Christmas is here …and it’s HOT!

December 23, 2008 at 7:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Hopefully not becoming a bore but being in a warmer clime for the first time in my life at this time of the year is a tad strange. Being a Buddhist country the festive season is not widely celebrated ( they do get a bank holiday) and living out in the sticks the shops only started to get Christmassy this week, tried to buy cards to post last month not a sausage this week the streets are a wash with them, so perhaps I should get next years now. Go in to the city there are lights and expensive decorations in the shops but only in the last 3 weeks which is a change from the commercial explosion in the UK from after Easter as I remember. Despite buying a little tree, decorating it, receiving cards and gifts, decorating my window bars with tinsel its not quite got that feeling, coz I’m so hot!
I am however looking forward to getting together with my friends and other vols in the next few days and of course going to the beach… I know enough – move on!
Work continues to make me smile some days with satisfaction others with bewilderment! Returning briefly to the festive season for a mo the women of Mulleriyawa have been the recipients of various donations which has been lovely to witness. The Sisters from the Mother Theresa convent visited the other day bringing with them the dry goods for a meal for the 700 residents, plus a Christmas goodie bag for all of them which contained, 2 pieces of fruit, biscuits, choc bar, toothpaste, tooth brush, soap, washing soap, a hankie, necklace earrings and bangles, and some nail varnish. I assisted the nuns and their helpers distribute these gift bags to the wards, when I walked through an hour later there was a lovely smell of oranges in the air…ahh. They were accompanied by some volunteers and children who put on a little nativity play, sang some carols, and Santa came to distribute sweeties to the audience, which nearly saw the end of him when the ladies came a little to keen to get heir hands on the candy !
The nuns were amazing so much energy and an unending desire to help the women. A result of several phone conversations in the past weeks with them, is that they may be able to house some of the older women (possibly as many as 30) at their Elders Homes through out the country…meetings planned to explore this opportunity in the diary for January.
Thoughts of the New Year and another community development, we visited a community home (supported by St Andrews Church of Scotland Colombo) last Saturday with some of the ladies who are working at the paper factory. We are exploring the possibility of 3 ladies moving to the home as an intermediate measure the long term goal being they go back to their families or they move on to independent housing. We have been doing some preparation work with them which resulted in 5 of the 8 being really eager to give it a go. This has also given me the chance to work on introducing the concept of team working , and community follow up, with the staff, this has been a little slow, but working with the keener staff is starting to pay off…well there’s been lots of head wobbling!
The garden continues to take shape with the women busy in it most mornings as I cycle into work. This project is headed by Dr S one of the Medical officers, he recently contacted his old school The Royal College of Colombo, some teachers and students visited a few months ago and have been supporting his ideas and plans, which has resulted in funding through UNESCO to support the development. It is hoped it will be able to grow enough veg to support the kitchen in improving the diet for the women and to sell the rest locally. Plans also include a bio gas plant so watch this space for developments. So its all go at Unit 2 I am pleased to say!
I attended a 2 day workshop on proposal writing and funding applications last week. It was facilitated by VSO vols working in the Participation and Governance sector. The mental health sector in SL is funded by the EC until 2015.There is money available to support the development of the partner organisations, various funds, means forms which previously ended up being completed by the volunteer!!! Therefore the workshop was aimed at staff from various organisations, different grades of Dr’s, social workers, nurses in SL. It gave the chance to discuss planning and project management which is lacking and often the cause of frustrations experienced by Vols .We continue to make in roads to development and sustainability with such workshops …so there you go an update of what I ‘m doing here. ..on the work front anyway ,more of the social side next year!

I wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!

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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 !

Not that I’m counting…the big screen?

September 26, 2008 at 10:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I can hardly believe it on the 26th Sept I’ll have been here 6 months…whew clichés a plenty, time goes by when you’re having fun, time and tide wait for no man, time goes by….  another Madonna reference sorry…

Need less to say if you have been following my Sri Lankan experience so far, you’ll agree I have actually done ,seen , tasted ,etc a whole selection box of wonderful things in this relatively short period of time.

Selection box ahah …leads me nicely onto the fact that some of  us vols have been talking about our plans for Christmas and New Year, like we have nothing better to do in this developing country but to focus on our selves …yes well, despite these days not being celebrated in this Buddhist country they fall in the high season. The weather is HOT and holiday makers flee cooler climes for SL winter sun – yep you’ve got it, the prices go up.

So those of us on a small allowance try to book beach accommodation a) early  and b)get residents rates or negotiate a deal if we have previously stayed there. Not really wishing our time away here, it is purely for practical, financial and of course volunteer supportive reasons we are thinking ahead. I’ll keep you posted nearer the time of the out come.

A small down side of these thoughts, being those of home, highlighted by a quick text from my sis Rosie, saying she would be at home last weekend. Ooh the taste of my mum’s home cooking, been driven  to the pub by my dad, going to see my nephews, and a  glass of cold white wine I have to admit a I felt a little home sick ,with 6 months suddenly feeling like a very along time! 

Hey ho, the moment has passed prashna nae ,as they say here no problem, I am doing OK, please don’t worry, feeling a tad home sick now and again is good and normal, ’tis all part of the SL experience!!!

Aeti = enough! I move on.

The first full week back at work has been really good catching up with things. Like I said last blog not a lot has happened as things do not move at a fast pace here. However things like funding applications have been discussed with the Rotary Club of SL.This was a fascinating meeting to hear how funds are generated on an international scale and utilized creatively for example the building of schools in the tsunami hit areas.

Our proposal was put together with input from staff at the hospital myself and written up by W.H.O. The main objective focussed on the provision of a “homely environment”, which included costs for items such as 400 beds, lockers,  water tanks, TV ‘s and arm chairs to a vehicle. This would to be utilized by staff to do home visits when families located, and by the women to support their integration into the community through shopping trips going to the cinema, the zoo, the temples etc

Mulleriyawa hospital also received a large donation of goods from the LIONS club this week. This included items ranging from soap to an exercise bike, with underwear, sheets, plates ,gas bottles and cleaning equipment in between. It will improve the quality of life for the women in a small but relevant way. So things are progressing for the women I am glad to report.

Now I am getting about a bit more independently( did I tell you I broke a bone in my foot???)  and using the bus to work(bike use to commence once I get the flat tyre sorted!)I ventured into town       ( Colombo City 25 mins from the pink palace) to join a couple of mates to go to the flix as you do on Saturday evening. The Liberty Plaza cinema was showing the Batman film Dark Night or was it Knight(oops cant remember!)Once we purchased our  tickets popcorn was required, however to my delight and surprise you can purchase a beer should you so wish to enjoy with your film, very civilised I thought as was the interval , when you get chance  for another!  Once the second half started the sound quality which hadn’t been that brilliant was drowned out by the sound of the audience munching their way through the bags of prawn crackers they’d bought (obviously not big drinkers!) I did enjoy the film although we suspect it had been cut in a few places.  I am not complaining as it was a pleasant change compared to my usual viewing of DVD’s on the laptop under me mossie net!… which is where I’m headed for now!!!  Another instalment soon…

 

 

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- www.palmgardenkandy.com

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Where do the rupees go, family matters … A big girl’s party?

July 27, 2008 at 12:22 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Life, Travel | 1 Comment
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I receive an allowance of 90,000 rupees per 3 months, which roughly works out at 1,000 per day to cover food, electric, water, phone bill, top up for mobile, toiletries and household stuff. On my way home today I did some shopping so thought I’d share with you what I spend

 50.00   For an hour at the internet

 40.00   A fax

520.00 hard ware shop 6 plastic coat hangers, 4 candles and lighter, 4 light bulbs, a bucket

120.00 fruit stall, 10 small bananas. Large water melon, an avocado

56.00 co op veg stall onions, okra=ladies fingers

465.00 co-op, hand wash, raisins, dates, peanuts and Bombay mix (treats!!)

60.00 tri Shaw -I was laden down and it was raining about 1 ½ km

1255.00 total rupees with the current exchange rate work out to equal £5.90.

So over the daily allowance but those household items are not a regular purchase but have to be bought , (neither are the treats but I was going on a 5 hour bus journey  where every shares stuff)Some days I don’t spend a rupee so I do manage  . The treats of weekends at the coast, clothes or a trip to Colombo, come out of my savings.

I love going to the market I have a couple of fave stalls where they know me, at the co-op (New initiative) you can pick you own veg they still smile when I buy small amounts, the other customers are shopping for families. It is so much nicer than the UK where I’d be forced to purchase pre packed produce in the big supermarkets  and often waste some as it would go off before I could eat it. I buy fruit and veg every couple of days.

There are loads of hard ware shops, I’m not talking B&Q, but they all carry a  wide range of  goods ranging from plastic imported from China, to clay cooking pots made locally, bulbs, candles ,elastic, crayons and VIM( powder used to wash the grease off your plates as most folk only have  a cold tap to wash up )It  doesn’t  seem to matter where you shop, locally the prices only vary by one or two rupees(Colombo is a different matter)The other type of shop is the bakery cum biscuit shop, the SL equivalent of Mc vites is Munchee, they have a wide selection of biscuits that in my little village every shop (or Kaddy) sells .You can usually purchase any thing from a cigarette, to a broom with cashew nuts and yoghurt in between. I have found the best thing to do no matter what size or disorganised it may seem, go in and look as if they don’t have what you want or you cant see it, the one down the road might and you may find something more interesting to try!

The utilities have recently gone up, water on a meter, actually not had a bill, the leccky averaging about 800 a month, telephone (mob) 1000, landline depends if I’ve phoned home aver 1-2000 per month again it is all relative. I’m aware of the rising food and living costs around the world I’m by no means pleading poverty, thought you’d like to know how it is for me.

           

Recently I’ve   heard from family and friends  via emails /text/letter/phone what’s they’ve  been up to which is great especially the photo’s( thanks keep ‘em coming).There’s been  Katie, my nieces first holy communion  in Galway, Faye my god daughter also made hers in Manchester, Jakey my nephew had his 2nd birthday  and Ted(Denise’s son) celebrated his 17th last week .All family do’s that I would have attended if I’d been in the UK( and invited obviously)…hey don’t worry it’s not going to be  a tear jerker, but I must admit I felt a bit home sick, not to be at these events ,you know how I enjoy a get together !Yes ok you’ve sussed me out  what I’m really thinking of and missing is a glass or 3 of chilled white wine, and the food of course!

Here in SL there is a big emphasis on the family, they do party and celebrate  the usual family occasions (see blog entry “new kid on the block”)and for traditional reasons  as well.

Helen invited me to attend  the gym owners daughters party  “ how old is she “ I asked,  to be informed it was not her birthday, but a party to celebrate the start of her menstruation!  It is SL tradition when a girl enters this stage of her life, she is off school for a week, kept in her room away from the male members of the family or friends. She is attended to by her mum and female family members and she is not allowed to bathe. At the given auspicious time she is assisted to bathe, her hair is washed and attended to, she is given a whole new outfit, shoes and jewellery included, to wear for when her guests arrive later that evening. She sits and receives her guests and their gifts, once every body assembles the music starts. The men start on the alcohol, the caterers serve the amazing buffet(rice and curry of course!) when the women have eaten the DJ gets going and the dancing starts!

It was a really lovely evening, everybody was again so welcoming. I could chat a little more confidently than the last time, I had a little boogie  to the Hindee tunes and ate far too much. As the night came to a close ,I watched a 7 year old  girl who had danced all night long in her purple party frock collapse in to her dads arms, I  remember thinking  I didn’t feel as home sick any more thanks to the “Big girls Party”…

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 www.villarosa-kandy.com

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 www.aitkenspenceholidays.com 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?

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