New kid on the block…

April 28, 2008 at 11:21 am | Posted in Food, Friends, Life, Travel | 2 Comments
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Pink Palace balcony

Balcony of the Pink Palace!

Over one week later I am pleased to say a little wiser . I met my landlord, his wife and son on my return  from a Tuesday evening soiree with the others in Ragagiry-  podi Sarahs neighbour hood where we  enjoyed some cheap local food very tasty. They ( the LL and family) welcomed me into their house and apologised for not being there  when I had arrived as it was the New Year they had visited relatives in the hill country. As I sipped plain tea ( tea no milk but suggered)I found out Mrs  S,is a teacher at a local school  who speaks good English. Mr S,is 66 and proudly  informed me he is a retired government worker. Tilekash is 12, goes to the British Commission School up the road. His mum suggested that I could help him with his English homework…I agreed as one does …poor lad! They enquired about my job and offered sympathetic looks when I said Mulleriyawa  unit 2…bodes well I thought!

As I made my way to leave to prepare for my big day  I was presented with 6 advocados,1 dozen huge bananas, leeks , peppers , green and white beans ,lettuce and  a kilo of carrots gifts from the country where all this stuff was grown by their rels …lucky me!

Wednesday dawned following a better nights sleep than anticpated(must be the calming pinkness) just before retiring I met a couple of chaps wanting to share my pink palace …Mr Cockyroach got short shrift( a quick blast from “mortein “ the recommended spray for unwanted visitors of the insect variety) is no longer on the tenacy. Mr Gecko (George) however is welcome to stay,I hardly know he is there he likes to hang out in the bathroom or the kitchen.

Mr S greeted me as I was about to leave to get the bus at the end of the lane to Angoda Hosp he insisted on driving me there… and has done so every morning since…

Kindness, helpfulness, friendliness and generosity is what I have experienced by the people I have met at work; nurses, social workers, doctors support staff and patients or on my way home the shop keepers stall holders and bus conductors’ feel humbled by these people they have so little in financial /material terms but give so much…Is it because I am a tall white westerner, bit of a novelty…? no, I  don’t think so., they seem to belike it to everyone .I read about it before arrival and from people who had visited this Island , certainly something I am going to get used to…

They are also very amusing- the kids are all very cute, who do stare at me, nothing intimidating but with curiosity. I saw a couple of teenagers get one of those “wait till I get you home looks” from their mother who caught them glancing at me wide mouthed and giggling on the bus t’other day.

Staying with the buses I witnessed a driver changeover the likes never seen before… the bus stops a chap gets on, the bus progresses on its way, the chap chats to the driver, as we approach a bend the bus slows down a bit but does not stop no handbrake applied, the driver gets out of the seat the other chap gets in and drives the bus…perhaps I should let National Express in on this novel time saving method?

(Sadly there was another bus bomb on Friday night with lives lost – security / safety is high on my agenda and I do adhere to guidance from VSO)

I have had some other attention, as warned in our training…walking t’market last Saturday I was called by a tri shaw driver on the other side of the road- madam madam…I looked over to view him having a “jimmy riddle “standing behind his vehicle and towards the wall … when I said ‘epaa’ (don’t want) and proceeded on my way – he turned to face me and waved his willie at me! Oh matron the sights you see!  (Gerry you can edit that bit from the folks ta)

Work has been interesting, I spent the first few days at Mental Hospital Angoda (MHA The only Mental Health Hospital in Sri Lanka, general hospitals have a psychiatric ward) As I said earlier I have been taken under the wing of the social work dept which has been most informative .Helen is a social worker (fellow VSO vol been here since Nov 2006) her help in settling in has been really appreciated. I have been getting to know the systems, procedures and policy or lack of it in some cases. This week after meeting the boss I have spent time at Mulleriyawa (Mully).I am pleased to be able to write that it is not as bad as I had imagined or seen on the photos…it is very different to the Western environments I have experienced. It has been taken over by MHA since May2007 the changes have taken place pretty rapidly (4 full time Medical officers – there had been little or no input previously) with plans to continue in place – including my role in its development!  A horticultural project has just received funding from WHO, a new OT dept opens on the 28th April, a rehab ward to be developed to hopefully reintegrate its in patients with family if possible or in community housing. The women have institutionalised for 20-30  some even 40 years! It is my plan to take things slowly, spend time with the staff before I get into training etc there are some enthusiastic staff so I intent to meet with them and draw up a plan of action for the next few months.

Taking it slowly …Helen daily reminds me to slow down when walking if you over take a Sri Lankan I’m moving to fast, I hope that’s raised a few smiles …yes Sarah is dropping in to first gear!

On the social front I’ve been out to a Sri Lankan birthday party this week. Invited by Helen to the 6th birthday celebrations of her gym owners son.Once again I experienced the generous hospitality SL style. The birthday cake was cut once all guests arrived, the birthday boy took the first piece of which he had a bite, and then shared it with his mum, dad, sis, bro, and gran ahh! Nice tradition! Once that was over we enjoyed fresh mango juice, the men then sat outside at tables and consumed the alcohol on offer SL women do not drink! Helen and I sat with the women doing our best to make small talk with my chuTTak sinhalen( little Sinhalese) conversations were short with lots of smiling!

The host’s dad however asked us if we would like a drink, obviously we did not refuse and were shown to an empty table and offered beer or brandy and coke luvvly jubbly! The caterers arrived the  food was ready in no time traditional SL fare- 2 types of  rice, fish curry ,cashew nut and veg curry, salad  and sambol (onion,chillie and dried fish) not a chicken leg, quiche, or vol o vent in sight! Sambol is the new taste sensation!

My other outing was on Thursday to the British High Commission (BHC) BBQ and 80’s disco…not SL in any shape or form as you can imagine lots of paid ex pats from BHC, various NGO and aid agencies, darling.  Jesse and Joanne made some contacts and have signed up for the 5 a side team. I enjoyed a couple of beers and a Haloumi kebab, oh silly me I haven’t put next months date in my diary!

All is well at the pink palace, which last Sunday had its first guests. Joanne, Jesse and Podi came to the jungle for soup. It made me feel at home rustling up a lentil broth for the troops, followed by some cheese (Edam with cumin seeds) and bickies proper cheese is available at a price-Podi and I spotted it in Apirco on Saturday, we decided it would be purchased as a luxury on special occasions…  Sarah brought along cake (which is a SL tradition when visiting- they like their cake.) which was eaten with yoghurt …a veritable feast!


This Sunday  afternoon finds me chillin’ might go for a walk see if ‘tinternet ‘place is open to put this on ,then back for a bit of ironing as I treated my clothes to the laundrette on Friday. An early night beckons -sleeping not good at the mo, cos the mossies got me the other night, slight discomfort from itchiness hey ho… Honest I’m not complaining!

More soon…

Hi posting this on Monday 28th 16.45,its the rainy season so is pissing it down as I type. Got the bus from work to stay dry but the bus leaks…it made me smile.

All went well with the opening of the new OT dept, met the secretary to the minister of health for Sri Lanka!Then spent the afternoon with the nurses on the ward and the patients of course They follow visitors around and want to touch my hair and kiss my feet ( that will soon stop).The nurses try really hard to speak English so although it taks\es a while we get there in the end…slowly slowly!

till the next time …where’s me brolly!







Another week goes by …Barbie moves to the jungle

April 15, 2008 at 10:40 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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 Tuesday 15/04/08.

I must be enjoying myself as time is certainly flying by. Having survived the lightening storms (which seemed to have eased now) and another week of language training I am typing this from my new abode …the pink house! –  More of that later.

Last week saw Lynn Riza and Sarah 2(now called podi Sarah- small Sarah) venture to Raheems the tailor (he was recommended by another volunteer) where you can imagine much hilarity ensued as we chose fabrics looked at patterns complimented each other or not on choices, being measured and having to do our own in side leg as we were all wearing skirts!!! (Oh suits you sir!) Raheem assumed I was mother of the brood! I did correct him, he said that due to my hair colour people would assume I was the eldest (which is true)or mother ,he did redeem him self by saying  “ I had youth in my heart”…ahh flattery left him with a orders from all of us for trousers  (shalwar) and long shirt tops (kameez) should be ready for collection this week.

Tuesday was fun our first bus trip and as the rough guide informed me, regular use of this form of transportation is to taken you can forget your gym membership … standing on a crowded bus you use muscle s you never knew you had, even seated  as the seats are narrow. We explored the areas where Podi Sarah and Jesse will be living and working. Practised our language (sinhala chuTTak pulawan = I speak a tiny bit of Sinhala) to purchase limes –(for the Vodka) and a cooking spoon for James birthday on Wednesday. I also did my first text in sinalen to the language tutor Ianthe.

Wednesday saw us all dressed in our work attire (not casual wear), as we would be meeting representatives from our organisations, they were attending a briefing session to prepare for having a volunteer. I found this quite daunting as the 2 nurses’ who attended from Mulleriyawa (pronounced mull- aarea –waa) had as much English as I Sinhala!!! Instant thoughts of how the ???? am I going to do this, so smiling a lot and giving it my best shot we were able to make some small talk. After lunch I was introduced to a senior social worker very proactive in discharge at Angoda (the main hospital) who is fluent in English. She has worked with VSO vols before was very kind and I felt adopted by her, I have arranged to meet her on Wed 16th when I start.

Lynn had met with her partners and over a quick drink before dining out for James birthday, realised she had felt the same. We rationalised our anxieties, reassured each other about skills and abilities and agreed to stop fretting as we headed of to the Cinnamon Grand ( described as Colombo’s most appealing luxury option. Well it was a special occasion James was 31,we headed for the Cheers bar for a beer and English fodder – I had fish and chips it was delicious! James wanted to dance so we retired to the lounge bar to be entertained by Aubrey and his band Heat, entertained by his very poor James Brown and Shaggy impressions. James got to dance; we laughed a lot just what the doctor ordered!

Thursday was the VSO Project Launch- Supporting and Developing Rights Based Mental Health Services in Sri Lanka. Here I met Dr Jayan Mendis Director of Mental health services Angoda, he is the driving force behind the developments and changes in Mental health. He was keen to meet me and was very kind in his welcome  – the New Year would have dawned when I started he felt this was a good sign…  how much more reassurance do I need! Once the pleasantries were over and the spicy fish pasties and veg rolls munched we headed off with other vols of 12- 18 months experience for a beer to hear tales of their experiences and travels around the island, we ended up in Clancy’s Irish bar dancing to Reggae till 1 am…

Friday morning language classes were a little quiet – we got our come up pence as we spent the afternoon shopping for household goods in Apico one shop for all like a big Tesco. Packed with people buying in for the New Year festivities us VSO vols debated about toilet brushes, sheets, saucepans and cockroach sprays! Not an activity I will wish to repeat too soon.

Saturday saw us on the buses again heading to Angoda to meet Helen a vol social worker, who kindly arranged for us to have a look around the Hospital. I was very surprised at what I saw. Large open spaces, wards clean and tidy, patients up and about, garden space and evidence of activities taking place. A lot of money has been spent recently it even has a mother and baby unit, although all very basic they have come along way. Helen reminded me that Mulleriwaya (Mully) was not as developed but that was the reason for my placement. Dr Mendis had recently taken over administration for Mully and had made in roads with change, plans were in place to obtain community housing to support the discharge of the patients incarcerated there…ECT I think = Exciting challenging times for me!

Helen kindly invited us back to hers fro a welcomed glass of arrack and ginger beer  (lashing and lashings of ginger beer! just like the famous five by Enid Blyton I think not) Her placement is until Nov – so I can see myself calling on her experiences both professionally and personally of living in Sri Lankan. She will be a tri shaw ride away she saw my CV before I arrived and is keen to sample my cooking …she will have to wait a bit until I’m settled before the soup is on the menu though if she wants to pop in for an arrack I’ve told her the door will be open.

Sunday 13th saw us girls making the most of the Bank Holiday and headed for

Colombo to see a couple of temples the streets and roads were deserted as the locals were preparing for the new year 2551 which was to arrive at 6.29pm that evening. We visited 2 Buddhist temples Seema Malaka and Gangaramaya. Both different one modern on a platform on a lake the second a hotch potch of Buddhist arts and architecture from Sri Lanka, with a Bo tree in the court yard draped with prayer flags. The museum holds a collection of vintage British cars amongst old printing presses from London and Edinburgh. We had to remove our shoes, no problem but the marble flooring was so hot – it burnt our feet as we did  “ahh grasshopper” impressions on to the sparse matting. We returned via the Holiday Inn to check out the pool access for non residents – 200 rupees( Rs) which is duly noted compared to that of the aforementioned Cinnamon Grand at 800Rs we were informed later the Holiday Inn is the best bet as CG has very chlorinated water.

Returning to the Guesthouse I made poor attempts at home work then packing before listening to the New Year arrive with the gang in the garden. Lots of fire works just loud bangs though no visual display.

Monday dawned the bags were packed. We arrived at the office to find a New Year Breakfast awaited us put on by the office staff. It is a traditional thing to do.wish some one had told me I would not have had breakfast but I managed to sample a little of every thing it would have been rude not too!

That afternoon I was taken to my new abode I had seen it from the outside on Saturday and admired the setting, the house was surrounded by palm trees and had orchids growing in the garden and was newly painted in PINK. Opening the gate at the bottom of the stairs leading to my rooms I realised that it was pink there too and the bedroom and the kitchen and the balcony ….how lovely. As you know I like my pastel shades especially pink but it was a bit of a shocker luckily Lynn came with me so we laughed a lot! I am sure as she text me later- at the moment it is a pink house soon I will make it a home. Once I’d done some immediate cleaning I showered and made a drink before retiring to my bed which by the way has pink sheets and a pink mosquito net!

More from Barbie’s house soon!







Learning the language…shit happens!

April 8, 2008 at 6:52 am | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel | 1 Comment
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 Aaiboowan =  a formal greeting, wishing you a long life… yes  language lessons have started and don’t I know it, my pronunciation has every one in stitches, must be me Yorkshire accent! The problem is the Sri Lankans (SL) like to keep their communication short and simple …difficult for someone like me who enjoys a good old ramble around the houses. It is a functional based language unlike English which is tence based.It can sound very directive or rude, however tone and non verbal’s soften the effect, so with  head on one side, a smile and a wave of me hands I can manage to get through and have successfully bartered the price down with the tri shaw drivers.

The trainers are very experienced so we also are learning about the culture and the practicalities of day today living, sessions are often held in the garden of the VSO offices makes a change from the air conditioned room. This week we are going to go to the markets to identify fruit and veg, to the train and bus stations also visiting the areas we will be living. Saying that we( Lynn and Sarah 2) were out again on Saturday buying safety pins like you do, we ended up counting from one to ten with the shop keeper who giggled at our efforts but like any country you visit if you make an effort the Sri Lankans appreciate it and help you out which is great otherwise I could have ended up with 7 pairs of flip flops!

Other elements of the training have focussed on Sri Lankan history, working in development, political situation, safety and security issues.

Lynn and I left the city yesterday and ventured to Pinnewala to the elephant orphanage. The journey took about 2 ½ hours on the A1 towards Kandy in the hill country. I was amazed at the number of people up and about at just gone 5.30 on a Sunday morning. During the language session today  re time of the day it explained that the SL’s we saw are early risers as their day is different to UK-


Morning= udee 3am on wards

 Lunch time = dawal 12-2pm

Evening = hawasa 2-6pm

raeae= after dark 6pm on wards when dark

This is very relevant from a work perspective, when arranging meetings you have to be time specific, they have no teatime /evening, tea time means a drink of tea at about 3pm… ooh soooo much to remember my brain aches!

Back to the elephants, the were amazing to watch – saw a baby one born on new years eve so cute, and then crossing the road to the river to bathe. It was saddening to hear the stories behind them being there, land minds causing blindness and loss of limbs. They did seem to be well cared for with room to roam. One of the most novel wildlife initiatives in SL in recent years has been the invention of pachyderm paper:  paper made from elephant dung. The dung is dried in the sun and boiled; the pulp is then used to make high quality stationary with an artistically textured finish. The texture and colour varies according to the diet. More than just a novelty stationary item, pachyderm paper could prove an important source of income for the locals- and thus help in conservation measures. By the way important customers to date have included the Colombo Hilton, Sri Lankan Airlines, and the Bank of Ceylon, have a look at if you want to but some.

On route we passed thro Colombo suburbs and then the villages towards the countryside,  taking in the sights of roadside stalls stacked high with annaasi (pineapples), hand made cane work and local vegetables. The roads are in need of repair (there is talk of major road  and waterways developments)hence the time to travel just over 70km.I was pleased to be in the lush country side after a week or so of urban living, as was Lynn  who will be living in Hambantota ( in the south )which is the dry zone

On return the weather changed and the heaven opened. Our land lady explained to us that we are currently experiencing some severe weather at the moment very hot days in the 30’s with rain daily and fierce storms most evenings.  She even took the time to ensure we read an article in the paper about safety   during storms, like turn off electrical appliances… the cynics among us thought she may have just wanted to save her on her lecky bill! (Reminded me of being a kid during storms all the lights off no TV…) When it rains you know about it, un- like Peter Kaye it’s that heavy rain that does SOAK you thro!

New experiences…

April 4, 2008 at 7:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Hopefully not speaking too soon but l seem to be getting to grips with things so far…I   am pleased to be able to report no further bites, I have become obsessive with my anti bite campaign tucking in the mossy net first job on return to my room and the regular application of repellent( 50% DEET) which does the job …it leaves the skin feeling quite yukky … but if it keeps those little critters away I will continue!

Drinking plenty of water is nothing new to me … neither  is the cold beer after the walk back in the evenings!

Going to the bathroom at night you have to be aware of unwanted insect guests … my fellow vols have seen large cock roaches, geckos, and spiders,I have not yet had the pleasure but give it time I’m sure.

The food has not been too spicy, pricey maybe, we were ripped off the other day at a tourist hotel orange juice 500 rupees = about £2.50 we had paid 400 r for the meal!!!

The other evening Lynn and Sarah 2( I am Sarah 1, on the first day I would introduce myself  then Sarah would say she was Sarah too , it’s stuck) we were having  a little wander around the local shops – I spotted a  local eatery selling veg kottu that I had read about in my guide. We managed to order hoppers plain and egg, veg kottu,shrimp rotte which came with spicy relishes we ate till we were bursting drank  soft  drinks the total was 472 rupees  between us about 70p each… we were very chuffed to report to the others we had eaten well and within the VSO budget!!!

Staying in the capital there is a wide choice of food and prices, sadly spotted a pizza hut and of course a mc Donalds.

We explored the Galle Face Hotel ( for those of you thinking about visiting me !) the other evening at the recommendation of Hugh the prog director. Colombos most famous hotel don’t you know dahlings!,as the guide says full of colonial charm and quirky character! It was brilliant watching the lightening over the ocean from the balcony as the diners were hurried from their tables indoors as the rains came down…we retired to the bar for a cocktail (just the one, we’re on a budget !!!) to do some people watching. We had eaten at the Cricket club earlier as you do, funnily enough the prices were the same.

Saturday was a slow day must have been all that sea air… but we did manage to navigate our way into the centre to explore the shopping plazas  … yes I know me  shopping and on a Saturday how girlie! It certainly won’t be something I’ii will be rushing to repeat. God it was busy and hot of course, the reason for the expedition was that some of the vols will be 5-7 hours away from Colombo on placements and needed to reccie  the clothes available, we later discovered that  the forthcoming new year (w/e 12 th April) is a time for giving presents mainly clothes, which explained in one store House of Fashion (=TX Maxx) we were nearly crushed by the locals with armfuls of garments as we walked thro’ door.

We ate lunch at the Barefoot Cafe set behind a really fab shop in the court yard where on Sundays they have a jazz session… full of ex pats. Nice to know it is there, those of us who will be working  around Colombo agreed it would be a place to bring our visitors or for us to get together on special occasions…ever budget conscious!

Well that’s me for now, next instalment soon … hopefully will have sussed how to upload some pics.

Sri Lanka…my arrival

April 1, 2008 at 7:04 am | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Travel | 2 Comments

Sri Lanka…the story so far

The first sight of my new country from the plane was breath taking, ,an island with mile upon mile of palm trees  edged with a strip of golden sand, this was so lush in comparison to the landing at Doha which so dry and barren 7 hours earlier.

Despite my tired and emotional state I was excited to have arrived and eagerly met Sarah Lynn and Jesse outside the plane to make sure we’d completed the immigration forms correctly so we could enter the country …god we were hot  and not wearing the right clothes for the 30c the pilot had told us it was outside!!!!

Immigration was slow but obviously successful we dragged our luggage towards the exit signs where I expected bunting and balloons to welcome us ..sadly this was not so but we were met by a tall lady with a folded up VSO banner. Anusha the VSO programme officer Mental Health introduced herself and Joanne another vol from Canada who had been  on our flight also. We made our way to the transport outside …it was humid and sticky something of a shock after the chilly Blighty we had left behind.

The journey at rush hour to Colombo took an hour, the Presidents mother in laws funeral was taking place so traffic was going to be extra slow on some of the roads. This gave me time to take in the sights of the streets crowded with shops their wares spilling out in to the pave ments and roads,terrocota pots ,statues  and plastic goods in plenty supply. The sound of cars ,motor bike , the three wheeler bike the tuk – tuk  horns  and cycles weaving there way in and out it looked chaotic and dangerous. I who have no lane discipline or road sense could not make head nor tail of right of way.I was told it was not uncommon to witness cyclists being knocked off their bikes!!! The people on foot moved fairly steadily the women in brightly coloured sari or more western style of long skirts and blouses, school children in spotless white uniforms. Stalls bursting with bananas, pineapples, orange skinned coconuts and huge papaya.

Our destination was a suburb of Colombo, Borello a guest house which was to be my accomadation until the 15th of April. I was shown to a fair size room with basic clean furniture over looking the roof terrace and washing line,bathroom with shower and toilet was next door. It has a beautiful garden with terraces brimming full of large plants and palms which reminded of a certain spot in Northern Tenerife (the home of Andy and Jack in Puerto de la Cruz,who interestingly love SL.)

The staff were all smiley and welcoming – heads nodding!

A brief intro from Angela a VSO support worker was received along with our allowance of 15,000SL rupees which equates to the equivalent of £3.50 per day for the training period, for an evening meal and any thing else we may need. We shared a little snifter of Vodka on  the terrace before an evening meal of a Chinese take away where we got to know a little more about each other and it would appear the mossies got to know me!!!

I woke with 14 bites not a good look for the first day…

Training is provided at VSO office a short ride by mini bus or a 15-20 min walk. A full time table provided seems a lot to take in initially. Language training  will start every morning even Saturdays.

Trying hard not to think/ behave like a tourist it is part of the adjustment- and realisation that this is where I will be living, well 6 miles out side the capital…finding it all fascinating which again is part of the process.  


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