Ooh tales of my travels with me pals …

March 9, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Following the last entry I’ll continue with a bit of a catch up regarding my travels around this beautiful island. The end of Nov 2009 brought with it the arrival of my friends Al and Stu from Manchester for 2 weeks holiday. They had no requests only that elephants were a must! I put together an itinerary and with the help of Joanna at paradisevoyage@sltnet.lk hotels, transport ( a van with driver) and train travel were arranged with no problem. The plan was they would arrive, chill at the PP for few days then we would head east by train to Polonnaruwa for a couple of days to visit the ancient city and environs.I would then return to Colombo ( after all I am here to do some work!!)Leaving the boys to travel with the man and a van to climb Sigiriyia ( see them for details of a near death experience!), visit Dambulla caves before a couple of days in Kandy to do the sights inc the Elephant orphanage, the Temple of the Tooth, the amazing sights at Botanical gardens. They would travel south to the tea country and a compulsory visit to a tea plantation and factory of course. They would proceed to Kitulgala with white water rafting as an option. Take the train to Nuwara Eliya where I would join them to walk to Worlds End again before we made our way to climb Adams Peak for my birthday ,ending up at the beach at Unawatuna for 3 days before a stay at the Galle Face Hotel before leaving the shores….phew fab or what I got to see some places Id never been before and to share some of my favourites with them they were very happy with the schedule.
However best laid plans etc a few days before they arrived I was asked to join some colleagues and their families on a trip to Trincomalee ( again great hey?) the weekend the boys were to arrive , I explained my situation as I declined the invite due to my visitors arriving… “ Hey Miss Sera no problem bring them a long, why not “they asked ?
Why not indeed a quick e to the intrepid travellers and it was sorted. They arrived at the PP , a few hours sleep up and out to a joint birthday celebration in Colombo home by midnight up at 4am to join the trip to Trinco on the road by 5am( time for jet lag and adjustment to the heat? …not a chance with Togs tours!) The journey took nearly 13 hours yes 13.It was truly amazing experience for them. There was 33 of us 4 vols, the 2 holiday makers ,26 colleagues, husbands ,wives ,aunties and children and enough food to feed the world. A couple sets of drums (and the odd bottle of arrack!)The highlight was stopping for brekkie at 9am we pulled in at the side of the road, all off the bus traipsed down a lane to a house the owner of which was someone’s brothers friend who opened the door showed the way to those with the buckets of food to the kitchen, others the outside toilet and tap to wash hands before we formed a line to received a plate ladened with bread, dhal , hot and spicy sambol, with a potato curry followed by bananas and sweet milky tea. We were all back on the bus within 30 mins. Like a military operation more fun and beat any motorway service station I’ve ever frequented that’s for sure!
We were sung to until lunch stop ( we ashamedly could not reciprocate as between us we only knew the first line of a song apart from Jerusalem and Ging gang goolie!) Lunch was a simple affair pulled in at a half erect building, put some tables together and out came more buckets this time with rice and 3or 4 curries ….delicious Al and Stu got stuck in eating with their fingers!
We arrived like I say about 6pm via lakes, temples and the natural spa’s 13 hrs later. Not a moan or complaint from either of them only praises and compliments for the warmth and generosity they had experienced during a journey not to be forgotten for a long time. They carried on with the itinerary as planned 2 days later what a great start to the holiday!( Which by the way included lots of additional little extra visits plus facts and information about SL from the driver Roland
Briefly since then I have visited Dambulla caves, I have been white water rafting, twice! Done some climbing and walking in the Knuckles range and swam in twin water falls….so you’re up to date with me travels!
Next blog about the developments at work , as I prepare for my return to the UK in April.

Travels with my… colleagues

January 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Posted in Food, Health, Life, Travel | 1 Comment
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Apologies for my tardiness in posting a blog for some time but as you will read I’ve been a bit busy at work and on days off been hither and dither so with out further delay I’ll crack on with update as the 2010 begins. 

In my last blog I stated I’d love to visit Trinco again well no truer the word spoken  as I’ve been twice since!!

 The first time involved the discharge of 25 ladies to the Mother Teresa Home there. For me it was another memorable occasion in my time here. After several weeks of planning and preparation, the bus arrived we loaded up,the ladies boarded and with the Matrons blessing the ladies were heading East to their new home. The criterion from the Home was that the ladies were to be over 60 and destitute. (sadly there are many to choose from) seeing them seated on the bus with a reusable bag from the local supermarket holding their worldly possessions certainly brought a lump in my throat, some of these women had not even been out of the hospital  let alone on a bus for many many years. We set off late ( tyre change) arriving at our destination unfortunately in the dark, so the ladies had to wait till morning to see their new home and location at the side of a beautiful lagoon!

The journey was uneventful apart from another tyre change. We stopped for the usual refreshments and toilet needs which were quite a lengthy process as you can imagine 25 ladies one toilet….

A highlight however was as we neared Trinco the bus driver stopped and pointed out a heard of wild elephants, which everyone was “ooohing” including the accompanying staff. I had to remember that they also had never traveled to the East before so were experiencing sights for the first time.

 Greeting and settling in took a short while as the ladies shown to the freshly painted dormitory housing a new bed with sheets, and mozzie net for each of them. With an evening meal and medication given out, the staff and I were shown to our accommodation for the night. Eight of us shared a room and bunked up 2 in a bed my first SL experience of sharing with this many people. Great fun just like camping making do with the facilities no shower, just a tap and bucket , with a small sink and toilet it was fine. I didn’t sleep too well as sharing with my colleague Ms P who is smaller than me  I was worried I’d roll over and squash her or roll off the high bed. Happy to report neither occurred.

After our brekkie we were keen to see how the ladies had slept and were finding the place. Well… teary eyed I listened to staff translate comments from the women saying how lucky they were to in this place, some had been worried but it felt a good place, others full of thanks to the staff for bringing them here….

We left after the staff completed the necessary paper work and documentation.The ladies smiled as they waved us off I wished them well in there new home it certainly was an improvement from what they had left behind in Mulleriyawa that’s for sure! 

The journey home took equally as long as we went to visit the temple and the beach then lunch set off again to stop 30mins later to buy dried fish , then mangoes then a cuppa tea, then a reservoir as another tyre needed changing, it was a memorable journey for more than one reason … 

The second trip to Trinco I’ll cover in the next installment I’l l  quickly update on  other work stuff.

The Psychosocial Rehabilitation Conference in Bangalore( www.WAPR ) in Nov was really interesting, staff enjoyed it, seeing for themselves that the grass is not always greener,when attending workshops hearing the difficulties  and challenges faced (and over come ) by others in similar developing or middle income countries! The presentation about the Paper Factory Project was very well received , I felt very proud of  the team in their presentation . The conference was attended with representation from 55 other countries.

 I am also glad to report that progress is being made with reintegration on a small scale with a community living project. Having secured funds from W.H.O , we are in the process of renting a property for 6 ladies to live independently. A project team  has been established, training needs identified and individual plans written all good stuff with me supporting the project leader! Plans to move in by the end of January so fingers crossed please.

Enough for now next one soon about my recent travels here and there…

Train, beach, temple,beach and train…

October 15, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel | 1 Comment
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A month or so ago VSO lifted the security restrictions for travel to the east and with in a few hours txt messages were flying around the vols suggesting a train trip. So a few days later 7 of us are at Fort station awaiting the arrival of the overnight to Trincomalee( or Trinco as its known here)check  it out on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trincomalee

Trinco has been celebrated  since antiquity allegedly for its  superlative  deep water harbour one of the finest in Asia. Sadly with the onset of civil war in 1983 the town became and remains a flashpoint for ethnic tensions, due to a population evenly divided between Tamil, Muslim, and Sinhalese communities. Its position made it the island’ s collecting point for the war displaced persons. This stretched the resources and infrastructure to breaking point, parts of the town burnt to the ground during the communal riots. Following the ceasefire thousands upon thousands   of Sri Lankans flocked from Colombo and the south some for the first time others for the first time in twenty years.

Since the conflict ended in May of this year there have been security restrictions on travelling, so like us vols once this was lifted again the Sri Lankan s made their way there  again in droves. Need less to say the train was busy but that was all part of the experience. We had booked tickets which meant we got a seat, which was cool, but  nothing like the London to Edinburgh night train by any means. Knowing this I was prepared for the journey, once we were going 20 mins or so I opened the bar! Sat back and looked out in to the night! Our travelling companions were a young family with a sleeping 2 year old, a SL chap working for a charity which funded him based in Leeds ( small world again)lots of older SL men, who were very interested in my  unlabelled plastic bottles of fluid that the other vols would come and partake of from theirseats. As the journey progressed it became apparent that we were in the wrong carriage and we would need to leave the train at a specific stop and join the front carriages or we would end up in Batticoloa( which is a place Id never been to but was not the destination I wanted )why didn’t we just walk through the carriages umm not that easy when people are sleeping in the aisles, it was packed to the gunnels! We dismounted an hour or so later some of the group got seats and 3 of us sat on the floor near the open door which was great in the absence of air conditioning!

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We arrived weary about 6am jumped in a 3 wheeler to see vol C who was to be our host , we said hellos and crashed out for a couple of hours before heading to Uppuveli beach. The aches and pains of the journey were soon forgotten at the sight of the Indian Ocean …it was beautiful, the beach of fine white sand was were we stayed for the whole day and into the evening. Sunday found us venturing to the Hindu temple which was swamped by visitors, there  was a great atmosphere! Next we travelled to Nilaveli the second of Trincos popular beaches, described by the prolific novelist and journalist Carl Muller as “peach perfect, picture post card resort, with its sugar sand beach ,a creaming sea of dreamy blue, and a lagoon like a sculptured topaz” and I’d have to agree with him!

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As those of you who have holidayed with me know  I’m no beach babe ,however living here being so lucky to be able to visit  and see so many beautiful beaches… I’m getting in to it! A good time was had by all catching up with Vols ,chilling out in  such magnificent settings watching the fishermen with their catch, the families who spent hours in the water, left little time to explore the town .So when we left the next morn we  promised to return.

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Which was nearly sooner than I had hoped when we again pulled in to a junction stop I hopped of to use the loo with N, on returning to the platform we saw the train slowly pull away with our mates frantically waving us to make a run for it, have you seen how high those old trains are and it was gathering speed. I cant remember what was going thro my head, a jumble of oh no, bugger, no purse, no ID, this is not happening ,what to do …??? the guards were shouting ‘Madam half an hour,’ the people on the train were laughing, I breathlessly  replied I had to get on , not get a train in half an hour arggh! What he was trying to say was the train is not leaving it is just changing engines and will be back in half an hour! Oh,  ahh, Ok I see,  (Sarah stops running! ) N and I returned to the platform to the amusement of the awaiting passengers. The train did return in less then 10 mins our friends were also bemused ,as they had no idea  what was going on…hilarious!

The rest of the return journey was uneventful, apart from an hour before arriving in Colombo the carriage lights went off ! murder in the dark any one ??was that your hand being shrieked every so often! The countryside slipped by our open windows ,we played cards, ate the short eats,( street food brought on to the train in baskets by men, better than  any BR or Virgin train trolley food  and v v cheap!) we played scrabble, ate biscuits and fruit, had a snooze, listened to ipods, it was a long but a lovely journey, one I would not have missed and look forward to doing again before I leave!

More tea vicar?…

September 29, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Life, Love, Travel | Leave a comment

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A couple of months ago it was suggested that staff from NIMH http://www.nimh.lk/ submit an abstract for the 10th World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation conference. http://www.wapr2009.org/ After much chivvying on my part, the help of the staff at Mull and vols support to get the piece to  the 250 words limit we submitted an abstract. The paper factory project is an example of reintegration and deinstitutionalisation. We heard a few weeks ago that  we were accepted for an oral presentation…whoopee RESULT! I could not pedal fast enough to get back to tell the ladies and staff the excellent news hey! Having already done a photo presentation with the staff for a VSO meeting we have 2/3rds of the presentation done. Following discussions with the director and staff, they have approached me with their thoughts about what else needs to be included. The staff involved will be considered to attend as I have been, but they will do the presentation. We have started to make our preparations for 5 days Bangalore in Nov.

We held our 6th communication and development meeting last Friday another close to tears moment for me. Matron and a nurse as arranged at the 5th meeting facilitated the session with your’s truly saying very little( hard to believe I know!), the nurses as leads for various projects stood and provided the updates it was great their confidence has grown for sure. Post meeting Matron had a word, informing me that she felt very happy, and to cut along story short, during the meeting the penny had dropped everything had fallen in to place for her, a eureka moment hoorah hoorah indeed!

Its at times like these I remind myself it just takes time change does happen …hemin hemin!(slowly slowly)

Which is the complete opposite to events of last Monday? A Sri Lankan friend’s younger brother of 19 years and his girl friend arrived on Sunday from the south having run away from her parents who were against them marrying. They had the clothes they wore and some rupees, made their minds up and wanted to get married they both completed their exams seeing each other for nearly 4 years …this was love.

Monday arrived  a few phone calls a registrar was located, appt booked for 4pm enough time to locate a saree, some thing old ,new ,borrowed and blue with the help of 5 vols this was to be a singalish wedding! It was indeed an honour to attend the short affair (lots of paper work to be signed) and witness two young people so obviously devoted about to make this commitment to each other. After the official bit they popped to the temple while the vols got on with the wedding feast and getting the flat ready. Xmas tinsel was dug out balloons were blown up, I got on the bike to fetch a gateaux and a few beers from the “Bear shop” (SL spelling mistakes are hilarious) at 6ish the couple returned and were over whelmed by the fact that the vols could make such a lovely time for them. The txt messages we received have been so sweet thanking us for our efforts. The pleasure was indeed all ours. The brides parents were contacted made aware she was safe and married.  The extremes of this country never cease to amaze or amuse me.

Which leads nicely in to a brief update of my recent travels, a holiday weekend saw us head south to the beach to celebrate a vols birthday. Unawatuna is a lovely beach but sadly does not agree with me as you remember at new year I was un well, again this happened on the Saturday me confined to my hotel room no 101 by the way at the lovely Norlanka (www.norlanka)   Friday was a poya day when no alcohol is to be served. Some bars disregard this of course, a case of who you know in the local police , others err on the side of caution serving ice cold larger in a tea pot with  cups and saucers …well we had to have one there didn’t we just for the photo opportunity!

I was sorted by Sunday ,the suspect being a rogue prawn coupled with little sleep in the preceding  week( burning the mid night oil in order to complete the assignment for the Human Rights Diploma- http://ihrsrilanka.org/) I’m still waiting the results of assignment and group presentation …watch this space.

I travelled with a fellow vol to Deniyaya  4 hours form Galle to visit the tropical rain forest of Sinharaja, ( which means Lion King) which  is described in the rough guide as  ‘ one of the islands outstanding natural wonders and an ecological treasure box of international significance recognised as  a UNESCO world heritage site in 1989.A staggering 830 of SL’s endemic species of flora and fauna found here, also a myriad of birds, reptiles and insects with 60%of the reserves tress being endemic too’. So you understand why it was on my list of places to visit. We enjoyed our stay at the Rainforest Lodge, the food was plentiful, and the rooms comfortable, the bats that flew into the veranda as we sipped our beer, like Hitchcock’s ‘Birds’ were entertaining. The staff were very friendly and helpful in organising our trip to the forest. On arrival we met our guide who kindly applied blue soap to our feet as a deterrent to the leeches, ummm not that successful; we were popular targets for the little bleeders! I was very girly initially and  was heard screeching as I made vain attempts to flick the critters off…a couple of hours later the frustration was audible with my use of expletives( sorry Mum yes swearing!)Despite this, the walk of nearly 3 hours was really very enjoyable and I would recommend a visit. We saw ginger and cinnamon plants, cameleon, millipedes, waterfalls, the rivers Gin Ganga and Kalu Ganga, fungi in many colours, monkeys, the amazing forest canopy, trees and noisy cicadas! Sadly few birds due to the fact it rained intermittently, but me brolly was up and down a few times!

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All sorts o’ stuff going on…

August 4, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Where to start, been soooo busy?…ok work first. Pleased to be able to say progress continues. Last month the ladies who go out to work at the paper factory were invited by a VSO colleague to visit her rehabilitation centre down south in Ridiyagama Hambantota District. The visit was an opportunity for the ladies to share their work experience with the residents and staff. I had a small part just set up my laptop and projector to show the photographs I’d put together of the project. Ms PP social worker explained this with the ladies chipping in, then a question and answer session followed. The ladies were brilliant taking it in turns to respond with such confidence and enthusiasm to the questions posed. It was a great afternoon which was finished off with music, singing and a little dancing before tea.
Hambantota is a seven hour drive from Mulleriyawa which meant an over night stay for the party of 18 another experience for some the ladies had never been this far in their lives! We had a great journey down staff and ladies singing along like one big family. This was exactly what they said when I asked for feed back of the trip, from both groups. The staff kindly wrote their thoughts for my report, they too appreciated the opportunity to leave the unit and share the trip with the ladies …tear jerking stuff!
As my friend lives there, I did not travel back with the ladies and was joined by 2 other vols and we took the chance to visit in the area which included Kataragama and Yalla National Park. First Kataragama which is one of the 3 most venerated religious sites in SL (along with Adams Peak and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy …I didn’t realise this – I’ve done all 3!)according to Rough Guide“ held sacred by Buddhists ,Muslims and Hindus alike-even Christians visit in search of divine assistance” that’ll be me then one can always use a bit of divine assistance! The town is famous for its festival with its varying forms of physical mortification, pilgrims express their devotion to the god Kataragama, ranging from crawling from the river to the Temple, (its a fair ole way!) to acts of self mutilation some pierce their cheeks or tongue with skewers, others walk across burning coals- all believe that god will protect them from pain. We were a day early for the festival I am glad actually reading about it was enough!
Instead we rose at 5am to go to Yala SL most visited wildlife reserve. We hired a jeep and set off in search of the leopard the parks most infamous resident we were disappointed we saw only footprints. We did however ooh! and ahh! over herds of Bambi deer, a wild elephant, water buffalo, crocodiles, and amazing birdlife which included storks, pelicans, egrets, kingfishers many brightly coloured parakeets. Our guide informed us of the devastation caused by the tsunami, despite the human casualties in the area virtually none of the parks wild life perished in the tidal waves.
Nuwara Eliya and Badulla are 2 other places I’ve visited recently, they are in the hill country and a real contrast to the dryness of the south, green and lush. Nuwara Eliya is known as little England it was a fantastic trip we did some walking at Horton Plains. Badulla was a trip with work to a community psychosocial programme launch. The drive was breathtaking, 7 hours east of Colombo climbing through the countryside in the moon light is a memory I’ll treasure. To avoid being accused of being in Judith Chalmers mode, I’ll cease my travel warbling and give you the link to the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka for more info for those of you planning to visit http://www.roughguides.com

Back to work , which finds me being involved with long term strategy proposals for mental health nurse education and curriculum development, I am member of a steering group for mental health community nurse training, supporting colleagues with funding applications for a bridging course for development social workers to convert to psychiatric social workers and facilitating the delivery of training in practical dementia care. Then back at the ranch, supporting the staff at Mulleriyawa develop and deliver training for the support staff. We did the first 2 hour session on Sunday these staff having worked there for many many years and never received any training, were brilliant. Animated , asking questions, doing group work with out hesitation , being proud to tell us what they knew. I was time keeper as usual but they were not bothered,they could have sat there for another 2 hours!!!
Apart from work and seeing the island, in the last weeks I’ve been to a recording studio to help a friend of a friend (an English teacher) produce some audio learning materials for her students .She wanted some different accents to read out various scripts. You know me and my social phobia had to have my arm twisted to get involved…not! It was jolly good fun and a great laugh.
Last Tuesday British Nationals were invited along to the British High Commission. The Colombo volunteers went along to check out where the tax payers money goes! It was terribly nice don’t you know I enjoyed the cucumber sandwich, a scone(or 3… they were small) and a cuppa !We did the tour of the building saw lots of water features and glass ,thanked our hosts and nipped for a beer on the way home!
Needless to say I am really enjoying the variety of work and the involvement the placement offers. At a recent meeting with the volunteers in the mental health programme, and their partner organisations I realised that collectively we are making some very positive big steps in the improving mental health in Sri Lanka and that’s an incredible feeling! And as you’ve read I have no complaints about living in this beautiful country either!

Hemin Hemin…slowly slowly!

June 18, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Pole Pole” – “Oiy togs pace”- “where’s the fire”- “wait for us” have all been said to me  many times over the years, and not just when out walking on the hills!  I’m pleased to say that has definetely changed being here. I think I may have said in an earlier blog the heat slows you down and if you overtake a Sri Lankan you are walking to fast. However now it’s me saying hemin hemin (slowly slowly) to the amusement of my SL colleagues in relation to the work we are doing. A nurse was in fits of giggles when I said it during a conversation this afternoon, she turned to the doctor and said in Sinhala words to the effect “hemin hemin is Miss Sera’s catch phrase about Mulleriyawa”!
There seems to be some thing in the air that makes my colleagues want to get to 5th gear when they are still in the garage (umm I know, me of all people should not use gears as an example …) anyway when we are discussing issues, of discharge for instance, a family is located and that’s it, the poor woman is practically air lifted out (a slight exaggeration!) and there’s Ms Sera saying lets do some preparation on planning  the discharge to make sure it’s successful so she does not return to our door after 2 weeks…so hemin hemin, she’s been here 10- 15 years ,2 weeks to get the discharge arranged properly is not too unrealistic …is it?
With just over 9 months remaining of my placement, VSO programme office staff and myself facilitated a review meeting last week, engaging with the colleagues and staff I have been working with to review changes at the unit in the last 12 months, what had happened to make these changes, what impact had having a VSO volunteer made to the organisation, staff and the patients.
In the true participatory style that is VSO, there was plenty of flip chart paper, post it notes and group work to fill the 3 hours. It was conducted in Sinhala, I was able to get the gist as if they were referring to me they would point ,smile and say things like Sera Miss ‘planning’, ‘process,’ ‘ now we have meetings for everybody’, Sera miss always use diary, I have a diary now…giggle giggle. Miss Sera friendly to all, and even wear saree, more giggles, she always try to speak Sinhala.
The programme office staff made positive observations about  the working relationships, interactions and response to the session (I try to run the 2 monthly workshops in the same interactive way) I do acknowledge that “hemin hemin” some things albeit small and maybe not so small are changing for the  both the women and the staff!
What was really good was the final session, focussing the staff to think of the future, the year 2012, what would the unit be like. It was reassuring to hear them share their vision of fewer patients at the unit, with more employment for some, and more community services. They also agreed on 2 changes to focus on for the next year. This was positive as they were similar to the outcome of the discussions (about my focus/objectives) I had had with the director on return from UK, so I feel I’ve got direction and I’m on course, for the rest of my placement hoorah…chocks away!

Holidays ,Holy days…Happy days!

May 9, 2009 at 4:39 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I’ve been and come back or as they say here gihan ennan ..I’ll go and come.
Returning home at the end of March to join the family celebrate my parents golden wedding anniversary was a great way to start nearly 3 weeks holiday in the UK. Wow an instant hit of my nearest and dearest which included going to mass the receiving of a Papal blessing ( its like the Queen sending a telegram for birthdays of significance, but this is from the Pope!) eating drinking lots of laughing and catching up, staying at Ripley Castle, North York’s, more eating ,drinking and much merriment and many happy memories.
I had a great time seeing friends in Chester, Manchester and London including going to the theatre to see “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” which was fabulous darlings! Time was spent with my family, visiting relative’s, a day at the coast in Scarborough by train with my nephew, eating, seeing friends from work ,more food, shopping ,hot chocolate in M&S, cheese, cinema, DVD’s, walking, and gardening pretty well sums up the vacation! On leaving I was naturally a little sad but was I ready to return, I’d missed the heat… my mum’s heating bill will certainly be up this quarter!
So I’m back all is well. George the geeko had moved some more mates in lots of geeko poo to sweep up along with 3 weeks dust was the first job before unpacking. My Landlord and family were keen to hear about my visit and invited me for an evening meal with them which was a lovely welcome back.
Returning to work, I was interested to see what had happened in my absence. Before leaving I had met with Matron and a few senior staff to discuss on going projects, agreeing a list of things ” to do”.I am pleased to say that matron met me with a beaming Sri Lankan smile and before we had time to say hello, beckoned me to the flip chart paper on the wall with big ticks all over it WOW …she and the staff had been busy. She gave me an up date of progress and a rationale for why something’s had not been ticked, about 65% complete I was blown away …YIPEE! On the Friday of that week we held our 4th communication meeting this time (with much encouragement from yours truly) Matron facilitated, updating the action plan and establishing 2 working groups …slowly slowly things are changing!
The rest of that week was spent listening to the events that had happened relating to the New Year celebrations I’d missed; the thing is here events go on for 2 weeks after the event so I was able to spend time at Angoda Hospital New Year Festival.
This year instead of each ward having an event all wards combined to have a big event in the sports field next to hospital. You may remember last year I spent a similar day at the horticulture project where I took part in the ‘ eat the hanging cream cracker, hands tied behind your back game.’ This year I got knocked out in the first round of musical chairs!
It was good to witness, staff and clients having fun together. New games this year, guess how many seeds in the Papaya( size of a rugby ball)this was a hard one as some papaya that big have been known on opening to contain less than 10 and others 1000’s.I had 3 goes …no where near the answer of 894 …glad I wasn’t asked to count!
An event I’d not seen before was a pillow fight…with a difference. A wooden ‘A’ frame was erected about 7ft high and 8ft long, 2 contestants mounted with pillow in hand the other hand behind their back. The idea was of course to knock your opponent off to land on the mattresses below…it was hilarious, some of these chaps put so much effort in to taking a swing they fell off with out delivering a blow. Others were veterans at the game and held their position while receiving the blows rained on them picking their time when the opponent was tiring to take one swing and off he’d go. Watching with a colleague she enquired did these events happen in the UK? I had thoughts of Eddie Waring and Stewart Hall on TV’s ‘ Its a ‘Knock Out’. Thinking about the NHS … health and safety and fun in the same sentence…
Yesterday was Vesak Poya the Festival of Light, I went to watch the Perahera (parade) with my landlady and landlord as their son was taking part. This reminded me of the perehera I watched in Kandy but with less elephants (there were 2 )the children in their class groups were dressed in traditional brightly coloured costumes from 4 -18 yr olds, lots of noise from the drums and singing. It was supported by proud parents with family and friends .Despite a few showers of rain we walked about 3 km through the town, passing the shops and booths displaying their lamps and streamers cars and buses heavily decorated also. On our return home we were stopped at roadside booths ‘dansal’ which were erected for the purpose, to give away free food yes rice and curry, some with drinks and biscuits all the villagers out smiling chatting a real sense of community …this is where I live at the moment and I’m happy to be back!

Oh didn’t we have a lovely day the day we went to…Kalutara?

March 10, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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On Sunday 1st of March along with the other 3 volunteers at Angoda (plus 2 of their friends from Holland) we were invited to the home of AA (a senior social worker collegue). She lives in Kalutara about 40 km south of Colombo. Kalutara was one of the northern most points along the coast to be hit by the tsunami, the hotels have been patched up and the effects of the tidal wave are visible in the ruined houses and fishing villages on approach to the town. We travelled by van the journey taking about a 1 1/2 hrs (AA uses public transport daily leaving her home at 5.30am to get to Angoda for 8am!)
On our arrival we were immediately fed in true SL style banana, fish cutlet and freshly made milk toffee (condensed milk, vanilla and sugar) delicious. Following our elevenses, we boarded the van with AA as our guide to go to Gangatilaka Vihara. A huge white dagoba I had admired on my previous travels down the Galle Road. Built in 1960’s on the site of a Portuguese fort it is unusual as it is the only one in the world that is entirely hollow. Once inside the cavernously echoing chamber you get a fantastic view of the Kalu Ganga estuary, the coast line beach, Railway Bridge and the surrounding environs inland. These were once famous for spice trading, now more famous for the islands source of finest mangosteens (looks like a purple tomato, with a hard shell like skin that softens when ripe, the delicate flesh within tastes a little like grape with a citrus tang!)The walls of the interior are covered by a sequence of murals depicting various scenes from Buddha’s life…my he had an interesting time let me tell you! (Perhaps another time hey?)On existing we crossed the road to the other temple buildings where we observed the usual lighting of incense sticks and the offering of flowers to the many Buddha shrines, it was after mid day the sun was hot so was the sand underfoot(footwear removed in the temple area)so we moved around pretty sharpish I’ll tell you! AA blessed us all by rubbing hot oil on our foreheads, as we watched the locals tying prayers to the bo tree or pouring water into the channels to water the bo tree roots.
We hot footed it( literally) to the van to return to AA’s for our lunch which was laid out for us by her son and daughter. Again masses of food, 2 different rice’s, 8 or 9 curries on offer for the guests, who have to eat before the hosts. We did all eat the dessert fruit and ice cream together, or was that because I was on my second helping?
After a short rest we again boarded our van and headed for the beach (deserted) for a paddle (warm water) before going on to AA’s business venture a rehabilitation home. This project is a house for up to 10 residents( currently only 2) set up as a halfway home AA will work here herself when she retires next year, since she became a widow 5 years ago she used some family land to build the house, the gardens need some work. She had invited us as she is proud of her achievements which are fantastic, but also for our ideas of how to support the future developments, the discussions of course aided by chocolate cake and tea! After an hour or so in this retreat, we dropped AA off at home and wend our way back up the coast road passing the temple with its roadside donation boxes, fed by motorists who stop to say a prayer and offer a few coins for a safe journey… when you’ve seen the state of the road you’d understand why!
A good day was had by all…

The ups and downs of life in SL continue…

February 15, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Last Sat morning at 6.15am I got the first of 5 buses that would eventually get me to my destination of Dalhousie some 10hours later for less than 200Rs/=The reason for this journey was 2 fold ,firstly it was a get together of vols for Lynn’s birthday, secondly to Climb Adams Peak (Sri Pada check out the website on http://sripada.org/)

Travelling with the large group was good fun, catching up, sharing food, snacks (yeap my favourite part of any trip!)Listening to music, a chorus of “ging gang goo lie”( well the SL ‘s song sounded like it) and marvelling at the wonderful scenery making the journey not seem that long at all.
Adams Peak is situated at the south western edge of the hill country; it is one of Sri Lankans most striking features and one of its most celebrated places of pilgrimage- according to my guide book a miniature ‘Matterhorn’. It was indeed an impressive sight to behold (at 2243m it is SL’s 5th highest peak) as we weaved our way through the tea plantations and surrounding hills.
Arriving at Dalhousie we checked in at the River View Wathsala Inn, a beautiful spot with views of the river, hills and the Peak looming in the distance as the sun began to set.
We agreed to eat and get a few hours rest /sleep before making the ascent to arrive at the top to watch the sunset. I think I’d mentioned to folk that I was no novice at this having successfully climbed Kilimanjaro in 2001… Did I tell you???
Anyway we set off about 1am the temperature was very pleasant, although the locals were obviously were feeling the cold as they donned hats, jackets ,scarf’s and towels around their shoulders ( never got to the reason why?). As it was a poya weekend, we anticipated it to be busy with others making their annual pilgrimage we expected the ascent to take 4 or so hours including time to stop for tea at one the stalls lining the steps (approx 4900) en route to the top.
It was indeed very busy, we’d made good way after 2 hours stopping for tea everyone was feeling ok no serious aches at this stage. There was a great atmosphere amongst the pilgrims, old and young groups of families and friends the age varying from months old (being breast fed as mum walked up) to late 80’s.Lots of stalls selling food , drink,plastic flowers ,hats, scarf’s etc ;It felt like a festival of sorts, without the music and the mud of course!
Sadly after another couple of hours of very slow ascent of the steps (suiting my knees) we came to a complete standstill for over ½ an hour (a real people jam, no movement either way!)We were 2/3rds of the way up the lights from the top twinkling down at us. We were told the top was completely blocked with early arrivals waiting for the sun to rise in 2 hours time. What to do??
A group decision to head down was made as at this rate we would not make it to the top for sunrise. So a little disappointed we started to make our descent, but I did managed (in my typical brown owl style) to rally the troops to raise a chorus of ging gang goo lie with much hilarity from a group of SL lads if front of us! Stopping for tea again we met Brenda an 80 yr SL guide who at 6 in the morning had great pleasure in entertaining us by telling us that she had managed the peak 72 times, she had the press cuttings and photos from grateful tourists to prove it, we left promising to return and go with her the next time!
After a bit of brekky we again retired for a few hours rest, we had a walk around the local area we were a bit stiff. It was just fab to out and not perspiring. We meandered through the tea plantations, photographing lakes and waterfalls; it was lovely, confirming my love and preference for the countryside over the beach, vowing to visit the area again very soon.
With our disappointment at not reaching the summit behind us, it was after all Lynn’s birthday weekend we returned to the hotel for birthday cake and the party started! Hoorah!

A New Year…

January 31, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

 A New Year and another month flies by, I have completed 10 months of my 24.I’m aware that I seem to be counting the time but that’s because I don’t know where it goes.

As per the advice we received on arrival, I have experienced a bit of a downer in the last couple of weeks ….nothing too worry about just par for the course really. This  could be attributed to the start of a New Year a time of reflection and resolution of course, however I’m feeling or should say was feeling that it had more to do with being a third of the way into the placement, and questioning myself on what have I done, what am I doing here, does it make any difference???? This was particularly evident when co- facilitating a workshop for a group of 39 nurses, identifying their training needs. I was talking( slowly) through a simple base line data sheet we wanted them to complete ( it was being translated in Sinhala at the same time), I remember looking at the 39 pairs of eyes  and thinking of rabbits startled by the head lights  or had someone thrown Harry Potters invisibility cloak over me again??  

There have been days where I seem to wear the invisibility cloak all the time, its not just the lack of recognition its the lack of basic courtesy respect and poor communication which makes me question myself and role here, which is alien being out of my comfort zone, yes I did want a challenge I appreciate that this is part of it… some days are harder than others!   

Anyway I seem to be on an up ward swing again I don’t know what suddenly makes it seem better, I do talk with the other vols which is really valuable ( I do miss my monthly clinical and managerial supervision sessions)and I do give myself a talking too ( bad sign I know)

Yes so a New Year is with us, I saw it in down south in Unawatuna, sadly I had a bit of a stomach bug I managed to stay up to watch the fire works on the beach at midnight without injury no particular safety code here regards the displays with the local dogs loving every minute of it, and retired to my room by 00.15.

Back to work with the stakeholder event  being held on the 8thJan which was regarded as a success despite a poor show from the business community we did attract good media coverage which ticked the box for raising awareness of mental health issues! The highlight for me was Ms J (who works at the paper factory) standing up and reading her testimony of experience to the audience of 74, what a star! We did get 3 shows of interest in engaging in employment opportunities …watch this space for further details.

From the shop floor to strategy, I have been involved with the programme office staff at VSO and the analysis of the SL programme area review. This was very informative (and hard going at times, lots of paper) I was able to see the evidence of the overall impact of the Mental Health programme in SL and putting my role in context.

The president’s wife visited the unit last week to open a new vocational training unit,( on with the saree!) there was a great deal of security and interestingly the front of the unit got a coat of paint the evening before she arrived… some things never change where ever you are!

Other visitors to the unit recently was a group of people (I met shortly after I arrived last year on their first visit )from the Netherlands ,Global Initiative on Psychiatry ( http://www.gip-global.org)  They are an international not for profit organisation focussing on  mental healthand human rights globally. They were back with secured funding for the forensic services at Angoda. They were very positive about the developments they saw at Mulleriyawawhich were just ideas last year. They have provided funds for a water tank for each ward and are hoping to support the much needed repairs to the toilets and the ancient drainage system. They are awaiting my report, which I prepared withthe new Matron and Infection control nurse, we await the estimates from the technical officer…that’s another story but I’m on the case! It was great to get the feedback and make contact with their consultants regarding resources for the new library and initial discussions about exchange programmes for student nurses …all good stuff hey!

Talking of students I am going back to the books I have enrolled on a part time diploma in Human Rights at the Institute (www. ihrsrilanka.lk ) here in Colombo 9-1pm every Saturday for 6 months it was  due to start on the 10thJan but in true SL time its been  rescheduled  twice already to 14th Feb.  Anyway I am really looking forward to it, I’ll keep you posted

Daily living continues to make me smile last week riding up the road after a visit to the veg stall I was aware of voices behind me asking the usual “where are you going?” trying not too fall off and keep my produce in the basket as I turned round I saw the tops of 3 bald heads disappear behind a 8 ft wall…the wall surrounds the Buddhist college…

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