I cannot believe it – I made it to Sri Lanka! After being stressed out for a couple of days because of my fear of flying, the national emergency proclaimed on Thursday, and the continued lockdown, the journey went surprisingly well and I am currently waiting in the quarantine hotel for the results of my PCR test.
The last time I went to Sri Lanka was before the pandemic, the flight was full with tourists and a handful of Sri Lankans. This time, we were 21 (yes, no typo) people on board! It was the spookiest flight I have ever been on, with people sleeping across the seats of the middle aisle and no sounds apart from the plane. Apparently, this is mostly the case with flights coming from Europe – but the flights from Western Asia are supposedly completely full.
When we were waiting to board the plane, I met two women my age who went to Sri Lanka the first time – both to go to an Ayurveda Hotel. When I asked them why they chose Sri Lanka for this (having in my mind the current situation), one of them replied: well, because I could not go to India right now. They were not even sure if they were able to leave the hotel and see something of the island – which they are not as long as there is a lockdown. In such instances, it becomes really hard for me not to judge people. I would never travel to another country, particularly half way across the world, and not be informed about what is going on there – especially during a pandemic. I have heard some Europeans got the impression that the world is back to „normal“ (whatever that is supposed to mean), but could not believe it was this bad until I had to witness this last night. I am sorry to say this but: Fuck this privilege!
Maybe that is why they were stunned by the Colombo airport even more than I was. It was not possible to touch anything or even leave the airport without having the pick up driver confirm your identity at the exit. This was the first time I was officially picked up at an airport, with a name sign and everything. I must say – this did not feel as special as I thought it would 😉
The driver then brought me to the quarantine hotel I which I am right now, having had two delicious meals and a PCR test – what else can I ask for?
Nothing more, especially since I have the best friends and colleagues who wrote me messages, and told me about their experiences of fieldwork. One of them even gave me this motivating postcard with amazing advice for how to take care of oneself during fieldwork. Thanks to all of you!
I am now sitting on my bed, hoping that the spider in the curtains won’t get out of them during the night. I have tried to use this day in quarantine at least somehow productive and wrote to all my contacts and asked them for interview dates – two are now already set and I was even put into contact with three more interviewees! Since I have come into contact with some of my interview partners via their former school, I had so them a questionnaire first. I already told them that this was to be used as the basis for a more broad conversation, but I fear that some are not scared of to talk for example about history or religion, because they think, they „do not know enough about it“. Do you have any tips for me how to start the conversation with those having the questionnaire broadly enough to have an informal and spontaneous chat? Also, is there anyone with experiences in online interviews? Anything particular to be mindful of?
To be prepared and able to reflect, I have started two journals. One of them is the official one, with dates, meetings and notes about the interviews. The other one is more of a personal diary. Last time I have been to Sri Lanka I have experienced so much and already forgot too much of it – let’s see if this is a good way to do it.
Also, one of my interview partners just offered to show me around the University Peradeniya at Kandy (if no lockdown), because she works there. This came up because she wanted to assure me that it would be no bother at all to help me, because she knows how dreadful a PhD can be. So, thanks for this to a shitty university system everywhere, I guess?
Tomorrow I will move to my permanent place in Colombo and will get back to you soon with reflections on the first interviews and days in lodging.
All the best, stay safe and healthy!