Synchronistic Ways of the Universe

Sri Lankan Woman in Tea Fields

Last week I celebrated my birthday. Rather than count new wrinkles and gray hairs, I try to give thanks for the tremendous friends and opportunities I have in my life. The past 12 months turned out to be an amazing year of travel. I photographed in Burma during the fall and summer. Roads I traveled took me to meet tribes that have never seen Westerners before. These people were hidden away high up in mountains with no hospitals or doctors. They have been relying on the ancient wisdom passed down through generations cultivating the healing power of nature’s gifts and it must have been working because they took us to meet the elders who were in their 80’s and 90’s! In Sri Lanka, I was taken to a truly verdant forest that was heavy with rain. Here the Shamans grow and study the power and secrets in plants, herbs and trees. I was led into a hut with a dirt floor and a table. A young woman proceeded to use the power of touch and specially made oils to sooth my tired muscles. There wasn’t one knot left and like an American, I wanted to buy the oils but they were just made for that moment in time. Here, I also had the most delicious tea made from leaves that had just been picked that morning. There was a very powerful sense of respect and living in harmony with the earth.

I then returned home and was hit hard with the flu and pneumonia that the doctors thought I contracted on my flight. This is where the universe weaves in new paths and curiosities and sometimes uses difficult situations to get interesting messages across. Antibiotics gave me thrush and then the medicine to deal with the thrush was terrible on my stomach. I was getting worse, not better. So, I took myself off the medicine and a friend started me with the natural medicine of essential oils. Here I was again, learning and healing from the gifts of nature from a bed and not a hut! It was a year of many, many connections…connections with ancient tribes, wisdom and the energies of the earth. The words, “Respect”, “Harmony” and “Communion” all come to mind. I never had a year like this. In all of the years of travel, I have never gotten sick! Why now? One of my loves for travel photography stems from a deep calling, a vocation to tell stories and create bridges and here I find myself called to learn everything I can about the power of these healing oils from wonderful and wise modern day shamans who wear diamond studded t-shirts that say, “There’s an oil for that!” I am so grateful that I live in a country with access to incredible medical facilities and hopefully, our government will continue to provide low cost access to health care for all but now, I have been led to a new path, off the beaten road for the most part and am learning about ways to enhance my health care. Life just keeps getting more and more expansive and interesting. “Roots and Wings” – travel the world and dance with the earth. Now I carry canons, tripods and vials of lemon, lavender and frankincense! Now I have so many more love stories to tell and I am thrilled to be sharing and selling these natural medicines! Doterra is the company I am working with because of their commitment to the environment, growing plants indigenously, replanting and paying the farmers very fair wages, establishing educational, nutritional and loan programs enriching the lives of many. The company uses strict scientific testing procedures to ensure the highest quality and potency. So along with stories and photographs of travels, I hope you will not mind if I also share the stories of a bit of the amazing biodiversity that surrounds us. My other website is now:
http://mydoterra.com/francesschwabenland Please stop by and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. If you would like to hear more, just let me know. I get so excited about sharing and I promise I won’t talk too long!!!

Sri Lanka Veddas

Travel affords me so many amazing opportunities. Living in Philadelphia, there is probably very little chance that I will ever be able to meet a man with long flowing jet black hair, wearing nothing but a loin cloth, living in the midst of a dense jungle and moving silently through the trees with a bow and arrow and ax slung over one shoulder.

Vedda Man of Sri Lanka

The trip to Dabana, took us from modern roads, walking through a dense, verdant jungle squatting aside low hanging branches and insects to finally come upon a clearing and a dirt path calling us further into exploration. We had traveled back in time to see the few remaining aboriginal settlers of Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India.

One of the last remaining Veddas of Sri Lanka

The Veddas as they are known, are reported to have come to Sri Lanka about 1600 BC and our visit was a rich and deeper cultural experience into this land of past and present. The clearing we were on opened to a few mud huts with thatched roofs which served as a type of a museum, providing a look into village life. Painted on the sides of two of the buildings were primitive stick people. One with a triangle seemed to symbolize a female and the other, just the plain form of a circle and lines for the males, a small letter m seemed to represent an animal. The origin of story telling for this group!

Hail to the Chief

Our guide took us further back on the path to meet the few remaining natives. In the 1970’s, the government census showed only 6,000 remaining Veddas left. As per the unspoken requirement, we were taken to first make the acquaintance of the chief, Uruwarige Wannila Aththo. Our shoes came off at the door and then the appropriate bowing to this older, gray haired man sitting crossed legged with only a loin cloth. It was a bit of a surreal experience because in the midst of this primitive existence, photographs of this leader meeting various dignitaries lined the walls. The chief sat down crossed legged and said nothing as we, confused and a bit hesitant to the protocol, took our seats on the perimeter inside the hut. We were very happy when 5 men in suits entered to break the awkward silence. The visit turned into a birthday party for one of the gentlemen complete with cake and candles, missing was the usual chorus of “Happy Birthday” though! The man who was the subject of the celebration told us that he held the chief in such high esteem as a wise sage and he wanted his blessing on this new year of life. We politely declined eating the cake being offered ( a good friend’s sage advice is to travel with the locals but eat with the tourists to avoid those pesty stomach issues).

Chief Must Accept Visitor
first

Birthday Blessing

We bowed our way out of the hut, leaving the greetings to the next set of visitors. Six native men in various degrees of dress escorted us out. Women were not permitted to be seen while outsiders were there so I have no idea the number of women who would be able to give birth to new baby Veddas, continuing this tribe.

Finding the Prey with a Bow and Arrow

Vedda Hunter Taking In Life

For thousands of years, the Veddas have been hunters and gathers. Their lifestyle has depended upon the natural world of the jungle, all that grows and all that moves there. A few years ago though, the government put into effect regulations against the hunting of certain animals. So this may be when survival and the modern world impeded upon this ancient way of life. Not knowing the language, we were somehow able to understand that in exchange for a bit of money, we would be treated to ritual dances, fire building and the skills involved in hunting with a bow and arrow. We were suddenly thrust back into the ways of the present and the influence of the “pay off”! However, as visitors observing these cultural rituals, we found it a validation to the calling of leaving the beaten path to discover the somewhat obscure. Making our way through a dense jungle brought us face to face with a tribe having a BC date of origin and a population that seems to be on the verge of extinction. Yes, we paid a small amount of money but our glimpse into the past was well worth it and who knows for how long this opportunity may exist for those who visit Sri Lanka.

Hunting Tools of the Vedda

Vedda Men

If you like this story, would you consider sharing this…spreading stories and connecting people across continents and cultures. Thanks and all the best! Francie

Sri Lanka Fishing Village at Negombo

Steadfast Eyes

Pico Iyer said, ” It’s almost as if travel is giving you the raw material, but stillness gives you the meaning of what you’ve experienced.” I find his words to be so true. Pouring over photographs, reliving experiences in my mind and formulating the many profound lessons that travel affords happens deeply in the stillness of return. In my last post, I wrote about the famous stilt fisherman of Sri Lanka. They are a beautiful study in balance and patience amidst a serene setting but life isn’t always about calmness with beautiful light. Life can be loud, chaotic and messy too. I find the fishermen of Sri Lanka a metaphor for life.

Fisherman Preparing For The Day

Negombo is the second largest open air fishing village and market in Sri Lanka. Before leaving, I researched and read a review on Trip Advisor: “Get a good pair of boots!” This proved to be invaluable because we were sloshing around smelly, let me repeat that…very smelly fish and their body parts strewn all over. A lot of sloshing through blood mixed with ocean water, seeing fish thrown across tables, salted, laid out in the sun to dry, dissecting and discarding were going on simultaneously with loud bargaining and negotiating on prices.

Work of the Hands

Slice and Dice

Baskets Filled With The Day’s Catch

Every part of this experience was both an attack on and an enlivening of all the senses. Needless to say, we were the only non Sri Lankan fisherpeople there but it was an experience that I would not have wanted to miss. It provided another glimpse into the everyday (all except Sunday) life of those whose existence depends upon the sea.

The Day’s Catch

Woman Turning Fish Every Two Hours

The reality was that yes it was loud, chaotic and messy. Livelihoods have to be forged from that and in the middle of that. To me, one story cannot be told without the other. These are not beautiful photographs. These are raw photographs. Some days we feel balanced and breathe in deeply. While on those other days, take some advice, get a good pair of boots for when things get knee deep, move with the experience and hope for a shower and a fresh start.

Returning Home


Preparing for the Next Day

Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka

The Morning’s Call

Alone With Nature

It would be a wonderful meeting of the minds if the famous stilt fishermen of Sri Lanka came together with yoga instructors! They could both share wise insights into the art of balance, patience and cultivating stillness. Along the south shore line of this island off the coast of India, between Unawatuna and Welligama are wooden crosses dotting out into the ocean. After World War II, people were in need and the spaces available to fish along the shore line became very crowded. The fishermen of Sri Lanka then created a solution that is unique to this country. They took a wooden cross bar called a petta and used twine to tie this to a vertical bar and anchored it into the ocean’s floor. During sunrise and into the early morning, they can be seen climbing onto the stands and practicing an amazing balancing act for hours, holding onto the pole with one hand and reaching out to fish with the other. They carry everything they need in their turbans and attach a plastic bag to the ritpanna (stilt) for the catch of the day, spotted herring or small mackerals. We were fortunate to spend three days with them, photographing with beautiful light enhancing the mood and the moment.

Balancing Act

Daily Work

These tanned Sri Lankan men sit attentive to the movements above and below the waves as the hours pass by. I could learn so much from them! Take little and be in the moment! Now I am off to practice my “Tree Pose”!

Morning Ritual

I want to express my sincere thanks to Prebuddha Jaysinghe of Sri Lanka Holidays for helping me organize our trip in every way. Prebudda answered every question quickly and thoroughly and offered so many suggestions with a photographic perspective in mind. Anyone wishing to go to Sri Lanka, you would have the very best if you contacted Prebudda at prebudda@srilankaholidays.net Also, make sure you ask for Ravi as your guide. We had great fun with him as he showed us the beautiful sites of his country! Just let them know Francie recommended them!