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!

My trip to Bangkok…

November 28, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Travel | 2 Comments
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You won’t be surprised to know I had a fantastic 5 day break in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city.

I chose the airport shuffle service which provided me with my first glimpse of the city,  sights I had not seen for a bit, the  horizon full of  high rise buildings, motorways lanes full of  traffic , having left my volunteer sack cloth at the airport, I was on holiday, I had to switch to tourist mode… hoorah!

If I had any doubt about this it was forgotten as I entered the front doors of the Shangri – La Hotel (www.shangri-la.com) which was to provide my board and lodgings, courtesy of my sis Rosie who was to be there on business for a week, how lucky am I?

Awaiting her arrival, I took a stroll around the riverside location, taking in the sights and sounds of the street traders, traffic, and the folk who were about. After a short while I began to wonder had I gone deaf or had some one thrown a Harry Potter invisibility cloak over me, no one was staring, no questions about where I was going ,and despite the volume of traffic there was no constant honking… ahh ha I was back in the developed world, it felt a little strange. However sipping a G&T whilst catching up with Rosie and all her news, she having just returned from a 10day Trek in Bhutan, I felt I was coping quite well, I looked forward to a soak in a hot bubble bath…

Being a regular visitor to Bangkok Rosie knew her way around and had no problem locating a little eatery she had tried on her last trip. ‘Harmonique’   was a former Chinese residence located off the Silom Road, down a little side street entering through a round door, which opened into a really sweet court yard with marble topped sewing machine tables. Quite a cosy place, which served Thai and Chinese dishes…delicious, I can recommend the Thai fish cakes and the vegetable green curry washed down with a glass of shanghi beer, cheers!

Saturday we spent doing the sights which Rosie hadn’t done much of before, so armed with my Berlitz pocket guide and her with the LUXE city guide darhlings, we were sorted. Sadly due to the death of the presidents sister or was it the kings sister (oops short term memory loss) the Grand Palace was closed for the official state mourning. The Thai people lined the streets wearing black to pay their respects, the whole thing was recorded, I‘d caught a glimpse of it as I flicked through the TV channels in the gym earlier (burning off a few calories to make room for the breakfast).

We took a boat up the Chao Phraya River clicking away at the many temples on the riverside in order to visit Wat Pho, Bangkok’s oldest temple which contains the longest reclining Buddha in Thailand. It was indeed magnificent sight to view as with all temples I loved the atmosphere that prevails infused with incense; heads bowed in prayer and murmured chants.

Bangkok has over 300 Buddhist monasteries (wat in Thai), each consisting of a walled compound containing several buildings constructed in the traditional Thai style, with steep swooping rooflines and colourful interior murals. If you have any doubt about this don’t hesitate to ask me to show you my photos sometime I’ve a couple of hundred to chose from!

It was lovely to wander about through the streets and markets as well as hoping on and off the river boat that sped up and down the river. We ventured to the Patpong area as the markets stalls were setting up for the evening an area more re known for its go-go bars, massage parlours and sex shows. Sadly I can not elaborate on these as we had a date with a couple of Rosie’s colleagues. I did manage to barter successfully for a couple of watches as requested by my Land lord and his wife. (They were overjoyed with the fake Rolex and Gucci, it took it a bit of persuading for them to accept them as gifts, but I got there in the end)

Sunday was a leisurely breakfast   then a stroll to the silversmiths, Rosie was on a mission and little boutiques where I could not resist purchasing a pair of hand made earrings you know what I’m like about my danglies!

The temperature was warm, not humid (no hanky required) with a gentle breeze made it very pleasant having a mooch about. A trip on the sky train (an elevated railway) which crosses the city took us to Siam Square, an expensive shopping area festooned with Christmas decorations and fraught shoppers. That afternoon I had a Thai massage my first, an experience I would love to repeat again, I enjoyed it. The masseuse does not use oil but a series of strokes, and stretches utilizing her knuckles, fore arms, and feet, to apply pressure it was incredible.  I thought I’d ache the next day but no problem.

Monday Rosie was working so I booked my self on a’ Kanchanaburi trip’ (approx 200km out of the city) which included a visit to the Bridge over the River Kwai, a train trip on the death railway route, a visit to the World War II cemetery and the JEATH Museum (JEATH=Japan, England, America/Australia, Thailand and Holland the 6 countries that were embroiled at Kanchanaburi during WW II) which was informative in its presentation and very moving indeed.

The afternoon was spent at   ‘Wat Pa Bua Yannasamparnno Forest Monastery’ Tiger Temple          www.TigerTemple.org. Here I was able to get up close (but not too personal) with the big cats. I admit to being a bit nervous, as I stood in line, listening to the volunteers at the monastery state that the tigers were not sedated, and then proceed to show their scarred legs! All was well with lots of photographic evidence!The cubs were so cute ..ahh and me a dog lover!

 I met Bandu and Lalaniabey a couple who hailed from Sri Lanka, they seemed impressed with my Sinhala, and interested to hear about my work with VSO, they promised to keep in touch which was nice. They had been to SL for a wedding and were on their return journey home, small world?

The Khoa San Road the in famous area of the city for backpackers was were I headed on Tuesday, I had a good old mooch along the street vendors selling brightly coloured sarongs, silks, copies of designer goods amidst the smell of phat thai (Thai style fried noodles) I found myself bartering for items (silk cushion covers at one stage) then having a reality check, did I really need this stuff…? Err me thinks no… The bartering was good fun tho’. I had a spot of lunch at one of the many bars /an internet cafe that line the streets and was asked to take a picture by 2 women who it turns out were Irish they were cousins and both worked for the NHS …how big is this planet?

Well there you have it my short hop to Bangkok, thankfully no great drama to report.  It was great both interesting and relaxing just what I needed, a catch up with Rosie ,a little bit o’ luxury and pampering (oh yeah I had a manicure and pedicure before I left for the airport)

5 days in the city was plenty for this ‘country gal at heart’, I’d found myself missing the palm trees… more soon.

The living is easy…red letter days!

November 11, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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 Part 2 work life balance… 

  The last few weeks including work have been pretty good, certainly makes the time fly by as I sit here tapping at the beginning of Nov, I recall what I’ve been up to. A new batch of Volunteers arrived 4 weeks ago one of which is working at main hospital and living 10 minutes away by bike. She ventured out to see her accommodation with 3 other vols and popped in for a brew on the balcony of the PP. I felt like a 2nd year at school no longer the “newbie”  as I answered the stream of questions similar to the ones I’d asked on my arrival…it seemed an age ago(March that is, not me being a second year coz that is eons ago!!!)

I actually started this 2 weeks ago and have edited it as it went on a bit about a trip to Water World  which boasts to being “Sri Lanka’s first Public Aquarium” and the “jobs worth” on the gate refusing to give me residents rates. I waxed lyrical about a trip down south Ambalantota, continuing with the water theme I enjoyed a Sunday afternoon trip down the river, spied some amazing birds of prey and a crocodile!!!  I saw a few temples at Tissamaharama and ate curd which is infamous in Sri Lanka but curd from Ambalantota apparently the best. They use the buffalo urine to sterilize the clay pot, (the curd is delicious), but they don’t reuse the pot (saw hundreds of them laying about the place or used as edging in gardens) due to the use of urine …folk are funny hey? I cut it short as events of last week  were far more memorable more of them later, my update continues…

New friends have been made in the last weeks, linked to work.  First is Barbara, widow of an ex Medical Superintendant of Mulleriyawa ’69 – ’81. She is an amazing octogenarian (81 to be precise!)In memory of the 10th anniversary of his death, the family wanted to make a donation to the unit. She contacted JM the director he invited her to visit the unit following the purchase of an industrial washing machine, I was dispatched to give her a tour. We hit it off straight away, the visit ended with her asking for my contact details a) so she could keep in touch to make sure the machine got installed and b) so she could invite me round to hers for lunch, which she did the following week. On my arrival a drink was offered in true SL style, water or tea I presumed, no …a beer or a rum and coke with fresh mint, taken a back for a second, I informed her that technically I was on duty. I was corrected I was a guest in her house for lunch, she was having a rum would I care to join her…I left a couple hours later, family and life histories swapped, plus some hand embroidered table mats as a gift, I’m sure there will be more of Barbara in future blogs.

Pat is Scottish married to John of St Andrews Church in Colombo, supported by the Church of Scotland, donor to one of the wards at the unit. Pat contacted me to discuss training for staff at a community home, where 6 women had been settled for a few years. She had been given my name by Lorraine from Lanka Alzheimer’s society(small place this island)We met 2 weeks ago discussed a future meeting and visit to the house with social workers and Occupational therapy staff on Thursday  this week. She and John been here 5 years, apart from church and charity work they also run a Scottish evening at the Canadian embassy every Tuesday, I’m sure that will be visited before long for a bit of a knees up!

Last Wednesday has to go down as the best day in Sri Lanka so far (tissues at the ready). I may have mentioned a trip to Anuradapura in July, to visit AKASA women physically disability project. On this trip a lady( resident at the unit) called MC had travelled with us, as the social worker Ms P who was coordinating the trip had been working with her for a few months, trying to locate her son, who she had last seen 12 years ago. A series of phone calls and letters with only a name and date of birth, to the many children’s homes and orphanages in SL, he had been located in the SOS village in Anuradupura (an Austrian organisation134 village’s world wide)

In July we visited the orphanage to meet the staff but not her son. MC was relieved to know her son’s whereabouts that he was progressing well at school and enjoyed football. Despite our reassurances she was bitterly disappointed that she could not have met him, she did how ever handle the situation well and saved her tears for when she was back on the van. This had been a big day for her, on the return journey she sang a song in Sinhala, which she had made up her self stating her love for her son, her inability to care for him as she had been unwell, and that one day they would be together. She also thanked all the staff for making her feel ‘normal’, she felt very special, but unworthy, she did not deserve this. On return the she wrote the words of the song with the help of the nurse in a letter to her son and enclosed some photos I had taken. Ms P continued the contact with the director of the orphanage who had started to prepare the boy; the letter had been given to him. The problem was when we would be able to access transport for the 6 hour journey to travel north again?

My friend Riza a vol at AKASA, was in Colombo renewing work permits and visa  and came to see me at work we met Ms P, never one to miss an opportunity asked when she was returning to Anuradurpura …could we have a lift( as VSO provide a van), we had business to attend to!

So last Wednesday we headed off, all  of us were quite upbeat as you can imagine, the 6 hour journey  passed quickly as it does when there’s something special at the end…

Ms P and I spoke with the director to discuss formalities what info had been given to the boy how he had taken it. No problems , they were the experts after all. MC was to meet the house mother she had looked after the boy for the last 12 years. We were all shown the shared house and met other children; I was befriended by a beautiful big brown eyed 8 yr old girl, who was quite good with my camera at the end of the visit.  We were told R, the boy had arrived from school he was seeing his key worker first. We waited, I clicked away nervously…then  there he was standing in the door way, there was no doubt who his mother was, that big grin and big sparkling eyes… a mother and child reunion, an incredible moment to have witnessed.

MC and son R spent over an hour together, we shared tea, songs were sung, hands were held, hugs and big grins all round. A fantastic day, one I will remember for a long time…

 

Work life balance… part 1

October 21, 2008 at 4:24 pm | Posted in Friends, Health, Life, Travel | 1 Comment
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I now have a dial up internet connection at the pink Palace hoorah! It only took an hour in the Suntel shop with wireless phone, my laptop, 4 staff and  7,700 rupees  sorted. I thought ,wrongly it seems that I’d be blogging away at a rate of knots ,not so, as the computer sits idling, its easier to say tomorrow ( getting into the SL  way of thinking and time keeping!) or I’ll get a round  to it  later as I listen to the Archers or check for flights to Bangkok ( more of that another day) ,so apologies for my tardiness.

Right then catch up ,work first. I seem to be jack of all trades master of none at the moment which is great some days and on others incredibly frustrating. Having been here  over 6 months to find out at a meeting, the Director of the hosp has wifi facility in his office, when I broached this with him he smiled and said he thought I knew. Access at work  simply means I can download stuff and read later, also print off stuff e.g. info from VSO or funding applications etc .I gather he wants his staff on the wards working not surfing the net …talking of which, on World Mental Health Day we held an Art Exhibition, “ Stamp out STIGMA with Colours” and launched a web site so check it out on www.nimh.lk  You can find me under services …oh matron!

 A new role seems to be that of photographer! I know  “steady the buffs!”some of you will be falling off chairs at the thought of those holiday snaps with the heads missing or views that look like they were taken in a gale force 10! I am not professing to be David Bailey , as I  haven’t got the hang of  sending,sizing and uploading etc but taking pics as a record of events  is all I’m  doing. As things are evolving  at the unit slowly,  building /repair works  in progress, donations in use (more lockers and tables the other day ) changing the wards into more homely environments ,its great to be able to capture this and compare with 12 months ago!

The women here love having their pics taken, some have never had it done before and are so grateful when a week later I hand over a 6×4 snap of them they show it off with such pride then go off to put it some where safe. I take a few pics a day, especially of the ladies who attend OT dept as a record of their progress when they ask for their pic taken( well  lots of pointing at my bag foto foto!) they disappear and then reappear moments later with combed hair or a change of blouse.  I say “ praise be” to the inventor of the digital camera its certainly a blessing for me. Whilst blowing my own trumpet I also managed to put together a power point  photograph presentation of the field trips we have been on which was shown  on a loop in the background at a recent meeting…a word of warning when I return, it will be like being invited round  to the neighbours  years ago to watch their holiday slides ,bet you can’t wait!

Another positive note with work , is  that we are progressing well ( hopefully not speaking to soon)with the planning of a stake holder event to be held in NOV, the objectives being

       To raise awareness of, and reduce stigma around, Angoda Mental Hospital and Mulleriyawa Unit 2, and the patients at both establishments

       To identify employment and commercial opportunities within business, through which patients may gain greater independence and confidence to reintegrate into the community

 

This is exciting as it involves cross sector working within VSO. I approached a fellow Vol in the Participation and Governance sector, who works with an NGO, Business for Peace Alliance, for his advice re the organising such an event and his organisation are going to support the event management.  From this we have identified a possible Short term volunteer placement to help capacity build my organisation so they can do this sort of thing themselves in the future.

 

The ladies at the paper factory have been paid (a very minimal amount in western terms) they have no complaints. At the support meeting, we hold on Saturdays, we discuss the weeks work, they enjoy the work and report an  increase in their productivity. One lady suggested a day trip. Some others were not so keen wanting to save their rupees which is great , exercising their right to chose what they do on their days off. I must admit it will be great to go out with them for a day ,suggestions so far are the zoo, the beach,  and temples. Just got to rally the staff to get planning and costing for next weeks meeting!

 

Yeah the ups and downs continue I wouldn’t have it any other way! That’s  enough  for now, I’ve started part 2 which I’ll post next week.

 

Seriously , tho’ I would be grateful if you have any comments about the blog, feel free to write below whilst you’re here. I’d appreciate it! Bohoma Istuutiiy  thank you !

Forget the rupees…keep an eye on the pounds!

August 7, 2008 at 11:59 am | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel | 1 Comment
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Last week found me experiencing  5 star treatment in two ways;  first VSO held its annual Conference entitled “Safe & Sound” at the Mahaweli Reach (see www.mahaweli.com ) in Kandy. From the title you gather that the focus was on the new security policy and continued development /networking/communication between the programme office staff and vols. Being part of the planning team and self named“Flow Manager” (time keeper ,generally  “chivving”  things along ) over the two days, I am pleased to say, it was indeed an informative and interactive event which was a great success, with work to follow up on as well…

There is of course a price for success, mine being the expansion of the waist line I fear! For the buffet style food (three times a day) was delicious despite daily attempts to resist the sweet table (in the absence of a cheese board), when attempting to walk past a fellow vol would whisper in my ear “go on we are volunteers working in a developing country …you never know when you will get tiramisu again … how could I resist. It was lovely to have a choice of western foods baked beans, cauliflower cheese, chips and the amazing salads ummm! Oh yeah and one or 3 beers in the evenings!

Secondly on return I thought ,double the sit ups, and  I’ll feel ok in a couple of days( I did use the gym on 1 out 3 mornings!) I was however greeted by my landlady Mrs S who invited me to join her on a visit to her family home in Kosagama (45min by car east of Himbutana) for a Dana celebration . A quick trip to collect my washing, a shower  and 2 hours later I was back on the road (having spent 4hrs already on my return from Kandy)

Well it was absolutely wonderful ,they own ( the family) lots of land on which they have a rubber plantation, this was the family inheritance shared between Mrs S, her 2 sisters and 2 brothers, 3 of which live less the 2 minutes walk from each other. They were incredibly welcoming and kind I was shown the most generous Sri Lankan hospitality, the majority of which focused on EATING!!!

I am pleased to report  that after meeting  some of the family, partaking of tea and SL cookies with bananas in two houses ( just like visiting my grandmas in the west of Ireland years ago every house you visited you were fed)a walk up the hill to the rubber tree nursery was suggested. Well the questions started and major concerns voiced…

 “You tired no?” … no, a walk would be lovely

“You can walk no?”… Yes it has been known

 “What about leeches? “… What about them?

 “It is steep no? “… Steep? – You heard of Kilimanjaro?

Furtive looks were swapped between the adults as I was being encouraged outside by 9 year old identical twins girls A pair of wellingtons found (6 sizes to big) I was allowed to go up the hill. Our guide was a family cousin, a man of 65 plus years with the thinnest legs I’ve ever seen he carried a huge scythe (the leeches must be big un’s I thought) and was bare footed. The twins wore flip flops as they chased after their cousins 2 boys’ age 12 and 9. Mrs S, declined stating she was too fat “I never climb” Mr S donned an old Stetson type hat, accompanied by his sister in law in a straw bonnet we looked a motley crew! (No photos sorry I’d un packed me camera and not re packed it)

It was noticeably cooler as we made our way through the plantation, the “hill” was more of a gentle incline nothing too strenuous very pleasant the views were wonderful. The cousin chatted away in SL with the sister (principle of the local school) translating for me. I was informed there had been some heavy rains recently which were making it difficult to collect the sap. It is a profitable business, the majority of the rubber stays in SL for tyre manufacture with some exported.

As we approached the ridge the kids were busy pointing out the small herd of goats that belonged to the people who had acquired some of the government land to try to make a living. Their accommodation was making shift and basic with one family living and sleeping in the same space. They came out to look at the “walking party” and offered us water from the stream, much appreciated. At the top we stood to admire the view, miles of forest stretched around me, a mix of pines and palms. I was informed on a clear day the infamous Adams Peak could be seen from here, – now that would be a climb and it’s on my list of “to do’s in SL”. The kids and I were keen to continue but the olds decided I’d be better coming back to do more another day. We had walked for about an hour; they were concerned about the light, so we wandered back the same path. The footwear had served its purpose, I reassured the welcome party, who were informed I would partake in a coconut drink. Mr S proudly told them I had drunk Tempali (king coconut) from his garden, therefore I was offered green coconut, it was refreshing and not as bitter as the king coconut. When finished drinking, the coconut was split open and I ate the white flesh within, delicious !

The women fussed over me arranging which bathroom I would use, as they all had different facilities, all indoors, they wanted me to use the most modern of the 3, as I have adapted to SL ways any of the 3 were fine by me, but being a guest I accepted their offer and went and had my “body wash” as they called it.

The hospitality continued by being invited to join the chaps for a beer while and of course sample the snacks on offer, some sambol and a root veg similar to a potato with a nutty taste…(again ever thankful to the inventor of the loose fitting draw sting trousers.) I did my best to speak in singalish (or singasarah) acknowledging the fact I was in the company of a fairly senior member of the SL police force, a tour guide (he’d also worked in Paris in the film industry) a senior engineer trying to obtain work in the Emirates, Mr S, and the thin legged cousin, who proceeded to sing to me! I then was asked to go inside to eat, nice I thought eat with the women and kids …wrong I was sat at the head of a laden table, there must have been 14 dishes of various curries and sambols and ONE plate, I was to eat alone watched by the women some of the kids and the men when passing thro to the fridge. It is a tradition in rural areas, to watch your guest eat, I found it a little un nerving but hey never been known to refuse I got stuck in…well you have to don’t you, it would have been rude not to…the trick is to take a little of everything, as if you don’t go for seconds you can offend, luckily I recalled this from my training. This was indeed 5 star home cooking, this was some of the food prepared for the priests (monks ) who would attend the house the next day to pray for the parents as it was the anniversary of their deaths the Dana, which is also an alms giving ceremony.

The priests arrived before mid day, they said prayers all the family, friends and villagers sit on the floor and join in, the senior priest speaks wise words, and he kindly acknowledged and prayed for me apparently! The food was brought in and presented to the 4 priests who then get out the bowls from their bags, are served, we all left the room, then they were presented with new fans and robes by the family. That was it; they were away by ¼ to 1.  Not a bad day’s work in my book!

Then guess what, yep it was time for us to eat, (it less than 5 hours since I had eaten breakfast, and 2 hours since pre ceremony snacks!)Oh well when in Rome…

Like I say it was a 5 star couple of days from the hotel to the countryside… I know I gained a few pounds, but  also I gained an awareness of rural SL family life and traditions therein.  I have been invited back,  and am looking forward to that… now where did I leave that skipping rope!

A day at the office…Did I tell you the one about the dentist?

June 20, 2008 at 10:45 am | Posted in Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel | Leave a comment
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 A couple of folk have asked “what do I actually do at work”? , well as I am in the process of completing my 2 month review, I can tell you my official title is VSO volunteer- Co –ordinator Mental Health. This is a new placement  there is no job specification as such “likely roles the volunteer will undertake” provides 3 general broad objectives, which will hopefully meet the needs of the partner (Mulleriyawa Unit 2-MU2) ,VSO and the funders of my post , the European Commission.

So for the last 2 months I have been meeting the nurses , doctors and patients at the unit, spending time on the wards ,observing the routines, trying to  converse with the women who talk at me. I have spent time with the psychiatric social workers(PSW) at Angoda with the other vol who has been here 18 months again asking questions , observing, listening to explanations of the way the services work over here. Getting to grips with the hierarchical structure that exists ,being non judgemental, some things are very different  that doesn’t mean they are wrong ,just equates to a very interesting time!

I have visited community services other NGO (non governmental organisations) used the time to find my bearings and write peoples names down(especially the nurses who all look alike)made a lot of notes and reflected on what I’ve found in order to produce my objectives for the next 6 months. These focus on the support/rehabilitation of those able to be discharged (stable mentally but institutionalised in behavour) targeting one ward at the moment with 45 patients – working with the PSW formatting a data base to keep a track of what’s happening- trying to locate relatives is extremely time consuming the telephones system often does not work, often don’t have a number in the first place or the address no longer exists.

 I have worked with staff on an assessment form for the nurses  to use as they currently do not document anything …it’s the doctors who do that you see! Therefore training on use of said form is next, remember these nurses are general trained and have had little or no mental health training!  I am looking forward to that as the majority are keen to learn…I have to remember to speak slowly and not prattle on, the flip chart will be out ,group work and role play will be involved hope they have fun and learn something!

Supporting the OT‘s with the opening of a new unit (old ward), trying to figure out how to target the activities on a rehab model. These things take time due to language difficulties; anything I produce has to be translated to Sinhalese.

As the government does not provide a great deal of money I am gathering information to support proposals for international funding and the involvement of Sri Lankan businesses in a more co ordinate fashion. In short I have spent the last 8 or so weeks settling into place, trying not to be hard on myself, attempting to establish a routine, and being realistic about what I can achieve! Will keep you posted on how I’m doing.

 

Oh aye the dentist …I damaged a filling the other day on  a date stone, VSO kindly arranged for me to visit the dentist at a private hospital. I did not feel particularly at ease when asked to feedback as they had never used this women before! I was also told to take a book I could be in for a wait! Feeling a tad apprehensive entered the dept handed in my letter did not even sit down before being asked to enter the surgery the dentist( he) would see me straight away! Anxiety levels rising, would I be able to explain about the hole in my tooth that felt like the Grand Canyon ,would I understand him , would he appreciate being a nurse I was not keen on injections, what would they be using ahhhh….

All was well, he spoke  very good English, he was very charming, obviously aware of my anxiety, told me  where he had trained in London, was very reassuring with out being patronising I felt at ease as he began his examination. He explained exactly what he was going to do, was very gentle, he spoke of how he enjoyed his years in London .As he filled my mouth with bits of dental instruments he moved on to politics …he then stated how he thought “Mrs Thatcher had done a marvellous job for Britain”, I of course tried to reply but could not, he thought he had hurt me “you are sensitive my dear have I touched  a nerve” well that certainly kept me distracted whilst he finished the procedure, I did not bother to respond once everything was sorted  I just  paid my rupees ( about £8 actually)thanked him and left grinning to myself! I have recommended  him to VSO,  it was after all a pain free experience !

It’s life Jim …but not as we know it!

May 15, 2008 at 12:41 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Travel, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Ooh where to start, the VSO welcome hand book informed me that I‘d go thro’ a cycle of emotions  

1-fascination

2- friendship

3-frustration

4- fulfilment

From my previous entries you are aware that stages one  and two are ever present in my life, they are what makes me me…may it never stop ( ever the child!) However the last few days in SL, I have felt like I’m entering  stage 3, nothing too serious, settling in, living here some things have got to me. Like the  lack of recycling and littering thro’ to basic human rights. I know it is part of the challenge I’d face by working in a developing country but some days it just gets to me. So if you get an e mail or text from me off loading-  I’m having a moan – thanks for reading.

 Now what else has been going on, well Stanley from VSO transport dept…sorry programme office support (checked the welcome folder!)more like Stan laurel! delivered my wheels on Friday. Yep Barbie has a bike she is pleased to report it is not pink, it’s silver actually, a ladies bog standard bike, 3 gears, basket and the all important BELL! A test ride on Sunday saw me ,to the amusement of the locals negotiating the pot holes ( road maintenance not a Gov priority at the moment or ever it would appear)in first gear to shout s of “sudu”  = whitey. The ride to work is 15 mins I do manage to get in to 3rd but 2nd is ok. It is a fairly quiet stretch of road not too many buses, I have used the bell but it appears the cows are deeff!  Sadly they are not the healthiest specimens; even as a “vegetable” I can see that!

On Saturday 10th I visited Kurunegala hospital and the rehabilitation facilities in its district north east of Colombo. It was a 3 hour drive heading on the A1 towards Kandy. My   12 colleagues were social workers, nurses, support staff and a doctor. I was collected an hour and ¾’s  later than arranged…umm a few phone calls and text after an hour I found out the transport had not turned up hey ho Sri Lankan organisation not… so after lots of apologies we were on the way ,out came breakfast ,so they were all forgiven . My family will know my love of eating on journeys, as a child heard to ask “can we eat yet” havin’ not even gone a mile! There was loads of small eats really tasty veg rolls, roti – spicy stuffed chapati, and sandwiches, as my porridge had been well and truly digested whilst waiting, I tucked in.

I really enjoyed the drive the time to contemplate (as they were all talking SL) my situation in comparison to UK it had been a long time since I had worked a Saturday, being here I had done 2(no worries I get the time back) the SL tend to work a 6 day week, nurses do many long stretches to gain days off so they can travel back to their family homes. The social workers get over time to supplement their low salaries. Talking to one of the docs the other day about working terms and conditions, he gets 26,000 rupees plus 12,000 for on call etc  = 36,000 (remember I get 30,000 which is  £142)  4 weeks holiday which they usually work to get extra money as they cant really afford to go anywhere they do take the odd day off for weddings and some of the many festival/bank holidays (26 of them ) I thought about the privileged life  and choices I, or should I say “us” westerners have. Don’t worry I’m not going to get all philosophical, but just sharing my thoughts with you.

Every body was chattering away, laughing, I did not feel excluded, quite the opposite they made every effort to include me telling me bits of history or sharing a joke, they are such a generous race of people despite the war torn country, its political situation,  lack of funding to health services and development, they get on with living. It has to be more than just the weather, I  digress to thoughts of my travels around Australia with Stephen my bro in 1988, I drove him to distraction (and to drink I’m sure) with my daily “Ooh its looks like its going to be another nice day, makes you feel good when the sunshine’s  don’t  it ! As we approached Kurunegela I spied a huge Buddha sitting atop of the hill side, I pondered upon religious beliefs, mental note to read about Buddhism, I’m here for 2 years, I need to understand what makes these folk tick…

The sights you see, back at the bus stop ( flat tyre after one day) I mused about road safety the number of people that can be squashed in to a tri shaw, 6  is the most I’ve seen so far ,plus the weekly shopping. Then on a motorbike, a family of 4, youngest child, the dad driving with an infant sandwiched between him and mum at the back…amazing. Cycling  well that’s another thing  no wonder I was stared at, there was only me on the bike ,usually its 2 ,one on the cross bar or handle bars, plus what ever you need for the days work –  6ft pieces of plastic piping, a large bundle of some crop or other…brilliant !

So that’s been my week fairly quiet, went to the laundrette (got bitten by the mossies, so now taking piriton and using hydrocortisone as I have reacted to them badly … (the sensitive girly that I am!) to be met by the LL and wife who kindly informed me they had taken my bike to have it repaired and that they had a washing machine I could use at anytime…bless ‘em!

Had a lovely evening of hospitality yesterday at the home of Mike (Vol of 5 months) and wife Natasha (2 kids, in bed 9 and 11) in Colombo. Very civilised, great food and conversation went with Podi, Jo Anne, and Jesse.

 That was after we had been to visit Riza who in hospital in Colombo been investigated for a “fever”. Thankfully she is ok feeling much better; they think it is viral, but needed to rule out Malaria and Dengue fever! She made us laugh at her experienced of being seen by a local Dr. who asked her questions looked at her ,no pulse ,temp or BP taken, did not examine her in anyway, then proceeded to prescribe 6 different types of medication. This is apparently standard practise, go to the Dr’s; you usually come away with 3 types of meds, some white ones, a couple of blue ones and 3 days of anti biotics!

Work not too bad, saw the boss today got a bit of clarity, (I think I’m missing supervision – it just does not exist here) anyway we seem to be talking about the same issues and priorities which is tickety boo! Then we went to a ceremony he opened a Buddhist place of worship in the hospital grounds.

So its all good, as I e mailed to Alistair the other day I wouldn’t change it for Rotherham that’s for sure… the weekend beckons ,we are heading off to the coast don’t you know, details next week.

Best wishes to all, I believe you are having some fine weather at the moment – ENJOY!

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 www.paperhigh.com 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!

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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