My left foot … and my first saree!

September 12, 2008 at 11:18 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Well its been a quiet couple of weeks due to the plaster remaining in situ until the 11th Sept, which has meant my movements have been restricted, not so much by the pain but actually trying to get about, for a women who has always been told slow down when walking I’ve certainly have got my comeuppance!

Saying that I have been in to work( at Angoda Hospital) for the odd meeting or to sit in on training, Been managing to do a half day ,as my leg gets a bit swollen ,so I retire to home to get my leg up! Mates have been good calling round or staying over. As have the three wheeler drivers as I stop to do any shopping at the road side stalls from the back of their vehicles.

A women with a half leg plaster cast on is certainly a sight of great amusement perfect strangers stop and enquire ”What happened ?” as I can’t get away very quickly I repeat the very unexciting tale of the injury, I would really like to say that an elephant stood on it at the pererhera but it won’t wash! I know they are been kind but it caught me completely by surprise the amount of interest generated!

I attended a Dana ceremony last week for Mrs S the land lady for her good health (recently had a mastectomy for breast cancer).When we were receiving our string bracelet(prithnula ) from the monk he said he would pray for my speedy recovery so I could get back on my bike! Bless him!

Yes I have got my first Saree (see photo on face book)I bought the material some weeks ago with the help of one of the social workers, then we had to arrange to go to the seam stress to measure me for my blouse. She was a little taken a back that I did not wear a pointy bra like Sri Lanka ladies …(more Madonna I thought) however we resolved the issue by putting less darts in oh us westerners causing problems. Anyway the blouse was finished so the big try on took place in the social work office.

I am under strict instructions not to attempt to wear it until I am fully mobile … at the risk of falling. People are getting the picture that I am accident prone as my mother says I was at walking at 9 months and falling ever since! I let you know how it goes…needless to say I am now pot less( removed on Wednesday) but wearing a support bandage and walking again.

Went to Mulleriyawa today- was welcomed by both the women and staff who said they had missed me…ahh I had missed them too. Nothing much happened in my absence however the  good news is the ladies have continued at the paper factory … working full time and now negotiating their salaries hoorah!

It was good to be back even for a half day-  back to normal on Monday –  I can’t wait…  but will be walking hemin hemin …slowly slowly for a while!





Kandy Perehera and David Beckham???

August 23, 2008 at 11:47 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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15.35pm on Friday 15th August 2008 found me on the Inter city train from Colombo bound for Kandy, accompanied by friend’s food and drink for the 2 1/2 hour journey. We were off to see the Esala Perehera, documented as one of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular festivals and one of the most colourful religious pageants in Asia. Its origins date back to the 4th century AD.

The train journey was my first in SL so I was very excited; having been to Kandy on 2 occasions the train journey gave me the opportunity to really see the country side not visible by road. I had managed to purchase seats in the observation carriage for 3 of the party (2 travelled in 2nd class as they had been on a SL train  last month )this is situated at the rear of the train with a huge window so you travel backwards as you take in the views. Intercity refers to just that, not the speed it travels which allowed many photos to be taken without being blurred (very different from my high speed train travel in Japan!) I would recommend it, the views are amazing!

We were met by the guest house owner Malik, (this is a common service offered of the SL’s when booking the accommodation). We had booked a 3 bed roomed apartment 15 min walk from the centre of Kandy for 2,700 rupees each for the 2 nights(£13)the Palm Gardens-

This was a good find and will be used again I am sure; we enjoyed our evening meal at the terrace restaurant as the sunset and the views of the hill country in the morning as we munched our brekky.

We took a stroll in to Kandy where we checked out the preparation s for the evening. We had arranged tickets through Malik for seats to observe the parade at a third of the price of what the touts offered us as we meandered our way through the streets. Being a Poya day no alcohol was sold in Kandy until 2pm the next day. We took a rest at the Queens hotel with ginger beer and cadju nuts (cashew) chatted to the life guard on duty as we envied the swimmers in the pool as the temp reached the 30’s. He turns out to be a scuba diver instructor in Hikkaduaw so details were taken as I really fancy having a go whilst I am here… we’ll see!

Kandy was busy with people arriving from all over the island, some coming for the whole ten days. They were taking their place on the pavements, large groups of friends, 3 or 4 family generation s together enjoying picnics or ice cream whilst arranging their sheets of plastic. Security was tight lots of check points, with the army and police visible in huge numbers; I noted police dogs for the first time.

We made our way back to Palm Gardens to change with time for a quick G& T before being transported back to Kandy for the tickets, it was quite farcical, the van driver was to meet Malik with the tickets but the roads had been closed off so the van driver was asking us which way to go in Sinhalen…we did meet Malik who then sent us off with a name less chap to the entry point but we were up against it, the check points would close at 6 and no entry would be allowed. We did manage to locate our seats following a hurried pace (for SL) plus the 2 very thorough body and bag searches we were seated at 6.15. Kick off was due about 7.30pm but we were prepared for a SL time delay armed with litres of water, and snacks we sat back and waited. I commented on how quiet it was, the last time I had been in a crowd this big was at a music festival in the UK. I had read that the perehera was not about spectator participation, being described as “a carefully orchestrated quasi theatrical event” this one was to be televised for the first time in over 165 countries .Basically the perehera consists of 5 separate processions, the main one is from the Temple of the Tooth with the replica Tooth Relic, which is the centre piece. Each of the other 4 processions made up   from devals around the country, consists of elephants, various dignitaries in Kandyian costume, with dancers and drummers. A canon being fired signals the start of the perehera, so we had our cameras at the ready and were snap happy for the next 3 and a bit hours as we watched elephants adorned with lights file passed with dancers, musicians mainly drummers, torch light bearers burning dried coconut shells, some trumpeters and free form dancers costumes various .The male dancers were of all ages and sizes all seemed to be having a great time. Even the guys who had various back piercings attached to pieces of string being held by a guy as they danced along, oh matron, made me squirm a bit it can tell you! The TV crews were close to where we were seated so we had good views as they stopped to be filmed. The Pattini procession is the only one devoted to a female deity and attracts mainly female dancers. The girls certainly did it in style one group had Marge Simpson  type multi coloured head pieces 3 or 4 foot on their heads fantastic. Yeah it was indeed a sight to see despite the numb bum!

We waited back to let the crowds thin out a bit before we join the thousands making their way through the streets. As we passed the train station looking for a trishaw, thinking of a cool beer that awaited us back a guest house I went over in my left foot on the road side, I hobbled a long thinking it was a bad sprain. Back at the ranch first aid was provided a bag of frozen chips produced and applied to the swelling, pain killers taken and a beer for medicinal purposes accepted.

 The next morning at breakfast Malik insisted I visit the local Ayuvedic doctor. What did I have to lose? With my interested entourage in tow we literally popped next door. No conversation with me was made, no therapeutic relationship embarked upon between Dr and patient, as an elderly gentleman lifted my foot and stared to pummel it quite hard, well with tears in my eyes I with drew my foot and asked him to proceed hemin hemin( slowly slowly)He got the message! I think I did actually settle back in to the chair as he rubbed oil in to my foot, applied some heat, via a ball of cloth from a pot on the stove next to him which was quite comforting, then slapped on some henna coloured paste, followed by what looked like stuffing mixture, Malik informed me was herbs and bark of local plants. An oiled cloth was applied followed by a blue strip of material as a bandage then a white bandage on top 300 rupees madam I was sent on my way. If nothing else it enabled me to get to the front of the queue for the  A/C bus back to Colombo.

I slept surprisingly ok, on removing the bandage as instructed I realised the swelling had increased and I could not weight bear. A quick phone call to VSO at 9 ish and by 11.30 I had been to hospital, seen,  x-rayed, and a plaster cast applied to the fractured 5th metatarsal. The pain/aching is less each day ,it being more awkward than anything, and has slowed me right down! My friends and colleagues have been brilliant and rallied round. As I type from my balcony leg outstretched on a pillowed chair I am smiling to myself, I was aware on leaving Blighty I would have lots of experiences in Sri Lanka, but sustaining an injury similar to Mr Beckham was certainly not one of them!








Travels with my sis…

July 12, 2008 at 10:49 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Well my sister Rosie popped over from Hong Kong like you do, for a 4 day break in Sri Lanka. I was of course  very excited  at the thought of seeing a family member, seeing other parts of SL and of course the goodies she would bring! I arrived at the Beach Hotel in Negombo  ( 15mins from the airport )in plenty of time to make use of the  hotel facilities. Rosie was due to arrive at midnight. She had rung to inform me that, when she had arrived at the Cathy Pacific desk to check in she was informed that as she did not have a full page empty in her passport, there may be a problem with SL immigration??? she had been asked to sign a disclaimer…! I made some enquiries this end and was reassured that there would not be a problem the stamp was not a huge one , however Cathy Pacific had just left that nagging doubt what if… Rosie prepared for all occasions asked me to bring my passport just in case, if they refused her entry ,I was to get the next flight to Bangkok and have the weekend there instead ,so as I sipped my gin and tonic in the bath I contemplated my win win situation!

Anyway she waltzed through  the arrivals lounge the seasoned traveller that she is,there was nay problem at all.  As she unpacked we drank Stella and ate galaxy chocolate don’t you just love duty free! In her case there was  some DVD box sets some I was not familiar with but hey I am not fussed these days, tahini  (sesame seed paste vital for making hummus cant get it here)insect repellent, and of course gin and vodka ,oh yes a bottle of  bubbly(Tattinger  dahlings!)sorted… we slept soundly!

After a swim we enjoyed a fantastic brekky including beans on toast (haven’t had proper toast since leaving the UK)we travelled to Pinnewala to the elephant orphanage( see an earlier blog for details) and then on to the Kandy area. It was fantastic to be in the hill country, my recent ventures out and about in SL have been to the beach areas which are fab, but I am a country girl at heart! On route we stopped of at a tea factory ,as it was late we had the manager show us around, it was most informative and really hot. The temp to be endured by the workers  was generated by the driers ,we were assured they took breaks and rotated their place in the production line?!From here we travelled through to Kandy  which according to my copy Rough guide “is situated amidst precipitous green hills at the heart of the island”. We headed for the Villa Rosa hotel a couple of km west of the town, it was a fantastic location nestled in the hillside over looking the Mahaweli  Ganga(river)if you are thinking of visiting SL ,I highly recommend a visit, check it out on

Kandy itself is steeped in Sinhalese tradition and its unique cultural heritage is apparent everywhere, music, dance and architecture it is also home to the countrys most important shrine the Temple of the Tooth which is where we spent Saturday  morning accompanied by our guide Gammage. He was full of knowledge and anecdotes his English was very good, his photography needs a bit of practise or was that my new camera! From there we proceeded to Dambulla. I forgot to mention I had booked a car and driver for the trip which is the done thing over here. You hire a vehicle and driver for your trip he stays at the same hotels in the staff quarters and will drive where ever agreed on booking. These drivers have their favourite places where they get a bit of commission for bringing tourists. We gave into Saraths persuasion to visit a spice garden, and left feeling very relaxed having recieved a free head, neck and leg massage. As it was low season the student s practised on us using Ayurvedic preparations.

Next stop was the Kandalama Hotel on the edge of the Kandalama lake,one of the countrys most famous hotels, ranking among one of the finest works of Geoffrey Bawa ( I visited his home on return from Unawatuna see previous blog entry  Oh to be beside the seaside..also for more info) Here we enjoyed the pools (Rosie made it to the gym)and again fantastic SL cuisine. It was great just to just chill forget about work to spend time chatting or not ,and to enjoy this another very beautiful part of  the island of SL.Interestingly Rosie commented that I walked slower these days …must be getting into SL pace not such a bed thing hey?

Sunday morn dawned,it found us well rested ready to make the most of the cool of the day as we  were to climb Sigiryia- Lion Rock ,which was declared a world heritage site in 1982. It is a remarkable archeological site making it is one of SL’s memorable single attraction by its dramatic setting, as the Rough guide states “the spectacular citadel of SIGIRYIA  rises sheer and impregnable out of the denuded plains of the dry zone, towering 200 m above the surrounding country side” I couldn’t have put it better myself! I  have been known to suffer from a bit of veritigo ( remember St Pauls Cathedral Denise, Montserrat Barcelona, John- Sydney Harbour Bridge Alistair???) so as I approached, I did wonder would I be adding Rosie and Sigiryia to my list of throwing a wobbler at a great height? I said nowt to Rosie as she led the way up the narrow rusting stair well ,she was taking her time I enquired of her well  being, to see  in front of her an elderly tiny wee Sri Lankan lady, bare footed  slowly making her ascent,I stopped fretting and got on with minding my step! Wow it was worth it, what a breathtaking view at the top, to consider the Royal Palace that had stood here years before, the foundations remain today,amazing really fascinating!How on earth they manged to build such a place.You certainly would not want to forget anything at the shops thats for sure!The desent is a bit precarious but we made it without difficulty! A slow walk around the gardens we returned to the hotel for what I think was a well earned beer and lunch. After the mornings efforts we spent the afternoon catching a few rays by the pool playing cards, both listening to our ipods and singing out of tune It was great just to chill I had to keep pinching myself(catholic guilt creeps in ..)should I really be enjoying myself I’m out here volunteering,rosie put me straight, it was her treat to me all I was to do was to enjoy! Later that evening we received a call from reception  confirming we were staying  a second night, would we like to be upgraded to a room with a Jacuzzi bath  – I ask you …is the Pope a…? Crack open that fizz sis was my reply !

On Monday headed back towards Colombo, we made a flying visit to Mulleriyawa Unit 2 as my colleagues were really keen to meet Rosie. Bless her, not keen on hospitals at the best of times she coped very well with the inquisitive looks and touches from the women, their environment, and the questions re her marital status from the staff. Finishing the short visit we popped into my office the sight of the bare walls, desk covered with a sheet, the 2 chairs with vase of plastic flowers(they are compulsory in SL they love ‘em), she gave me a big hug and whispered that she was really proud of me… dewy eyed we retreated to the car and on to the Pink Palace where the landlord and his wife were there to greet us they were lovely. The tour completed  we headed off to collect Podi who was to joined us for dinner at the Galle Face Hotel where we savoured the delicious buffet, it was then time for Rosie to depart for the airport.

 As I said this was a short break in SL for Rosie, it was a LUXURY mini break for moi! I had spent 4 great days in the company of my sis, seen more of this beautiful amazing island that is my home for the next 21 months and enjoyed fabulous food and facilities, lucky me hey? I returned to work fully rested  and raring to go… to my diary, who and when is the next visitor due?

All in a day…

June 4, 2008 at 11:26 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Thought I’d share with you the day to day stuff I get up to, the things that have now become part of my routine. I usually wake at about 5.30 to the sound of the monks chanting being broadcast through the tanoy on the post opposite my balcony. The first time I heard this I actually thought they were on the balcony as it was so loud! The volume does vary, mostly it is  tolerable,  barely audible. I equate it to the living near a railway line or under a flight path…I will get used to it I tell my self.

 So I stick the radio on tuned in to the Sri Lankan broadcasting company, they are no competition for the BBC stations 1-4 let me assure you…it is dire – it does make you get out of bed. The only thing going for them is that they are linked to the world service channel so I get the world news at ¼ past the hour.

The kettle is filled and set to boil on my 3 ring gas burner (only 2 work…that’s another tale) while I then do my sit ups! Yes despite the bike I still feel the need to keep toned, so with the fan on I can manage to do about 100 before the whistle goes, put a t bag in a cup do a few stretches and I have a brew on the balcony with a bowl of fruit , curd and kitchul (palm syrup).

The temp is quite pleasant at this time, I watch the kids late for school, running down the lane ah bless they start at 6.30…oh yeah the SL ‘s are early risers up at about 4 am to do all the days cooking while it is cool. I make a salad box to take to work which always raises a few looks from the staff who can not comprehend I do not eat rice 3 times a day, sometimes not 3 times a week. For them it is their staple but it is not cheap rice prices have gone up again it is 140 rupees a kilo which apparently double what it was last year…put in context some people only earn that a day!

Tidy up the kitchen sweep the floor, wipe the surfaces –  no trace of food left about as the place would be full of ants on my return.I make my bed, tidy the mossy net away, open the windows to air the place. Put the rubbish in the big pit in the garden (burnt twice a week by the land lord.) No official refuge collection , people burn their own or take it to skips place on the road side or leave it for the cows to get!!!

Time for a shower which is quite refreshing, it is cool water (no hot water unless you stay in 5 star accomadation)I have got used to this especially in the evenings when really hot and sticky! Clothes are always ironed as at home in UK in advance (I can never iron in the morning -just one of my spinster ways) it is important here as power cuts are a frequent occurrence, ever the girl guide , be prepared!

Load my bag with water, lap top ,lunch and lock up.Obviously weather permitting un lock my bike and off I go. It is monsoon season now we have experienced some particularly heavy rain fall since Friday( today is Wed 4/6/08) there has been sever flooding locally!

 Things I see on route, the old lady who looks 190, a tiny wee thing stands at her gate smiling a toothless smile,( the SL have dreadful dental problems) over the weeks we have progressed to Morning! Next the fruit stall sells predominately Kesel (bananas) but a range of seasonal fruit and veg I usual stop at on way home she knows I Sinalen chuTTak pulawan ( speak a little sinhala)so writes the price down before I buy, then we play can I guess how much it costs. They appreciate I try they laugh at my efforts-  no offence taken ,they also ask when do I want to eat the paw paw for instance and give me the fruit ripeness to when I want it …very considerate!

When it was raining the other day I saw work men on a small building plot in flip flops,T shirt and shorts digging away, each with a plastic bag on their heads to keep the rain off …you never have a camera on you at sights like these it made me chuckle. On the corner of my road there is a little bakery with a table, a couple of chairs,  big enough for about 6 folk but they squash about 14 in have a brew and a bun and away they go. Denise asked what the traffic was like,  well there are some new cars Toyotas are popular as are 4×4, you  don’t see many old bangers, I presume the pot holes are too much for them the main vehicle on the roads is the buses, tri shaws, motor bikes and cycles not many people walk only me. The other thing is that people sell stuff bringing to your gate like the guy who has a suitcase on the back of his bike opens up the case gets out the scales and weighs the fish …only want a small piece no prob,he gets out his large knife and board puts it on the ground agree the size, weighs again-  hand over the rupees away you go! He is around on alternate days and I meet him as I am coming down the little hill just before the communal washing bathing area. This is a an area with a large concrete tank of water where people wash wearing a cheetah ( wash cloth) like a sarong. They have a good wash rinse off or if accompanied some one throws a bucket or two over you and then you set too with you laundry, giving it a good ol’ bash on the stones …you ‘re clean so are you’re clothes jobs a good ‘un!

Are you getting the picture lots of stuff going on in the neighbour hood which is filled with palm trees, butterflies, flowering plants and lush greenery…oh yeah and the monkeys swinging over head apparently this is a good time to see them about.

By the time I get to work I am a little hot, but stick the fan on in my office, have a drink and plan what my day may entail. I have learnt not too get too upset if I am not able to cross stuff off my list just transfer it to the next day… this is SL it will get done no worries…

I will leave work stuff for next time needless to say I am having some good and not so good days it remains a time of adjustment and settling in! Thoroughly enjoying the whole thing.

So home time about 4 go back the same route buy me fruit, head home some days via the internet place. Get in open up the house,to air the place, sit on the balcony drink a litre of water to rehydrate, contemplate my day, plan whats for tea, do my ironing, write a letter or read,phone or text other vols then  shower. It gets dark at 6.30pm in bed about 9ish with a couple of mossy coils burning… ooh all in a day not a bad one …what do you think?

Oh to be beside the seaside…

May 25, 2008 at 9:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Yes my first trip to the coast was to UNAWATUNA  3-4 hours drive south. We left Colombo via the supermarket I’d mentioned in  last blog how I enjoyed the eats on trips out, so armed with watura ( water)Pringles and sesame seed balls(delicious) we headed off, picking up the Joanne and Podi joining Helen and myself. We were travelling by van, booked earlier in the week. I sadly report that there was another bus bomb on Friday (16thMay), killing and injuring both police and civilians. We would have been in that area to catch the bus had we chosen to travel that way. I won’t dwell…

I was unable to see very much as it starts to go dark about 6-6.30pm , but was aware of the coast line on my right hand side (dakuna, I am doing ok with my directions in sinhalen by the way- wama is left.)Some reconstruction was evident post the tsunami devastation of 2004. I remember watching the news on that Boxing Day, never thinking I would be here some 4 years later…strange hey?

We reached our destination The Shangri La guest house – cabanas (Wooden chalets/huts to you) surrounded by palm trees with the odd hammock strung between them it was a beautiful spot. Cabanas house cater for 1-2 persons  toilet/shower ,they  are round and have a little balcony, price at this time of year £40 for 4 nights based on 2 sharing (£5 a night each!) we deposited our bags and headed off in search of a late supper which we found at the Happy Banana (sathutu kesel). 4 deck chairs on its beach front setting  in the moon light with fish and chips (Grilled tuna, salad, and fries)  and a beer …ah bliss just like I’d seen in books and on travel programmes about SL. 4 days of this would I cope???

Well I did in deed cope I had a fab time not alone the setting but enjoyed the time to catch up with other vols .Saturday found us chilling on the beach in a pretty semi circular bay and as my guide book informed me “picturesquely terminated by a dagoba on the rocky headland of the northwest” you can check it out the photos if you follow the link in the e email..  In the evening dancing into the small wee hours at the Happy Banana Disco!

Sunday morning found us not to worse for wear, despite the late night. However I lost my phone and a camera belonging to another vol was possibly stolen, putting things in perspective we took our selves for a hearty break fast at “Zimmer”. An appropriate venue for our pace I thought! We enjoyed healthy fodder of papaya juice,3 grain porridge, fruit and kitul (Honey from the kitul tree a type of palm)followed by toast…yes brown home made bread machine toast, I had not realised I had missed toast , it was well tasty!

Late morning we took a trip in to Galle to the Fort area .Galle is known as SL fourth largest city, and declared a World Heritage site in 1988.The tsunami devastated the east coast with the direct impact of the tidal waves, but the southern coastline suffered the greatest destruction of property and loss of life. We spoke of the TV clips we had viewed showing waves breaking against the walls of Galle Fort where we now sat. We got chatting to some locals who had been diving off the rocks that day, they spoke of  their immediate reactions and experiences in the days that followed hearing of the loss of friends, families and livelihoods. They openly shared their disappointment at seeing anything of the money raised worldwide to help those who survived, rebuild a life. It made me think of the impact on my work , some of the women able to be discharged , will never be reunited with family as they died  or are no longer traceable following this disaster…


We continued our meanderings aware it was very busy with locals having a long weekend ,it was VESEK POYA. This is one of the most important Buddhist Festivals which revolve around the days of the full moon- poya days; this one was a three fold celebration of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. Lamps are lit in front of houses. (I had left the hospital on Friday with most wards patients and staff busy making their lanterns to decorate the wards)

Monday saw enjoying the beach, with a gentle stroll to explore the dagoba on the headland watching the locals enjoy the sea, seemed like a really family affair. The women tend to maintain their dignity and mess about in the water fully clothed! The kids splashing  about with Dads, teenage lads playing football, the girls in groups plaiting hair giggling, could have been Blackpool?… not – no penny arcades, no rides to queue for ,no donkeys, rock or fish and chips, and no tower… no comparison !

On Monday evening we ventured to Galle to see the streets festooned with lamps and lanterns no 2 alike, some very ornate and intricate in their design , a whole street being the area for competition between local schools, and police forces they were pretty spectacular. Buses and cars were decorated with streamers; roadside booths gave away free rice and curry… one of the best meals I have sampled in SL.

On the return journey on Tuesday we stopped off at the idyllic Brief Garden- named after the father of the artist and writer Bevis Bawa, who raised the money to buy the estate from a successful legal brief.BB began landscaping the 5 acres garden in 1929 and continued until his death in 1992, encouraged by his brother Geoffrey who embarked on a career in architecture and landscape design. The garden is a series of terraces which tumble down the hillside below the house. The guide who nursed BB in his last days informed us that as the two brothers never married, the will of BB left the estate to the workers of the land, otherwise it would have gone to the government.  This made a welcome stop and was really interesting with influences from around the world. Great venue for a party was my thought as I wandered about looking at huge plants and flowers including a black orchid from Thailand! Visitors whose pictures decorated the walls included Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier … nice bit o’ culture to end the weekend don’t you know!

So that was my first little break from work, one which I felt I deserved I enjoyed every minute and am already thinking about the next… I’ll keep ya posted!

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  


2- friendship


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!

Girls just wanna have …wheels?

May 8, 2008 at 12:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


 Hi there May is here and don’t we know it the temperature is hot hot hot! Have been told it is the hottest month …luckily the last few days have been a little cloudy which gives a little respite from the rays. Now don’t get me wrong I am not complaining just adjusting. Its ok when you’re walking, all beit slowly, its when you stop, I feel like am leaking..ok not a pretty sight so have taken up some Sri Lankan ways i,e using my brolly for shade and always having a hanky …yes a hanky – a tissue will  simply not do – its for dabbing!- (a hanky is more absorbent.) Therefore I recently purchased 4 hankies just like mum used to pack us off with to school many ,many years ago, they never lasted very long I always lost them… no fear of repeating that as these are always in use.

You may have seen the photos of some of my recent activities… guest of honour at the Horticultural Project, which involved taking part in the games such as eating a cream cracker hanging from a thread, the pics made realise that I certainly am an obvious sight, taller with whiter hair than the average SL! Has its benefits – once met never forgotten – resulting in getting a couple of lifts to work recently – no fear of mistaking me for any body else is there?

On the social front last week we were invited to the American Embassy, pleased to say much more enjoyable than the BHC. Met Keith from Skipton(who had been at the BHC last week as he works there)who was drinking with Dave from Hampshire who was on a flying visit  to SL on duty as a body guard to the Duke of Gloucester( who …that’s what I thought, he opened the new BHC building last Monday so now you know where your taxes are going!). Mores to the point whilst asking Dave about his job he informed me that his daily allowance varied from country to country…whilst in SL it was equivalent to my monthly salary! Well I had no hesitation in my insistence that he buy the beers for me and the gang for the rest of the evening…bless him he did as well – result! So we all had a great night lots of chatting and dancing til about 1.30am.

We think thats it for “ nights out “for a bit  although we did spot a quiz night advertised … of course we will have to give it a shot!

I had an interesting evening on Saturday I was planning on an early night but was called by my landlord down stairs, to be informed that it was his birthday and was offered a drink of brandy to celebrate. I think I mentioned he speaks little English- it appeared that he may have been at the bottle earlier! So there was I sipping my brandy, trying to make small talk with a tipsy , happy SL ,who was very repeatative-  telling me that SL was very poor country – that he was a union man and had been powerful in his job ,then he asked “you are vegetable?” I did smile as I replied that I was indeed a vegetable! I did think how many times have  people tolerated me when drink has been taken, so if you are one of them … many thanks!

Sunday was a very civilised affair meeting up with the gang at the Galle Face Hotel for high tea eat as much as you like for 630 rupees, it was a treat as VSO informed us earlier in the week that we were to receive a rise in our allowance in line with rising costs in SL …we now get 30,000 rupees a month about £140. 

This Saturday (10th)I am working-  going up country to Kurunegela on a field trip to visit a rehab unit  with 4 other collegues.I am looking forward to seeing more of SL and of course the progress made in other areas.Work is  getting interesting I have a better idea of what I am supposed to be doing …writng an action plan, and generally trying to co ordinate the changes …ooh very exciting.

Next weekend is Poya weekend  we have Mon and Tues off so we (Podi, Jesse,Joanne ) will be heading south to UNAWATUNA we will meet Lynn there and some other VSO Vols so a good time to catch up and chill. For those who have holidayed with me know I’m no beach babe… but I feel that SL is the place to try being quiet , enjoy the sun and read for hours at atime …the sun cream will be packed!I have however spotted a SL cookery course at Una …involves going to market to buy the goods then being shown how to  prepare a meal to which friends can join in the evening …sounds right up my street I’ll let you know how it goes!

Finally  wheels… what she up to now you ask? I have put in a request  for a push bike for work-  it will be more conveinent and it will keep me fit  of course there will be pictures!

Bye for now

 P.S. in the garden this morning I saw a huge MONKEY! i am in the jungle !

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!







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.

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