On Corvus Macrorhynchos and Kiri Tee

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Corvus Macrorhynchos

We’ve officially passed the one-month mark—inconceivable, I agree—and a question has been plaguing me this week: what do privileged crows do in their free time?

Bear with me.

ISLE Rain ViewWe visited a solid waste management site recently—vast spreads of compost-turned-fertilizer, trash heaps, and sorted recycling, though not on the enormous scale that I’m used to picturing in America—and it looked like crow heaven. The birds perched on every fence and rooftop, intermittently diving down to tug on browning banana peels and tweeze tasty morsels out of piles of who-knows-what-other organic matter. No hunting and gathering for these Corvus folks—they really seemed to be taking it easy.

So—what do they do all day? It’s not like they’re filling hour after tiresome hour scrounging and scavenging for each calorie. Do they fly around just for fun? Do they consistently hang out with the same other crows—“Subə udææsənak, Hank, what say you we meet at the northwest compost peak for lunch?”—or have some other sort of social organization that I can’t fathom, amongst the moldering eggshells and curry leftovers? Do they know that most crows aren’t provided with consistently replenishing mountains of food for the taking?

These are the questions that keep me up at night, here on the other side of the world.

Kiri Tee

I’m sitting at my desk, writing this blog post, and my ammaa (host mother) just brought me the usual morning cup of tea. Kiri tee (milk tea), but like the sugar—scoops upon heaping scoops of it—the milk goes without saying.

Or rather, the profusion of milk and sugar goes without saying if you’re an especially respected guest or family member, or, perhaps, white/non-South-Asian foreigner. At least, that’s what I’ve been told, but I don’t have much of a metric for comparison; it seems as if every time our group is stationary for more than half an hour or so, a tray of tea appears, and so far each cup has been as milk-laden and sweet as the last.

It’s abundantly clear that beyond securing extra sugar in my tea, my being a white foreigner gets me a lot of places here. In a couple relatively small-scale but unambiguous instances, it’s gotten me a clear shot at a deserted bathroom—one reserved for foreigners—while local women stand in line and wait their turn, one door down. And our program assistant, Olivia, has mentioned that we are lucky to feel comfortable taking three-wheeler rides to get around, when many a local woman would never get into a three-wheeler whose driver she did not already know and trust. These may seem like insignificant examples, just affecting daily convenience, but they’re no less noticeable and impactful for that. Those little conveniences really stack up. And of course, there are other, more ostensibly far-reaching elements of that privilege, but those moments are some that come immediately to mind as I sit here with my tea.

I love the kiri tee. I love knowing that I’ll have a cup of it at 6:30 every morning, to sip as I try to remember the differences in Sinhala among ekəand ekkə and eekə. The sugar rush is a lovely start to the day, delivered to my door with the regularity of compost to overstuffed crows. But there are other crows out there, and not all tea is quite so sweetened.

Katharine Morse-Gagne is an English (Creative Writing) and Environmental Studies student at Bowdoin College and studied abroad with IFSA on the Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program in Fall 2017. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-to-Study Program. 

Article by Katharine Morse-Gagne