Sunday, September 20, 2015

New Directions in International Collaborative Water Research

We got to Anuradhapura late yesterday after a long train ride that ended short of town because of a derailment just ahead. We had half an hour to change and clean up before we were brought to a meeting with about ten other people--faculty and students from Raharata University--unexpected because I had been told we were going for a social tea to a colleague's house. 

The discussion there centered around our ideas about the ancient irrigation systems whose heartland is the Dry Zone around Anuradhapura. It was so intense and unexpected we were exhausted by 7:30 when we were brought home by my kind, enthusiastic colleague Nimal Abeysingha. We fell asleep immediately without a thought of dinner. I knew deep down something amazing had transpired, something that went beyond the "cultural ambassadorship" we had undertaken as Fulbrighters. But I was too tired to sort it out. 

At midnight I woke up refreshed and clear, just as the AC stopped roaring. Here are my notes in the form of an email I wrote to my colleagues in the wee hours:



Now the brain had some rest to sort out the evening's events, some ideas:

1) circulation of water in the tank is a major concern. The complex functions of the tank...bund preservation, separating and sequestering alkalai & salt, distribution of beneficial water to the paddy, etc., depend upon patterns of circulation. For our main work today let us seek clues on the tank bottom that may provide evidence for water circulation in the tank. You are the soils & water expert. You can lead this search and analyze the results. If we find some good stuff we can publish I think. 

To start: a) can we brainstorm possible types of circulation (lateral, top-to-bottom, chemical-solution,  etc.) that might occur. b) Then the possible causes of circulation patterns (slope differentials, temperature differentials, chemical differentials , etc), c) finally--the kinds of clues we might look for--channels? Deposits? Colors? Etc. 


2) yesterday the professor mentioned a village social structure for dealing with water shortage. I forgot the word. Perhaps we can apply this to other kinds of problem solving, for example:

A stranger comes to you who is interested in learning more about tanks. Initially everyone is clueless what to do. But also enthusiastic & appreciating the potential benefits that might arise. Yesterday I noted that a strong, practical way to problem-solve was applied, with professor Bandara's leadership. 

A) a group of leaders (faculty) and young people (students) was assembled. 

B) the problem was stated (prof Madduma asked me about my interest. 

C) general discussion leading to specific discussion--the group threw around some ideas, anecdotes, experiences and then we got more specific: a) what are criteria? b) how can we meet those criteria? c) how does our local expertise offer a solution--questions of local geography, microclimate, rainfall patterns, etc. 

D) laying out goals for today's reconnaissance mission

E) considering farther-range plans..for example which tank(s) will we focus on for further work?

I propose that Prof. Bandara led us on an ancient village modality for problem solving. He provided strong leadership (and refreshments), group consensus was solicited, a plan of action was proposed. From a cultural and problem-solving standpoint very powerful tools were employed. Also worth publishing I think, if the Professor is interested. To start, maybe we can assemble a list of everyone present last night and their area of expertise. 

OK my friend. Lots of work ahead. Let us enjoy it! (-:

Samuel Hammer
Associate Professor
Boston University

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