Have you ever wondered what a vision trip is like? I know I did before I went on one. I sat down to sketch out a typical day, but then I realized that doesn’t exist. Then I thought about setting this up like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but that is too complicated for this still jet-lagged brain to put together. So you’ll just have to know that this is just a sketch of three of the days we spent in Sri Lanka. Swap out the weather, food, terrain, and pests/parasites/team members of choice based on the country you’re visiting.
The 15-word summary: These trips are hard work, but you will meet amazing people in some of the most beautiful, most desolate places.
Here we go.
5am: Wake up because your body clock is still set to home, or because the raucous crows are up, or because someone is sweeping your porch, or because someone is hosing down your window. Use the time to write, upload a photo or two because it takes 20 minutes per photo, or attempt to Skype your family.
6:25am: Spray yourself with DEET.
6:30am: Wander out to the breakfast area with your laptop, hoping the internet signal is stronger out there. Find yourself surprised yet again at how hot and humid the air is this early in the morning. Start sweating profusely, knowing you won’t stop until you take a shower that night. Commiserate with the rest of the team about the internet inconsistency, joke about how blazing fast it’s going to seem when you get home, and drink coffee even though it’s already 86 degrees out.
7am: if you’re a Republican out of the US during the national convention (cough Laura cough), run between a hotel room with a working TV and the breakfast buffet so you don’t miss a speech. (Laura watched the RNC speeches from Tony’s room since her TV didn’t work. It worked out well because his room was closer to the breakfast area.)
7:30am: Breakfast is served. I never ceased to wonder at the way rice and curry appeared at every meal. They also served scrambled eggs but I never tried them – they had an uncanny resemblance to instant potatoes. Instead I opted for the fresh-made omelets. We enjoyed the platters of fresh fruits, toasted white American bread, Sri Lankan bread (which was far better than American), string hoppers (little nests of white noodles), rice, dal (lentils), baked beans (that was odd), and some sort of spicy sauced meat. Some mornings they fried up bacon (though it was only crispy enough for my taste one morning) and sausages that reminded me of the little mini sausages my mother-in-law puts in sauce at the holidays, only not as tasty. One morning I tried the spread Sri Lankans put on their bread. It looked like ham salad. It was NOT ham salad. I still have no idea what was in it, but it was SPICY-HOT. Wowzers.
8am: Try one more time to get a photo to load onto your post or to schedule a Facebook or Twitter update. Switch your phone to airplane mode, pack the laptop away, hike up your floor-length skirt if you’re a woman, and ungracefully climb into the van. On the van, listen to a brief overview of the day, get instructions about which group you will go with, and then listen to a devotional given by a team member. Talk with team members, tell crazy stories about sheltered lives growing up or unsheltered lives sowing wild oats, gasp and ooh and ahh when you discover one of your team members is related to The Auntie Anne of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels (cough Shawn cough).
9:30am: Stop at the Area Development Project (ADP) offices to use the restroom facilities. Learn after Day 1 that when they offer a bathroom, you take it or you’ll be stuck using a third-world version without toilet paper, located at the back of a trash pile where you’re pretty sure snakes live (cough Matthew cough).
10am-ish: Arrive in the ADP. Visit families and hear their stories, usually in two groups visiting separate families. Take notes and try your best to spell their names. After you’re done, take some photos, play with the kids, and give little gifts of stickers, sunglasses, bouncy balls, notepads, and pencils. Eat the food that’s offered, drink the pop, and pray that your digestive system has mercy on you.
Midday: Lunch. Sri Lankan meals are all very similar. Just replace the eggs and toast with chicken curry, seafood goulash (spicy Sri Lankan style), spicy pineapple, and a gritty red rice, and add chili peppers to everything, and wah-lah. You’ve got the basic Sri Lankan buffet. I loved it, though the heat was a lot even for me. On Monday, we ate with them at a huge celebration meal with food prepared the way they like it (not Americanized at all). We did our best to eat it just like they do – with their hands – but even the crispy chips that were supposed to cool your mouth had a kick to them. Every one of us was dripping sweat from the heat in the food. It was a great bonding experience, but we were thankful that they backed off on the spices for us the rest of the week.
After lunch: Divide up and visit families to hear their stories. Reunite at the ADP office, use the facilities, then drive 1 ½ – 3 hours back to the hotel, sharing each group’s adventures and harassing the guy riding in front and freaking out about the driving (Matthew ahem). Sometimes we’d have three different conversations going on at the same time, at full volume. We laughed a lot, we teased and debated and teased some more, and we all agreed that whenever we hear the [non]word “impactful” we will think of Tony and his rants about words that aren’t words.
Late afternoon: Rest, try to take in what you saw and heard that day, think about how to write it, attempt to string a few coherent words together, give up and take a nap, read something else, write some more, edit photos, try to upload to your blog, talk over what happened that day with teammates in the common area or on the beach. I usually sprawled on my bed under the fan and air conditioner for awhile. The beach was very pleasant, but the surf was wild and the wind relentless and full of brine. It didn’t take long to coat my face and hair in salt spray.
7:25pm: Spray with DEET.
7:30pm: Dinner in the common area (unless you slept through dinner like Roxie). The hotel staff were incredibly friendly, and worked very hard to make us comfortable. They tried to make their recipes less spicy for us, and one night they planned an American food buffet, with lasagna, barbecue chicken, and potatoes. It all had a Sri Lankan flair to it, but we all appreciate the gesture so much. Dinner was very heavy on the seafood. They call shrimp “prawns” and they often don’t devein or shell them. We ate more than one crunchy prawn. I also ate calamari (cuttlefish) and some other fish I can’t identify.
If you want to try indigenous food and drink, travel with Tony Jones. He drew out of the staff what they like to drink in Sri Lanka. Apparently, they climb the palm trees to collect coconut nectar in pots. Then they distill it into a drink they call “arrak” (you have to roll the R to say it right). We tried it mixed with lime and wow – it was delicious.
After dinner: Free time for writing if your brain still works, or resting. I headed to my room to wash off the sweat and DEET in the shower (always after inspecting the bathroom for Henry the cockroach). Sprawl out on the bed under the air conditioner and ceiling fan and enjoy a few precious hours without sweating. Sleep.
There you have it. If you think you’re up for this, I just have three rules for you to keep in mind.
Rule Number 1: Be flexible. Accept at the outset that nothing will be like it is at home, and nothing will go as planned. The days will not follow the schedule exactly, the food won’t be the same, and neither will your sleep. Things happen and you can’t do anything about it. You are along for the ride.
Rule Number 2: Don’t count on technology to work. You will have to work really hard to get the stories out of your overwhelmed brain and into the screen. And once you do, connectivity will be spotty and unreliable (sometimes Instagram will work, sometimes it won’t; sometimes you’ll be able to get photos to upload, sometimes nothing will work at all).
Rule Number 3: Go easy on yourself. You’re going to put your body through the wringer. You’re going to put your mental, emotional, and spiritual being through the wringer, too. You will bond with your teammates for life. You will fly away sad to leave the people and country you’ve grown to love, but you will be incredibly relieved to return home. When you get home, you’ll be homesick for your teammates and for the country you just visited, even though you were so ready to get home just days before. You will be changed forever. Images or memories of the way people live (and die) in other places around the world will flash across your mind’s eye for the foreseeable future as an important reminder that our first-world problems are just that, first world problems.
Now, go for it! It’s amazing.
Have you ever taken a trip like this? What would you add?
Disclosure: Thank you to World Vision USA for inviting me to join the Sri Lanka bloggers trip this year and for paying my travel expenses.