I have three older sisters, but do not have a younger sister. I always wished, how wonderful it would have been if I ever had one. But when Miss Klára Gebhartová from the Czech Republic came to stay at my home to teach at Horizon Lanka last August, I had a strange feeling that I was meeting my long lost younger sister.
Klara was a final year medical student at prestigious Charles University in Prague. She came to us at a time we were struggling as an organization, both financially and academically. But she changed that negative atmosphere prevailing at the time, into a positive one by working earnestly both with the children and the staff. She won the hearts of the children and the parents, by having a natural smile at all times. She did not confine her teaching to the classrooms alone, but taught the children while walking around the village in the very hot sun in the month of August. The number of children at Horizon Lanka too started increasing day by day.
At that time, I was tied up with writing a lengthy funding proposal, therefore she was on her own. Hence she did not have my guidance for her work schedule. She scheduled her lessons and classes the way she and the children wished and consulted me only when she felt that she needed my advice.
The only time we could talk at length was during our meals. I joined her during almost all meals and we would talk about the difference of cultures in our two countries. Klara was not interested in Czech politics, which I was interested in. I could understand the reasons for it. She was born in the post-communist era. Hence, could not comment on the communist era much. My late father being a hardcore communist, I had enough communist literature lying around our home which I read since I was a kid and knew much more than Klara did about Czech politics I guess.
Within a few days of our mealtime informal talks, Klara started asking endless questions on Buddhism. Coming from one of the most atheistic countries, I was surprised by her logical questions. I answered with the limited knowledge I had and for the rest, I referred the questions to friends with better knowledge of Buddhism. Her inquisitive questions and my modest researched answers made her devotee of Buddhism I guess. She started meditating at dawn and walked to the nearby Buddhist temple several times.
Like most of the other Czech volunteers, Klara was a good sportswoman. A good volleyball player too. Volleyball is not something I fancied so I wanted to get her into playing cricket with us. She mastered the game of cricket – probably the most complicated game in the world – very quickly and started hitting unstoppable boundaries and sixes. She had played baseball so she had a better grip of the bat and thrashed the ball out of the park most of the times. She was an all-rounder in cricket. She batted vigorously, bowled fast balls and fielded professionally. Thanks to her, the girls at Horizon Lanka too started playing cricket than their favorite game, volleyball.
One of her requests to me was that, I should resume drawing pictures like I used to do before I was introduced to computers in 1999. I promised I would do a painting before the end of 2015 which I could not accomplish. But maybe, before the end of this year I might do so.
At my request, Klara brought me a good book, “The Czechs in a Nutshell” which I am still reading. I wish I could read this faster, but with the backlog of 10 years of work at Horizon Lanka, I do not have the luxury of reading as fast as I used to be in the past.
Klara was one of the smartest female volunteers that I met at Horizon Lanka. I wish I had more time to spend/work with her, but my tight schedule at the time did not allow me to do so. I know she would be a wonderful doctor soon (and hopefully, would volunteer at Horizon Lanka once again.)
Now Klara is the “Official Ambassador” of Horizon Lanka for the Czech Republic. Whenever someone from her country talks to me about volunteering at Horizon Lanka, I immediately direct him or her to Klara and she ensures she always has tome to help out the new volunteer as she knows what and what not to do here in Mahawilachchiya.
I wanted to call her “Nangi” (Sinhala for younger sister), but was bashful to ask her if it was alright to call her that. But after she left, I asked the question with a lot of hesitation over a Facebook chat and she was over the moon, once I did so. Now I call her “Nangi” and she calls me “Ayya” (Sinhala for older brother.)
After 6 weeks, it was difficult to say goodbye to each other and when she had to do so. Just before leaving she knelt down in front of me, with her palms together in worshipful greeting, which is a customary traditional Sri Lankan custom, akin to Western custom of wishing Good Bye (abridged: God be with you.) Usually this happens when a younger sister leaves home after marriage. Klara did so in the presence of a big audience at the Mahawilachchiya Rural Hospital. I was flabbergasted and tried my best to stop her doing that, but she would not heed.
All I want now is to be present at her wedding someday and give her a good hug when she leaves with her future husband. Well, only if I am granted a visa to the Czech Republic. Let’s hope for the best.