Kandy, Sri Lanka
2 days and 3 plane flights later I had arrived halfway around the world in Sri Lanka. After a late night airport shuttle to my homestay house, I promptly began nursing my jet lag so I could start my work! I was in Sri Lanka to do a STAR project looking at the correlation between public perceptions of milk with microbiology counts in fresh cow milk, and through an in-person survey. My project was based at the University of Peradeniya, near the cultural city Kandy. This project was developed between Davis faculty Dr. Woutrina Miller and Peradeniya Faculty Dr. Saumya Wickramasinghe, with the original university collaboration starting during Dr. Saumya’s PhD studies at Davis several years ago.
Once the project started, weekdays were busy! I was busy administering surveys, or collecting and processing milk samples. The whole time I was accompanied by the most wonderful volunteer student (who in the course of my stay got hired on as a Junior Faculty member because of her amazing dedication to my project), Ayesha Salgadu. On milk collection days, we would have to wake up anywhere from 5:00am to 8:00am in order to make it to the farms in time for the milking. It was non-stop work from morning to evening, and then I’d go home and input the data from the day.
Apart from the project I also was able to participate in a variety of other veterinary related experiences. One Friday, I traveled with about 20 4th year veterinary students to a couple large farms, New Zealand and Ambewela. I was able to watch ultrasound pregnancy checks in goats and cattle, participate in rectal exams, process blood samples, and eat some fresh cheese and yogurt. Another day I was able to accompany two 4th years and a faculty veterinarian, Dr. Dangolla, to an event called a perahera. Simply put, it is a parade through the streets with dancers, food, fire, entertainers, and (here’s where we came in) elephants. Our job was to perform a physical on the elephant in the beginning and then monitor the elephants to assure crowd safety. Another time I was able to shadow Dr. Dangolla while he performed physical exams on several elephants in the surrounding areas. It was so amazing to see the process an elephant veterinarian goes through. One weekend, I was able to go with my homestay dad to Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage and meet up with the wildlife veterinarian there. While there I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, drew some blood from elephants for hormone testing, met a couple baby elephants, and saw the beautiful bathing area the elephants travel to. I was also able to participate in an excellent One Health workshop put on by two classmates of mine for their own international project, completely separate from mine (see Rennie Putnam and Fiona Whitton for their awesome experience). My final veterinary related trip was with 33 2nd year vet students to the Uda Walawe National Park. There we accompanied the wildlife veterinarians through the park and on the safari we identified wildlife, did some radio-tracking of elephants, toured the facilities, watched surgery videos on elephants, and even bathed in the river.
The other amazing part of this trip was my weekend time spent visiting different areas of the country. One weekend I went out alone and visited 4 UNESCO World Heritage sites by bus and walking. I got to see the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, as well as the cave temples at Dambulla and the majestic Sigirya Rock. Another weekend I traveled with a new friend and 1st year veterinary student from India. We visited the amazing Horton’s Plains and Worlds End, then took a beautiful scenic train ride through tea fields to the small tourist town of Ella where I initially met Rennie and Fiona. We hiked and relaxed in Ella before taking the long train ride home to Kandy. I also had the unique experience of traveling to the Temple of the Tooth on a poya day (a full moon day which is a holiday in Sri Lanka), where I went into the temple at what would be one of the busiest days of the year. On occasion I was also able to relax in the nearby Peradeniya Botanical Gardens before getting back to work. The last big trip was to the south with my homestay family to stay with their relatives. This was a truly amazing experience to be so accepted by them and invited to meet the rest of their family. Here I was able to tour their family-owned liquor shop, swim in the beautiful ocean, hike through a jungle beach, and enjoy getting to know their family.
All in all, I had a truly unique, educational, and inspiring experience in Sri Lanka. I built some lasting relationships, had some fantastic cultural experiences, tried some absolutely delicious home cooked meals, and became a part of my new Sri Lankan family-- all in a short 6 weeks! And then, as soon as it began, it ended with another 2 day and 3 plane ride trip home.