a bit about the evolving technology in Sri Lanka

Me on the beach in Maggona, Sri Lanka

Not a cell tower in sight!


In 1975 I was an AFS exchange student, one of 24 – better known as “The Fearless 24” — in the AFS Americans Abroad program. Our stay was just for the summer, which, for a small third-world Island, was actually a quite  satisfactory length of time. Being an AFS exchange student to Sri Lanka changed, or at least solidified, a huge part of who I am. It brought focus to my principles at the exact right age.

In December 2014, and dipping into the new year, I returned to the island where I reunited with friends and family to celebrate my host mother,  Yvonne Theabold’s 80th birthday. Guests came from far and wide, and for me it was a dream I never thought I would realize. I’ll be posting some stories from these incredible two weeks.

Part 1. Technology

Sri Lanka as changed in 40 years! They have actual modern technology now. Knock me over with a feather.

Don’t get me wrong. My host family — two parents and three sisters — were not a bunch of rubes. Even then, we had a flush toilet, for example. And toilet paper! (THAT is a topic for another day). In no way was I in a primitive culture or was my host family unsophisticated. In fact, they taught me a thing or two. Or twenty. But 40 years ago there was no tv in Sri Lanka. Now there is tv — led and plasma, flat screen, big, where one can watch the same iPhone 6 commercials I’ve seen at home. There is wireless internet and supposedly 3g and 4g for pretty darn fast communication. Speaking of phones, these guys’ phones ring more than anyone’s I know in the US, with the possible exception of Eileen B., and excluding everyone under the age of 26. The point is, there is actual modern technology. Not always a good thing, as we already know. But I am happy to see it more than I’m sad they have adopted it. It didn’t come as a surprise to me, yet the contrast from 1975 is jarring.

The house where I stay is large and luxurious, and completely modern– appliance-wise, flooring-wise, glass shower enclosure-wise and security-wise. Oh, and their mattresses were manufactured in this millennium (unlike mine at home). Surprise, Laurie! Their appliances are more modern than yours. All of the appliances are really cool LG ones with pretty blue lights that flash and make tuneful beeping sounds and let you know important things like what temperature the fridge is at any given moment and how fast your laundry is spinning. There is a sleek indoor air-conditioning unit in me bedroom. In the bathrooms, hot shower water is ‘on demand.’ Tankless, I think, operated by a wall switch. Sometimes the hot water doesn’t come, but that is most likely user error. And there’s really nothing wrong with a cool shower now and then, if you’re in the tropics. Outside, there are visible electrical cables and poles all over the place; it’s just like some places around here. Unfortunately, cable tv isn’t working in the house I stay in. I did not say all of the technology is reliable. I am grateful for how reliable we have it at home.


cell tower on neighbor's roof

who DOES this?

Technology in the wrong hands is not good. My hosts have actually moved out of this house, blessedly keeping it off the market for us foreign guests. There are many reasons they left, the biggest one probably being the commute my host ‘brother-in-law,’ Captain Duleep Vethavanam has from Mt. Lavinia to the Banderanaike International Airport. But I think the true catalyst is a small problem with the next door neighbor and the cell phone company. Apparently, the company thought it was a good idea to put a tower in a very dense, family oriented residential neighborhood. Lucky for them (the phone company, that is), this next door neighbor agreed that, for a good price (I assume), he would let them erect the tower on his roof! On the roof of his HOUSE! Literally meters [no pun intended] away from the Vethavanam’s bedroom window. Literally meters away from babies, children, and other valuable people such as Delanie and Duleep Vethavanam, and animals. And on the roof of his house! As I understand it, the fight to have it removed is reluctantly petering out, with greed, as is often the case, being the ultimate winner.

Sri Lankans face so many of the same fights we here in the States do, now that they are completely caught up with the ups and downs of modern technology. Too bad.