against a wall, and her leg was crushed and mutilated in the truck’s rear wheel.

The trucker got out of his truck, saw the little girl and, thinking that no one was looking, kicked her into the ditch. To him, she was poor trash.

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Who’s In Sri Lanka?

As with any trip like this, my co-journeyers are as much a part of my experience as anything else. They are a fantastic collection of individuals. We were brought together by sheer serendipity — we differ on theology, politics, and much else. And yet we have gelled into a cohesive and supportive group. I recommend you click thru to each and read what they’re writing about the trip. (All photos by Matthew Paul Turner, who is also on the trip.)

Shawn Smucker

Roxy at Roxy Composed

Laura at Hollywood Housewife

Joy of Joy in This Journey

Allison of O My Family

Darrel of Stuff Fundies Like

The World Vision Blog

I’d love for you to follow us on the trip and consider sponsoring a child as well.


I (Almost) Fell Into a Burnin’ Ring of Fire

Timiti Festival at the Munneswaram Temple in Sri Lanka

Firewalking at the annual Munneswaram Festival in Sri Lanka

So, not to be a jerk or anything, but I’m pretty sure I did something on Sunday that you did not do.

After some sightseeing and shopping, Has, the World Vision staffer who is our guide and handler here, asked if we’d rather shop some more or swing by a Hindu temple to watch a ceremony that was taking place. The latter easily won out.

About an hour after her seemingly harmless question, we found ourselves in the middle of crushing throngs of thousands of people, watching men and boys walk across 1000-degree coals.

Being the only foreigners there, we very much stuck out. And, as a result, we were also afforded special access. Some generous police officer waved us inside the ropes, where we got to sit next to the families of all the men who were walking. At first, that seemed like a great idea. Once the ceremony actually started, it turned a bit crazy. As the crowds rushed in to the center and the police seemed suddenly absent, we held our ground as best we could.

We were at the Munneswaram Temple complex, which dates back 1,000 years. That temple is dedicated to Shiva, one of the three main deities in the Hindu trinity, known as the Transformer or the Destroyer. The temple’s main annual festival, the Munneswaram Festival, lasts for 28 days and includes an evening of firewalking, borrowed from the Timiti Festivals at other Hindu temples in this part of the world.

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The Synergies of Travel

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned to my friend, Tim, that I was going to Sri Lanka. “Oh,” he exclaimed, “One of my favorite authors is from Sri Lanka. You should read about Michael Ondaatje’s trip back there.” That day, I ordered Running in the Family.

Ondaatje, the Booker Prize-winning author of The English Patient, grew up mainly in Canada, but he has roots in Sri Lanka. In 1978, he traveled to what was then known as Ceylon, to revisit his childhood and his ancestry. Running in the Family, about that trip, was published in 1982.

I began reading it on the flight over here, and I had it under my arm as Shawn Smucker and I walked from our hotel, across the street to the beach. I looked up to notice a man walking on ropes, high above us in the palm trees, pouring a liquid from pots into a pot that he lowered by rope to the ground.

Our very gracious hotelier, Tommy, saw us looking up and explained to us that the man was collecting the sap of the palm flower, which is subsequently fermented and made into a drink called the palm toddy and also further distilled into arrack. He told us that he’d serve us a toddy before lunch and some arrack after dinner.

After that little education, I planted myself on a chair on the beach, and opened Ondaatje’s book, wherein, after a few pages, I came across the poem, “High Flowers,” which reads, in part,

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