Let’s talk. My Sri Lanka lessons: on teamwork, frustration, and sisterhood

SL

School, after all, is a selfish endeavor.

Recently, I watched Eat, Pray, Love for the first time, the fan working furiously above my head all the while as it circulated the hot Sri Lankan air. The movie was good, but god, how I love the sound of that fan. It reminds me of being here, which is really fascinating if you think about it–because, after all, I’m still here.

But I’m saving the sound of that fan and the feeling of all that it circulates, and I’ll take it with me for when I’m far away from here and need it most.

My uncle, aunt, Inesha, and I all went out to dinner the other night at the Dutch Hospital here in Colombo. Fantastic name for a place that was transformed from a historic hospital into a light, ebullient, warm-weather dinner arena. We enjoyed Indonesian Nasi goreng, a roasted chicken sandwich, Chinese spring roles, and baby back ribs. And we talked. We are all travelers who are at parellel stages in our life, and we sat around a table and shared experiences as diverse as the food upon it. It was also the first frank look that Inesha and I had taken at our relationship in a long time–as seen by two older, wiser family members who had observed us for a short time in our 19-year-old states.

You see, I realized that this relationship has changed. This bond between Inesha and I had shifted, and negatively so. We’d been fighting more and worrying our parents more and really just doing everything bad for this relationship, more.

__________________

School, after all, is a selfish endeavor.

But motherhood is not.

____________________

Inesha and I are still students, certainly, but I had given up on being her sister and decided to be her mother of late. Being here in Sri Lanka has been as much of a team effort as a test of individual follow through and dedication, but working on GrowLanka has also given me a chance to learn something about what it means to work on a team and see your teammates as just that–people whom you can trust and whom you hold accountable.

Both Inesha and I have our faults, but for me, it was that dinner conversation with my uncle and aunt that made me realize that there are different kinds of teamwork. There’s the teamwork that two sisters share as they travel to foreign countries and leave home for college in a community foreign to their own, and then there’s the teamwork that colleagues share when they have to be able to wholly and unequivocally rely on one another.

I learned many valuable things during my time in Sri Lanka. But I also learned that I can’t be Inesha’s mother when I have been her sister since I was born. I can’t tell her what to do when there is so much that she can do on her own. I have to trust her and remember that there’s nothing wrong with a healthy amount of doubt–that way, you’re ready to let the other person surprise you :)

One day when we enter the workforce, Inesha, myself, and most of our friends will have to shift our mentality from “me-centered student life” to become a part of a team that is working for and towards something other than ourselves. This was one of the insights that Inesha shared with me since finishing her internship at the White House, and I think its a valuable realization for all of us who have been so consumed in the pursuit of knowledge for so long.

I can’t help but feel that the day when I stop checking the “student” box on all those federal forms is still a long way off. But still, I think it’s valuable to prepare myself for what that shift might be like whenever it does happen. I hope to never stop learning, but I do believe that there is a day when I will stop being simply, a student. Working with Inesha has helped open my eyes to the possibilities of service for others and made me appreciate just how fulfilling it is. In working with Inesha, I have to stumble, fall, scream, and smile my way to the compromises that colleagues might work out in half the time that it takes two sisters who decided to join the same team. But we’re working on it and part of that process has to begin with me stepping back, and realizing that I shouldn’t and can’t tell her what to do. Anyway, with time I know we’ll get there–I’ll let you know how it goes :)

__________________

School, after all, is a selfish endeavor.

But sisterhood is not–most of the time.

____________________

Being a sister means caring for the people who call you sister, but it also means caring for yourself.


Good luck to everyone who is heading back to school or may already have started their spring semesters! Inesha and I are leaving Sri Lanka soon and will be back stateside before we know it :)

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