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THE DIARY OF A

POLIT-ECO TOURIST


A Sketch of My Life Story:

Kashyapa Yapa was born in Sri Lanka in 1959, second in the family of five.  His schoolteacher parents emphasized their sons that only the education assures one’s future.  A brilliant student in school, Kashyapa graduated as a Civil Engineer from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka in 1981.

Currently, he conducts research for a book, comparing indigenous engineering techniques against the modern practice, in the context of socioeconomic and environmental impacts of public civil works.  This research, which he began in 1993 simultaneously with a tour of the American continent, germinated from a seed of doubt that remained with him since his first years of engineering practice in Sri Lanka.

During the first 4 years after graduation, he worked in the Mahaweli Project, the largest energy and irrigation project ever undertaken in Sri Lanka.  Specifically, he was involved in the construction of the Minipe Transbasin Canal and the Ulhitiya-Manampitiya highway, where he gained a lot of experience in modern construction techniques.  More than that, he witnessed many instances where the country’s precious little economic resources were wasted: highly mechanized modes of construction took no account of the acute unemployment of Sri Lanka; neither did they, nor the project designs, consider using cheaper, locally available materials.

Why Sri Lanka, a country famous for many ancient water control systems, including the oldest reservoir in the world, should clone Western engineering designs totally alien to the tropics, thought the young engineer.  Yet, he could not put forth the question openly because his university education never trained him to appreciate local technical knowledge.  However, he kept questioning the validity of Western engineering and inclined to look for techniques more adequate and appropriate for local socioeconomic and environmental conditions.

His post graduate work in the United States of America gave him the opportunity to study in depth the fundamentals of engineering and taught him how to modify those to suit different environments, rather than transplanting the same technique everywhere.  The Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering he obtained at UC Berkeley increased his confidence in criticizing the socio-environmental incompatibility of many modern techniques, applied blindly even in the United States.

In 1993, having completed his studies, Kashyapa began a tour of the American continent, especially to be familiar with the Latin culture.  To his horror, he discovered that the practice of civil engineering there differs little from that of Sri Lanka: a practice completely divorced from the local conditions.  He began investigating and documenting the disastrous impacts brought about by such “development” projects.  In the Americas, in contrast to Sri Lanka, a large collection of investigations exists about pre-colonial public works, especially about how they modified the nature for their survival, without trying to “conquer” it.  This information provided a sound base for his investigation- the use of millennia-long indigenous technical experience as the solution for the failures of modern engineering, which will come to light in near future in the form of a book.

During his American tour, apart from this investigation, he collaborates voluntarily with the indigenous and the campesinos, with the aim of learning first hand, to what level they still utilize prehispanic techniques in their daily living. He shares with them the basic technical knowledge needed to modify the ancient practices so that they themselves can build and maintain their modern agricultural and communal infrastructure. It instills in them a profound pride about their roots, raises their self-esteem and helps them unite in their constant struggle to gain political power and self-sufficiency.

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