Last weekend I got a henna tattoo. I designed and drew a lotus out on paper first and would have liked to draw the henna design on myself, but obviously I can’t really reach the spot in the upper middle of my back. The tattooer took a few liberties with my design that I didn’t realize were happening until they were already done. And by then it was too late. I'm sure no one else noticed the edits and general sloppiness that I did, but I can become pretty perfectionist when it comes to my designs. Sigh. Once an art director, always an art director, lol. Here’s the original design compared with what ended up on my back.
However, I’m still grateful for that and every other experience I’ve had here.
This was week two working with the turtles. More feeding, more shell scrubbing and more tank cleaning and sand transferring. Thursday was a particularly long day as we cleaned the 11 tanks in one morning then carried bucket loads of fresh sand from the beach and into the nesting area. Nesting season doesn’t really start until September, but Isuru said since we were such a strong group, he wanted us to rotate and refill the sand now. Shoveling and carrying sand is literally the worst job we do here and we had to do it three times this week.
A bit of drama unfolded on Thursday while I was practicing handstands on the beach. Captain (our lead coordinator in Ambalangoda) had warned everyone not to swim in the ocean this time of year because the water and rip currents and very rough and unpredictable. After getting covered in sweat and sand, everyone wanted to jump into the ocean to cool off. Two girls got caught in a rip and swifty carried several more meters away from the shore. The first girl managed to get out, but was overpowered by a wave that knocked her into a rock formation that jutted out of the water. She came up onto the beach, coughing and bleeding from several wounds on her legs. She sat and started crying - mostly from shock, I think - and other volunteers comforted her poured fresh water on the wounds to wash out the sand.
Meanwhile, the smaller girl was still stranded in the water, so Isuru jumped off the rock jetty Hasselhoff-style with a flotation device in tow and swam in her direction. He got to her in just a minute or two then helped her swim parallel to the beach until they were out of the rip and could swim to shore. By this time, all the volunteers and several locals were gathered on the beach to watch what happened. One impulsive local guy with good but misguided intentions dramatically dove into the water with all his clothes on as if he was going to save the day, but swam in the complete wrong direction. Isuru and the little Belgian girl were back on the beach before the local guy was. She was completely fine and had stayed calm the entire time.
That night, Captain called an emergency meeting at the house to determine “who had the problems with the sea.” The two girls reluctantly raised their hands and then he repeated his lecture about the dangers of the ocean this time of year for everyone’s benefit. It turns out, the unruly sea season also prevents us from releasing a few of the healthier turtles still at the compound. They could also get smashed against the rocks and are more vulnerable to being captured, killed and eaten by fisherman due to the lack of fish in the turbulent waters.
On Friday morning, we arrived at the turtle compound as usual, ready to cut up fresh fish for the turtles’ third weekly meal. We meandered around the tanks, and one volunteer alerted us to Tank 1 “I think this turtle is dead.” It was a new arrival (an Olive Ridley) that had been brought to the center the previous weekend with missing fins and several shell injuries; some old and scarred over along with some fresh wounds. It’s eyes were closed and it wasn’t moving so Isuru came and checked it’s pulse and confirmed that it had none. It must have died sometime during the night beacuse we had just seen it alive and cleaned its shell the previous day. In my completely non-medically-trained opinion, it must have had some internal problems as well because it physically didn’t look any worse off than the rest of the injured turtles.
We buried the turtle in a hole about waist deep on the beach. Isuru placed a old, tattered shirt at the bottom of the pit before placing the turtle on top of it. I asked why and he said it’s “good for next life.” I wanted to find a small rock or something to serve as a gravestone, but was unsuccessful.
It just so happens that a nest of dozens of Olive Ridley eggs and turned them in to the Turtle Project. They are almost the exact size, color and shape of ping pong balls, but are a bit heavier. Isuru dug a deep hole and buried them on site in the nesting area that we had just spent several days re-sanding. They’ll have a much better chance of hatching here than on the beach since like I mentioned earlier, it’s not currently nesting season.
Although we were sad one of the turtles died, it seemed serendipitously appropriate and balanced that we also had a nest of eggs that would bring forth new life. We witnessed the circle of life in one morning (cue Lion King music.)
I’m determined to name all the turtles before I leave. When I arrived, only one particularly aggressive loggerhead was named Mafia. Since then, I’ve named a few others: Nugget, Rocket, Lefty, Stevie, Grandma, Fountain, Teeny and Casper. Who knows if the names will stick after I leave, though.
Thursday night, a group of us went to Hikkadua for dinner, since it was several peoples’ last night in Sri Lanka. We got caught in a heavy rainstorm and dashed into the nearest restaurant that promised Pizza on the sign out front, once it let up a bit. I ordered a veggie pizza slightly bigger than my head and it was a welcomed respite from the bland noodles and rice and watery curry that we eat all week at the house.
After we all gorged on pizza and pasta, most went back to Ambalangoda but a handful of us stayed to head to a bar and meet up with Isuru and the Swedish boys. We socialized and had one drink before heading home, ourselves via tuk tuk. We arrived at the house to find the gate locked, even though we had gotten permission to stay out past curfew. I climbed over it to go find someone with a key, but by the time I returned, everyone has managed to pry the gate open just enough to squeeze through.