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!

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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”…

New kid on the block…

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

Balcony of the Pink Palace!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

More soon…

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

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

till the next time …where’s me brolly!

 

 

 

 

 

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